Roudi Sulaiman is a writer and poet currently living in the Netherlands. Here, she speaks to us about her sense of identity:
When I introduce myself, I say, I’m a poet and a writer, and after that I say that I’m Syrian and Kurdish. That’s according to the hierarchy of preferences. I think that one’s human identity should be of the first priority. As for religious affiliation, I don’t recall myself ever saying, this is my religion. In terms of geography, of course I’m Syrian. This is my identity: I’m Syrian, and never once did I feel ashamed of this fact.
I don’t accept the regime we were living under and I reject the dictatorship ruling us, which attests to the fact that I’ve had some kind of internal revolutionary feeling inside me ever since I became aware that I exist—let’s say since I was a teenager—and this is part of my family culture.
The conflict that began with the uprising, when that uprising was still in the clean hands of those revolting correctly—those people who truly have their hearts attuned to this country, the majority of whom have sadly fled or died or were killed—these are the people who paid the price. Because then came the opportunists who exploited the situation and made trouble, making the dream more impossible, or pushing it further away. Every time we felt it drawing closer it was getting further away. There were different agendas at play, many people with different interests who exploited the revolution and played on the conflict, and sadly it was the Syrian people who were used as the fuel for this fire. Not for a single day have I ever been ashamed that I’m Syrian, and if someone doesn’t know what Syria is—historically, socially, culturally, with all its brilliant people—that’s their problem. Everything can be found in Syria.
On how the last decade of conflict in Syria has affected her identity:
Syria isn’t the regime. May Skaff said: Syria isn’t Assad’s; Assad and his people don’t represent Syria. Syria is in its people, its thinkers, its blacksmiths and carpenters, in its simple people, its good people. I’m not generalizing or saying that all Syrians are angels, I’m saying there was a beautiful mosaic in this region because its heritage is Syriac and Assyrian, and its residents are Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Armenians—an incredible mixture. This is Syria, and the current tyrants do not represent it.
I am like so many other Syrians; I can’t say I suffered more or less, or that I immigrated. I was born and living in Aleppo, then I fled to the villages of Afreen when the barrels began to fall on Aleppo. I fled about two or three times to the village in Afreen. I lived with my husband’s family. Life was difficult for newcomers who knew nothing about living in these places. So after ten months of living in the village we fled to Turkey. I was there for a year and four months. My job was about 17 consecutive hours of work a day. It was unnatural, inhuman. The idea being that you’re Syrian and you can bear more suffering than other people. I won’t deny that some people were very kind to us as Syrians, but there were also people who were entirely cruel.
On how immigration affected her personality:
In general terms, I matured. I would say I became someone very mature. If there wasn’t a war and I was in Syria as a 37-year-old as I am now, I wouldn’t be thinking like this. I think that the exhaustion and communication with different people from other cultures, and of course in all my different migrations I encountered many different standpoints and perspectives and stories and people. This is the effect of the conflict, or the effect of all the migrations I suffered from: I gained some additional maturity but also psychological instability. If was stable I would have never left Sweden.
On the rituals and traditions she used to practice before immigrating and how they influence her identity:
At home I live just the way I did in Syria, meaning that nothing has changed for me as a person. I wear the same clothes I used to wear when I was in Syria; I look the same. In Syria I had a work schedule and I would get tired and deal with many people, men and women, and there was never a problem with that. I’m more lonely and isolated now and don’t care to be socially active, that’s what’s changed in me.
If she had to define her identity briefly:
I’m a writer, that’s it. This is what represents me most. Any other belonging is like a prison. The more affiliations a person has the more restrictions they have to live by. I think humanity should be unrestricted and I believe that writing is absolute freedom.