27 years old
I don’t know the origin of the word “refugee” in other languages. In my language, a refugee is someone who’s not safe in his own country and is forced to leave and seek protection—asylum—in another country. That’s why I can’t understand how someone could feel ashamed of being a refugee. I’m a refugee because I want my family and me to be safe and most of all to save the future of my child. I have a tattoo on my hand that shows my status as a refugee. It says: “A refugee with no return”.
I believe that a refugee should feel positive about the society and environment that takes him in. Otherwise, he won’t be able to adjust and be accepted in that society. Even if he doesn’t know the language at first, he can still present a positive image of himself through his behaviour and be accepted, because, in my view, how you behave determines whether you’re accepted by others.
Thinking about Vlassis Caniaris’ work1, I want to say that there are times when a person leaves their country because there’s no freedom of speech or other civil liberties. As a person of Kurdish descent, I was forced to leave Syria when the war broke out for an entirely different reason, and as long as I live I’ll never forget what I went through to get here. My wife and my son, who was a baby at the time, were with me in the boat. Suddenly, the engine stopped, stranding us in the middle of the sea. No one could get it started again. We all panicked. We thought we’d be left there to die. The only thing I could think about was saving my son. I had to do something. And so, without really knowing how, I tried starting the engine and it seems that willpower drove me to succeed.
My son, Amar, is my whole life. That’s what my second tattoo says: “You are my whole life”. I got it the day he was born.
In the artwork Sails2, which brings to mind a sea voyage, the sails are different colors. The brown suggests something old. The black sails represent the darkness of the things we experienced. I can see a white one, too. It’s the only sail that isn’t leaning left or right but is standing up straight. You could say it’s looking upward. This [sail] conveys hope.
It was interesting to learn that this work makes reference to Homer’s Odyssey, to Odysseus’ journey and to his wife, Penelope, weaving as she waits for him to return home. I recognize the importance of the woman’s role in the home. Wife, mother, sister—a woman is always the most important member of the family. When I got seriously injured, my wife was at my side to support me. The doctors said I had a 10% chance of ever getting out of bed again. I told her to leave me and get on with her life. But, instead, she showed great strength and stood by me until I finally got well. Personally, I have great respect for women.
I don’t want to comment on how different religions define the place of women in society. Anyway, each land and each society has its own customs and beliefs. People should be free to choose whatever religion they like. I’d like to mention, though, that Arab countries, despite the problems they’ve been facing in recent decades, can point to many important women who have distinguished themselves, in science, in the arts, in sport—in all areas; the famous architect Zaha Hadid, for example, who’s from Iraq, and Raha Moharrak, a young woman from Saudi Arabia who scaled Mount Everest, and other cases.
Regarding Do-Ho Suh’s work3, I wonder why, out of all the places in the family house he could have shown, the artist chose to depict the staircase. Maybe he wanted to represent his effort to get somewhere. But as we can see, the staircase isn’t touching the floor. Maybe this is meant to show his fear of reaching his goal or it could refer to a dream he had; besides the work’s pink color is suggestive of dreams.
In the house I’m living in Athens today, I feel as comfortable as I did in my house back home. Of course, here I live with another family, but I don’t find that a problem. We respect each other and so we can live well under the same roof. The important thing is that I feel safe in the house and there are no bombs falling outside.
War has destroyed my country, as well as other Arab countries. When there’s war, progress ends, and civil liberties and intellectual activity cease. Everything comes to a halt, and the country and its people’s future are ruined. Before the war, I had everything in Syria: a house, a car, a large and loving family, an education. I was studying law. But during the war I wasn’t allowed to continue for the third year of studies because I’m Kurdish. After that, what kind of future can I expect for my son in that country?
Syria is my country. But I’m here now and ready to “break my identity”, to live and contribute to a country that can offer me on an equal basis what it offers every citizen, and to ensure my son’s future.
1 Refers to Hopscotch, 1974.
2 Refers to Bia Davou’s work, Sails, 1981-1982.
3 Refers to Staircase II, 2004.