The S word…..
Syria…what can we do when we feel so powerless? Reflections from a Damascus born artist and advocate.
by Ahmad Kalaji
“As an artist, I would like my work to be appreciated for its quality – not because of my asylum status or out of sympathy.”
Ahmad shares insights from his journey to Berlin from Syria and how the road to collective healing can begin first with our own steps towards empathy.
“The world is demonstrating and protesting for its basic human rights, from the right to stay home and not do anything to celebrating gay marriage. The whole planet is demonstrating everywhere and it gives me hope that the world will be a better place and a place that is worth living in. Yet this hope soon fades away every time I see the news from my beloved Syria.
Who am I?
I am a video journalist and an artist, my work is influenced and inspired by the heritage and the vast cultural differences of the cities in which I have lived and experienced. I worked for television and published media as well.
My life was packed into a suitcase and has been thrown around from one country to another: Syria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey.
In Charlottenburg, a beautiful district in Berlin where I now live, my suitcase is lying around somewhere in the basement of my flat with most of my horrible memories. I get asked a lot by warm-hearted people, “How can I help? How can anybody help?”……
I was lucky enough to be born in the oldest inhabited capital in the world, Damascus, or the ‘City of Jasmine’ as we call it. The history of the city goes back to 10,000 BC and Syria is known to be the land of the first alphabet in history “Ugarit”. It’s a culture that is so rich; where you can find some of the best Islamic architecture in the world; where some people are still speaking “Aramaic” the language of the Christ.
Remnants of ancient civilizations are seen almost in every city in Syria. But sadly all of the mentioned were abused by the enemies of freedom, which led to an uprising in the beginning of 2011 against the Syrian regime who responded brutally with a fist of fire. On the beginning of 2013, the Syrian regime set free all Al-Qaeda members and extremists and sent them to the North East near the Iraqi borders to ease the formation of the Islamic State “ISIS” to later on legitimize itself in front of the United Nations bombing those areas.
An intensity of 200 air raids a day with all types of explosives on heavily populated areas causing hundreds of deaths and a huge destruction in the infrastructure, left the people with only one hope.
What can we do?
- Do your research
It is obvious to everyone now that the media is controlling the news and it filters everything for us. But it is your responsibility to find the truth and social media is making it easy for us now to know exactly what is happening as it happens, with a little searching. Knowing what is really happening will help you and will help us stand together and know what is good for us, not what is good for our governments.
- Exchange labels for humanity
For someone who has been living in Berlin for the past 15 months and labeled as a ‘refugee’, I can say I would have preferred to be helped with things that will actually help me. I was invited a couple of times to some events under the umbrella of Die Willkommenskultur, the welcoming culture. But what was supposed to be helpful caused me a lot of frustration. Whenever someone spoke about me, I would be followed by, “and he is a refugee and can do this or that, he is just a refugee” and a little tilt with the head with an “aww” and a hand on my shoulder!
I’m a self-taught artist who had never drawn anything before October 2014. It all started out of boredom when I scribbled this on a piece of paper without any plans and for no purpose. People made fun of it as it looked like a scribble from a child.
I enjoyed doing it and I wanted to do more and more and started practicing and trying new techniques. realised that practice makes a difference and now, 3 years on from this drawing, I own an online store and about 5000 people are following my work.
As an artist, I would like my work to be appreciated for its quality not because of my asylum status and out of sympathy. And as a human being, I can speak on behalf of all refugees in the world when I say that I would rather not be reminded that I am a refugee. Nor, to remember all the horrible memories I had and horrible moments I am still having when contacting my family in Syria, and then be “used” as an inspirational “material”.
- Know the culture.
Culture causes people to speak, think and act toward situations in a certain way. But after being asked about my culture I find myself in a whirlpool of questions that I don’t know the answers to. Whether it is the traditional dance we do, marriage traditions or even traditional food we cook . Throughout all the diversity of cultural differences, I realised how similar human beings can be. Knowing my own culture by the curiosity of others made it really easy for me and for them to establish a strong connection and a better understanding of each other.
“Throughout all the diversity of cultural differences, I realized how similar human beings can be.”
- Know the difference
Empathy comes from the heart, it is when you see someone in a dark cold hole, and you bring a ladder and help him go up even if you need togo down the hole with him. Sympathy is looking down from the top of the hole with a little tilt of the head and an “aww” followed by its dark and cold down there, hang on you are an inspiration, and walk away!