The burden of two nationalities

The burden of two nationalities
Blog: The battle of Kobane may have been between Kurds and Sunnis. But its historic ethnic make-up is a microcosm of a region where politicians can fiddle with sectarian balances to promote their interests
3 min read
02 Feb, 2015
The city of Kobane was beseiged by IS for four months until January 2015 [Getty]
My grandmother sits next to me measuring my head so she can knit me a wool hat. We are in Beirut and news of the battle for Kobane between the Islamic State group and the Kurds is on TV in the background.

My grandmother was born there in 1929. She is of Assyrian descent and remembers nothing about her place of birth. She left Kobane with her family when she was two and moved to Lebanon, first to the village of Sarba north of Beirut, then to the southern city of Tyre. They moved because of her father's work with the customs authority.

She does not belong to a country - she only belongs to her faith and her family, as is the case with many of the region's Christians.

Like the rest of our family, my grandmother carries dual Syrian - Lebanese citizenship, because members of our larger family moved between the two countries for political or economic reasons. My grandmother returned to Syria and lived in Aleppo until she got married. Then she moved to the northeast Syrian city of Qamishli and from there back to Aleppo. She then escaped with her husband's family to Beirut where she finally settled when the Baath party seized power in Syria in 1963.
     I was born dead in Damascus and live as a dead man here in Beirut.

She says she has lived a good life. I know better. My grandmother buried her daughter in Canada and the rest of her children are spread across many countries. Some of them married Syrians, like my mother, and others Lebanese, like my maternal and paternal uncles.

Our family carries dual citizenship maybe because we are well integrated into both societies, in both good ways or bad. Or perhaps because politics and law do not allow mothers to pass on their citizenship to their children, but give politicians the right to grant citizenship to whomever they want, to create sectarian and religious balances that have exhausted the country (I personally was granted citizenship in 1994).

Like her family, my grandmother is not interested in politics and has no sectarian leanings. Unlike me, she hates neither the regime that displaced the people nor the regime that received those who had been displaced.

She blames the destruction on those who have lost their faith, whatever their religion. That was how both herself and her family survived all these years - by blaming evil in people's souls for the bad things in life.

My family always advised me not to get involved in Lebanese politics. However, my experience in Syria was different. My secret socialist leanings as a teenager and complete rejection of the church and the Baathist authority caused me many problems.

We were meant to leave Beirut for Europe at the end of the 1980s, but then the Lebanese civil war suddenly ended in 1990 and there was the promise of a life if we remained.

There are two questions my grandmother never answers. First, which country is closest to her heart; second, where she wants to be buried. Here in Lebanon my grandmother has a small family that is only getting smaller, while in Syria she had a large family that is now spread across the world.

I carry the burden of two nationalities without having a homeland to care for me. I was born dead in Damascus and live as a dead man here in Beirut.

I have become used to this and I can even dare to say I like it. It defines who I am and it defines my work.

As for my grandmother, she is still knitting this hat. She has been knitting it since she was born in Kobane. She is still trying to measure my head, which sometimes inflates and sometimes shrinks.