Simav Hassan, 29, is from Syria. Here, she talks to us about her sense of identity:
Whenever the subject of identity comes up, I immediately remember my personal ID card, which is issued through no choice of one’s own. After it dawns on you that you had no choice in determining what’s on that little card, you suddenly develop an adverse reaction to lots of things. I’m not religious, and so this identity on my personal ID doesn’t express any aspect of myself in any way. Identity is built on expectations. I define myself as a young woman from Qamishli, and perhaps it’s the recent events or wars that have taken place that have led me to think that the nationalist aspect is an essential part of the way I define myself.
On how the last ten years of conflict have impacted her sense of identity:
The conflict had both a positive and negative impact on my “Syrian” identity. I put this in between quotes because I, Simav, the young girl who grew up in a Kurdish area and was forced to learn Arabic in school, used to think that Syria was the Levant, was Damascus, this place I only saw in TV shows. It was only after the revolution began that I started getting to know the society of the interior, the society of the capital, the society of the industrial city, Aleppo. I encountered Syrian society after the revolution because there was suddenly a unity between all these different people, and that’s when I began feeling a sense of belonging to this geographical place called Syria. The revolution, or the conflict, also had a huge negative impact. Sadly, it revealed this thing called “racism” in Syria. I never once thought of myself as a member of a weakened people who must take refuge in a sense of nationalist pride. In the end though, nationalism isn’t a personal choice we make but one which is imposed upon us.
On how a different outcome to the conflict might impact her perspective:
Belonging is built on what it is I offer and what it is I take, but I don’t imagine that anyone builds a sense of identity on outcomes or results. We are the children of experience, we experience new things daily which prove that you can either belong, identifying yourself as a person who belongs to such and such place, or that you are unable to accept this thing. I don’t imagine that any one of us will be judged on outcomes because the story is in the daily lived details of these events that have now been going on for ten years. I’m speaking from a logic that’s perhaps a little negative, but I always consider it realistic. Reality is dark, and it’s a person’s right to be a pessimist. We’ve lived ten years in the worst circumstances, and every person from Syria knows these circumstances, knows that each one of us has to force themselves to keep going until tomorrow, has to try to find some straw to grasp at to convince themselves that their existence is useful and necessary. And so no, outcomes won’t change anything! Experience and daily life are what build your identity.
On how emigration has impacted her sense of identity:
People are still emigrating until today. Now there’s almost daily communication with your larger surroundings, meaning your community of people who are outside Syria, and that community is larger now than the one on the inside. This whole thing gives you the conviction that you don’t need to belong to a particular geographical spot. I can say that I belong to this whole world. I consider that I could belong to any geographical place on the condition that it isn’t more miserable than Syria.
On whether there are certain rituals, customs or traditions she considers an essential part of her identity:
When we were young we used to celebrate Eid el-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. We celebrated as a social ritual, we celebrated with our community and it felt like a celebration in every sense of the word, even if we weren’t really concerned or connected with the religious aspect of it. We also had a big celebration for new year, as well as for Nowruz, which is a national Kurdish holiday celebrated annually on the 21st of March. There were other Kurdish holidays we celebrated as well… and you have a crossover situation here, you celebrate Muslim holidays and Christian holidays and Kurdish holidays and for all these occasions, I feel—truly, the same sense of joy and enthusiasm, the same sense of readiness to celebrate.
If she had to define her identity in the briefest terms:
I’m Kurdish, from Syria, I belong to my city, Qamishli. I see it as my space, open to all religions, and I consider myself a member of the human race.