Mohammed Aljborey is Syrian and originally from the town of Hasake. He is currently residing in Turkey, but commutes regularly to and from the Syrian interior. Here, he talks to us about his sense of his Syrian identity:
The term identity in general refers to the collection of features that distinguish a person as an individual, and at the same time the features that tie him to society. Over the course of my whole life, until today, I’ve been looking to understand this concept correctly, so I can find my true identity. There’s a clash between one’s religious identity, or the search for religious identity first, and one’s ethnic and national identity afterwards. Over the course of my search for my identity I went through a number of phases that bear no resemblance to who I am now. At one point I identified myself as a genealogist, since I was a Bedouin searching for my Bedouin origins in order to discover the relationship between myself and my general surroundings, and that in order to arrive at my true identity. After the war and after coming into broader contact with the full range of Syrian society, I now have a comprehensive identity that includes all these criteria, and at the same time, negates all of them. My identity is a purely human one, far removed from national or religious or ethnic definitions. I introduce myself as a human Bedouin Muslim. None of that contradicts my own concept of identity; on the contrary, these are just the elements that make up a complete human identity.
On the relationship between Syrian nationality and Syrian identity:
Currently, I don’t identity myself as a Syrian national but rather as a Syrian refugee. Asylum is the greater characteristic of the Syrian identity right now, and today I see myself as someone with a confused identity, lost between being truly Syrian and getting rid of this identity that has become a curse that haunts us. At the end however, maybe it can be summarized with the word “Syrian”, with all the beauty that this word carries—because as Syrians, we carry so many beautiful stories—as well as all the pain, and all the things that Syrians have suffered, from the horrors of war that have refined or have shaped this identity. These horrors have created the identity of someone displaced and scattered, but also that of a person who knew how to adapt to these circumstances. That’s why I’m truly Syrian; Syrian in all of these things.
On how the Syrian conflict has impacted his identity:
The conflict has affected it in phases. At the beginning, one was concerned with the question of which side to take, and this in itself was an identity. To be on the side of the killers, the side of the regime: this is an identity. Or to be on the side of the revolution, on the side of the people being crushed and demanding their freedom: this is another identity. The beginning of the conflict created a kind of identity, and then there was a division between those on the side of the revolution leading to a search for one’s identity within that category of people.
On how the outcome of the conflict might impact his sense of identity:
The outcome of the conflict is a subject that passes through the mind of every Syrian every day, and I would be lying if I said that the outcome would have no effect on the question of identity. But should the regime remain in place and the occupations too, my identity still remains that of a Syrian refugee. Even if one of the current sides wins out and succeeds in reaching power, if they do so without our beautiful vision, without our vision of the revolution and of freedom and of ourselves… if any one of these sides succeeds and seizes power then the search for another identity continues.
On how daily rituals and customs impact his sense of identity as a Syrian:
It might be nostalgia speaking or it might be a sense of loss, but after immigrating I felt a sense of yearning for so many traditions. Such as the way weddings are celebrated in our region, the gorgeous mixed weddings. Nostalgia even gives you a sense of national belonging, or a sense of belonging to the land, to the people, making them a huge part of your identity. Before, we never practiced rituals with this feeling. Now during Ramadan I give greetings to everyone, those I know and those I don’t know. Who used to give Ramadan greetings before? You might say them to your family, but you might not even do that. These rituals have now become a sort of nostalgia for the beautiful sense of belonging to simple things, to those things we were raised with and which existed before the conflict. Even unconsciously we’re trying to go back to an identity we had before the conflict, because after the conflict we now have a sort of internal rift, apart from the social rift. We have inside us something contradictory in our identity, something truly sad.
If he had to define his identity briefly:
I’m a refugee dreaming of a little joy. I dream that one of these days I can find a true Syrian identity far from all these contradictions, far from divisions, solely Syrian.