Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Qamishlo House, promoting national unity and inclusivity in the midst of civil war

I was introduced to the Qamishlo House, a refuge for those Syrians who have left their country for their own safety. The house is named after the town of Qamishli in northwest Syria (which is pronounced Qamishlo in Kurdish), and serves as a residence, an education and activity center for children, and a forum for discussion. When we entered, there were four people sitting on couches and plastic chairs, surrounding the wood stove that sat at the back of the room. Those gathered warmly greeted me and my Syrian friend, who had visited Qamishlo House previously.

Children's artwork adorned the walls; the pieces were for sale and the proceeds benefit needy children in Syria. On one of the walls there was a map of Syria with various statements encircling the map that demonstrated the various religious and ethnic groups of Syria.

Syrian Arab Republic

The official name of the state of Syria is the "Syrian Arab Republic," but the title of Syria on the wall of the Qamishlo House reads "Syrian Republic." Luwai, a former pilot of the Syrian Air Force who was imprisoned and mistreated by both the Syrian regime and al-Nusra Front, a Syrian rebel group, before making it safely to Turkey as an asylum seeker, told me that the word Arab had been removed because Syria is made up of various people groups: Syriac-Aramaic, Kurdish, Turkmen, and Assyrian. Syria is also made up of a plethora of religious groups; the majority of the population are Sunni, but there are various Shia sects, including Ismailis, Twelvers, and Alawites, in addition to the various sects of Christianity represented among the population. The declarations written around the map of the "Syrian Republic" express this diversity, while highlighting the need to celebrate national unity over ethnic or religious differences.

I am Syrian, I am Kurdish

I am Syrian, I am Christian 

I am Syrian, I am Arab

I am Syrian, I am Turkman

At the top of the map, the inclusivity of this place is made known to all, "The Qamishlo House is for ALL Syrians."

NPR did a story on the Qamishlo House earlier this year, you can listen here:

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