Since the start of war in Syria, politics has taken over discussion whenever the country’s name is mentioned. However, the Hikayetna project concentrates on the human side of the issue, focusing on the refugee crisis and victims' experiences and journeys to escape the conflict. This is an apolitical and independent project striving to aid Syrian communities.
I stress “communities” as a collective term due to Syria’s social mosaic richness, and the project has a pluralistic approach. For example, Arab Sunnis, Arab Alawites, Kurd-Sunnis, Orthodox Christians, Armenian Christians, Arab Druze, Arab Ismaeli, Turkmen, Circassian, Jewish and many other minorities are all part of the colourful mosaic of Syrian society.
The project aims to eradicate the stereotypes of Syria and Syrian people which are generated by certain sections of the media. This is challenged by promoting cultural activities, from arts and music to writing and painting. In the process, Hikayetna raises the profile of Syrian underground artists in the UK and creates a platform to connect Syrians from around the world. A Damascene girl who writes a story in Ghana can easily find a photograph taken by a young Syrian boy in Berlin to accompany her story. Suliman Osman, a Syrian journalist who leads the project says,
The aim of the project is to give refugees a chance to participate. I have refugees who can hardly write properly, yet they write their stories and send them to me.
Stories come from Sweden, Germany, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and many other areas where Syrians arrive to escape war zones. That way, the young are encouraged to spread and share their stories, with the help of training and editing from Hikayetna’s volunteers.
As a large bulk of Syrian society flees the war, the project searches for artists amongst the displaced. When they are discovered, the intention is to reach out and bring them to light, whether they are painters, musicians, writers or other artists. Artists like Esam Hamzah may find a platform to express, show & connect with other artists by an exhibition set up by Hikayetna.
An advantage that the project members have is their awareness of life in the UK and Syria. Therefore it is easier to understand the process of amalgamation and bring communities together to examine issues of integration for Syrians in the UK.
Lastly, and importantly, is the most powerful feature of the project –the aim to empower Syrian women. Nowadays, Syrian women are viewed by the public as refugees, victims of rape or child brides. Hikayetna makes a serious attempt to foreground another image of them. It does not discriminate, as Syrian women from all ethnic backgrounds are targeted. They are encouraged and empowered to bring change, express their voice and enhance their self-esteem.
Like Culture Matters, the project survives on contributions from volunteers: writers, translators, interpreters and editors work together to keep the project going.
Below is a poem for Culture Matters, and the illustration too. To see more please visit our site: https://hikayetna.com/author/hikayetna/
By Haqi Omar
At first he hated solitude while food became tasteless
Felt no taste for morning coffee
Fairouz songs became a routine.
No longer life is like before
But with time, solitude became beautiful
Solitude of special taste.
Leaves morning time with zeal to come back home, to solitude.
Zeal to drink coffee alone
To watch the news alone.
Does not know how to make friendships, as old friendships are sweeter.
Does not know how to love, as old love is sweeter
Does not want to be in new place, somewhere does not look like him.
Embraces solitude, living between old and new
Cannot go back to the old, nor wants the new
Yes friends, it is a solitude where we find refuge, from which
we cannot depart.
Haqi Omar is a Syrian pharmacist based in Denmark.
Amir Darwish is a poet, born in Syria and now living on Teeside. His poetry has been published in the USA, Pakistan, Finland, Morocco and Mexico, and he is a graduate of Teesside University and the University of Durham.