Lina (not her real name) is Syrian and lives in Damascus. Here, she talks to us about her sense of identity and how it was affected by the last years of conflict:
My perspective on the Syrian identity has changed over the last ten years, and this is a consequence of the surrounding circumstances. Socially, there is no longer a social class of the kind there was before the war. Even our political and social concepts have changed hugely, and this of course has changed my Syrian identity. There is frankly no longer any place for identity. All concepts have changed, and now we have new ones that have fragmented and scattered our identities. Because of the conflict, there are now many different identities in Syria, as a result of religious, political, and even moral differences. The conflict is a reality on the ground; it cannot be negated or transcended. There is a huge gap between us and the Syrian identity now, and in my opinion, there is no longer any common identity to unite me with those who have taken a bad position in the war.
On how the issue of immigration has impacted her identity:
Immigration had catastrophic consequences on the Syrian identity in terms of its impact on migrants, children, the language. After a while it might be that there is no longer a common language with which to converse with those who immigrated. You might not even find anything in common with them. Syrian youth will sadly have new identities and new languages and new lives, which will create a chasm between us and them. Frankly it was very difficult for me to migrate, but given the current terrible economic situation and the conflict that seems to have no end, yes, I would migrate given the chance. Frankly that feeling of attachment within us to our identity has begun to recede or fade with time, and it has instead become a huge burden.
She goes on:
Honestly in the beginning I really didn’t want to travel. I wanted to stay in this country, to continue my life here. But things have changed so drastically, and the economic situation is now terrifying. It’s become necessary to leave now. And given that even in the country your identity is now lost, it’s all the same whether your leave or stay.
On the rituals, customs and traditions that she used to practice before the conflict and how they affected her identity:
Definitely, rituals and traditions have changed a lot. They've changed because of the war, frankly. The war has created a real crisis in this for all Syrians, a crisis of identity as well as in terms of these traditions and these rituals. Even the community surrounding you has changed. You used to have gatherings with your friends, you might stay up together, maybe you’d go out at night, but that is now quite infrequent, and very few friends remain. The social environment surrounding you has been stifled altogether, and you are mostly alone, and all the rituals and habits you once had have changed because of displacement and migration. We lost so much. We lost the gatherings and parties we once had with our friends. We lost our celebrations and weddings and even our communal mourning. When there used to be a funeral or a wake we used to stand by one another and support one another in grief. But now when you go to a funeral there’s only one or two people there, because in these difficult circumstances of the war, a child of Homs might die in Damascus, or a child of Deir Ezzor in Homs. People die far from home, and so these rituals have changed a lot, and the occasions to gather are so few. Weddings, for example, have become very small and abbreviated. As a Syrian today you’ve lost all your activities, and lost all the people that once surrounded you. You can count the number of people around you on the fingers of one hand. And of course the economic crisis has had a huge effect on the social aspect, because Syrians are no longer able to fulfill any of their social obligations. Syrians are known for their generosity, which means that now when you have a guest in your home you are no longer able to do your duty by them as a host.
If she had to define her identity briefly:
Honestly it seems to me that my identity as a Syrian is completely lost and scattered. There’s nothing clear about it; it’s an ambiguous identity.