Wiam Badrakhan, 42, lives in Atmeh Camp on the Syrian border. Here, she talks to us about her sense of identity as a Syrian:
My identity is the one I share with the widest number of Syrians possible, from all sides. The things that join us with other people may be social, gender-based, cultural, political, or religious. Wiam’s identity is Syria. When I say this word, I find myself in a place of belonging, common to many. When I begin to enumerate the details, the commonalities begin to roll since I have a social nature and I find myself when I’m part of a group. I love people, and I have a deep belief that my identity is contained in the word Syria. The more difficult things get, the darker the circumstances, the tighter Wiam grips onto her Syrian identity, and this helps me endure more.
On how the conflict has impacted her sense of identity:
When the revolution began, it was as if my sense of identity as a Syrian was a rebellion I mounted from behind the bars of a prison. We banged on those bars, and I saw it as such a victory that we were able to bang on those bars and emerge from that prison. Our identity was able to find a space of freedom. It was like a person who’d been crammed in jail with a big group of others and then allowed out into this wide space. When we turned to armed conflict after 2014, my identity became like someone who’d been in a small prison, who’d succeeded in breaking down the bars only to find themselves in a prison yard. We're just in a bigger prison now, we’ve moved on to a regional war. There are all these countries fighting through our war, and we’re just spectators now, chess pieces on a larger board, being moved from one city to another. Internal displacement has become the Syrian identity I hold onto now; my identity is now my slaughter.
On how a different outcome to the conflict might impact her sense of identity:
If the scenario is that we're heading toward division, my identity will be immediately impacted, because my Syrian ID might only be accepted in certain areas. For example they might welcome me in Area A but not in Area B, and maybe in Area C I’ll be somewhere in between! This division will sow discord and internal confusion. Emotionally, I’ll feel as though I’m in my country, but I won’t be able to go where I want. If we head toward the scenario of finding a political solution… I don’t even know what a “political solution” might be! Currently everything is so unclear. If the political solution is sponsored by an outside power, my simple, independent Syrian identity won’t be suitable to them.
On how displacement and emigration has impacted her sense of identity:
It’s something that begins with your very definition, because when you leave the country as a Syrian, you immediately become “a refugee.” And when you’re internally displaced, you’re displaced from one area to another, you might have to flee running. I’ve visited a number of European countries, and I’ve also visited Canada, where they screened a film I made in 2014. I felt especially Syrian when I was abroad, particularly at the film festival. And though I enjoyed excellent circumstances there, I felt like my Syrian identity was a huge responsibility, a heavy weight to carry. I very much wanted to convey the voice of these people; I felt I belonged to the people through whom I got to live my Syrian identity.
You carry this identity, you hold onto it, you don’t want to stand with those who are oppressing the Syrian people, the people to whom you belong, whose pain you share. You endure under bombs and siege, then you leave your city, you leave your streets, your home, your family… displacement is a wound that can never be healed.
On whether there are certain rituals, customs or traditions she considers an essential part of her identity:
When we fled from the army, who had been holding us hostage, that was the last time I saw my family. I now live alone. After becoming displaced, personal rituals have become wounds in my memory. I don’t count how many Eids have passed in this exile, but how many wounds! I don't count how many Ramadans but how many deprivations! This is how I measure things now. The special rituals that still impact Wiam’s identity, her sense of herself with her parents in Homs, among her family… the real ritual that serves my Syrian identity is that of giving. I can’t be anywhere without giving to the people among whom I find myself, whether the small circle surrounding me or the larger community of people. Giving is now my entire life.
If she had to define her identity in brief terms:
Wiam the Syrian girl.