Nour Nasrah is a writer and translator living in the city of Tartus. Here she talks to us about the elements that make up her Syrian identity:
I am a Syrian woman, and I belong to that generation who lived the war, much of whose emotional, social, and psychological content was shaped by the war. The war also liberated us somewhat from religious segregation. Before the war, I didn’t belong to the religion I’d inherited from my ancestors, and I already had a kind of freedom, but after the war, this freedom increased. I belong to the new social fabric that was created by the war, to the segment that categorically rejects all religious and social rules that were once customary. Syria was my emotional reservoir; I was raised abroad and when I came back, I didn’t feel any sense of belonging. Rather I was shocked by the existence of a sectarian rift in the country, and it was very clear to see in the different areas. This left me unable to adapt to the situation, it left me isolated. I completely rejected that reality, and I had to break it by building social relationships.
On the relationship between the war and her identity:
Despite all the negative and destructive effects of the war on the Syrian psyche, especially the youth, it also had some positive aspects. I truly felt my Syrian identity when I was in danger, and I felt like my country was passing through a very dangerous stage, a stage of destruction. After 2011, my feeling changed, my emotions toward the country become much stronger, and I had stronger ties to the country, to its people and all its sects. I discovered that I truly belong to this country, in all of its variety and all its sects. The negative aspect of the war is that it threw us into some psychological pitfalls, beginning with sectarian strife, then there was all the destruction. Our sense of belonging was shaken, we began asking: who are we? Are we going to stay here or are we going to leave? What are the benefits of staying and what are the benefits of leaving? Do we really belong to this country or not? And we discovered that we can’t just relinquish our attachment to this geographical place because our emotional attachment to it, as a generation who lived that stage in time, is very strong. The war generation however, cannot belong to anything past his own street or his own city. I was one of those people who supported immigration but now it’s become clear that, for Syrians, the disadvantages of immigration are greater than the advantages.
On the impact of immigration on her identity:
During the war years, Syrian society lost a big part of its youth because most of them left. I lost a lot of my friends to immigration, or to other things, like death or destruction. I moved around between two or three cities during the war. I was studying in Homs and then I moved to Latakia. There’s a segment of society in Latakia that has very contradictory views on the war. Some of them see it as a necessity even though they’ve lost a lot of their youth and children, while others think it was possible to avoid war. This rift caused me to lose a group of friends, though later we met up again and realized that the result is all the same.
She goes on:
Maybe this didn’t affect my identity as a Syrian, but it definitely impacted my identity as a person. That feeling of human empathy was greater and deeper than my feeling as a Syrian because human concern is much bigger than anything else.
On the rituals, habits, and customs that influence her identity:
Generally, so many of the customs of Syrian society have changed. Holidays were usually celebrated with big family gatherings, all of us meeting in the village together. This changed completely during the war because of a lack of proper communication and just our general psychological state. I felt that there was a positive aspect to the change, because it liberated us from the habits and rituals that were essentially obligations toward the family. On the other hand, the generation that has just come of age has a kind of derisive attitude and a lack of appreciation for the Syrian customs and traditions. Because of the situation of the war, and because there are so few young men around anymore, girls are now forced to work. Most girls now work in shops or restaurants. This is a positive thing for girls who have joined the professional workforce, and this phenomenon is visible in so many towns: Damascus, Tartus, and Latakia where this difference is apparent and noticeable.
If she had to define her identity briefly:
I’d describe my identity in three words: poet, writer, and human. I consider myself as belonging to the human aspect, which has an emotional reservoir that protects it from war and fracture. Creative people usually have this emotional reservoir, whether they are artists or writers. They always have this internal thing that protects them from the external fluctuations they are subject to while living on the material, geographical plane.