Life Stories from Our Team

"My name is Yazan, I'm 24 years old, Syrian, from Latakia. I graduated from high school in 2011, the year the war began in Syria, with a diploma in the scientific branch. 
 
I grew up in Latakia's poor streets with my family. I have one brother and two sisters. 

 

I remember Syria before the war, Syria is a beautiful country that has a lot of magical landscapes. Before the war started in March 2011, people didn't talk about religious views or political issues. All they cared about was how to make their life better, even if it was hard. Now engineers and doctors are getting paid less than $30 USD a month and can barely support their families.  

 

I completed three years toward mechanical engineering at Tishreen University, but I couldn't handle the pressure and the poor educational quality of our universities. I started to apply for scholarships but there were so many difficulties in my way, I needed to translate my transcripts, take the TOEFL and SAT and get visas, all which I could not afford.

My dad helped me when he sold the house so I can have money to apply for a visa to the Czech Republic. I went all the way to Lebanon just for the interview, but after six months of waiting, they denied my visa application. 

Although I was working on a project about mental health and survival that Ostrava University welcomed, I still couldn't get the money or visas to go there, so I had to stop the project. 

They tried to force me to join the army but I do not want to be apart of the violence so I had to leave Syria. One of the only countries I could enter as a Syrian was Sudan so I waited for the Czech Republic's response in Sudan for five months but there were no opportunities there for me. When I learned they had rejected my visa, I traveled to Lebanon and stayed there for a month, but the hatred toward Syrians is so bad there that I paid $1700 USD for a ticket, visa and residency for Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. 

Life in the Middle East is so hard, especially for the young people. There are too many obstacles in their way and there are alot of young people who are suffering from depression and mental health issues that nobody bats an eye over. 

The problems: wars, revolutions, and racism. 

But the Middle East is resilient because of those people who have survived the wars, revolutions and racism and they pass down the lessons on how to survive to new generations. For me as a young man pushing himself forward each day, they taught me to carry my depression and anxiety and mask them in happiness and joy; for survival.  

Most of the scholarships I applied for responded to me with the words " you are not qualified enough." 

I worked with a non-profit organization in Syria for children dealing with trauma but when I applied for jobs in the organizations in Iraq, they didn't consider my experience. Its hard to be "qualified" when there are no opportunities to get "qualified" as a Syrian. 

Now I work as a travel agent in Erbil but I hope someday there will be more opportunities open to me and all Syrians."

yazan

NIL

" I grew up in Iran in a "manly man" world raised by a single mom. My father left us many years ago and since then my mother and I took care of our life and the little beloved brother I have. The life in Iran for a single mother and daughter was challenging on a daily basis; we were living in era that divorce was still a forbidden and uncommon act.  My little family, my mom, my brother and I, we grew up together and that made our family special. Sometimes my other international student friends can’t understand how attached I still am to my family. They left to America after I moved to Turkey and I couldn’t join at the time because I was a legal adult. Since then, I feel I have lost my sense of home, because Iran can’t be my home without my family.  Going to America takes time and the visa process is complicated to join your family (made more complicated recently due to the Muslim ban).

Being a Middle Easterner means you need to prove yourself all the time, you need to prove that you are in love, you need to prove you miss your family and you need to prove you need them by your side, but then can someone prove all the emotions that can’t be printed on paper? Sometimes I feel that I have lost a home and building a new one is delayed. So, my life right now feels like living in an airplane where you don’t know what is the destination and when I will arrive.

 

I grow up in a secular family but I got to learn about Islam in school. Learning is my habit so I did actually try to learn what’s going on in the Muslim world unlike many other teenagers that were sick enough of mandatory religion based lessons in Iranian schools. I was a random high school girl except with one difference, I spent my teenage years in Iran in schools that judge you by your appearance not your grades. How random that can be? I can’t say being a teenager in Iran is as easy as anywhere else.

 

I started my Journalism career when I was 17 years old in Iran by working for a reformist magazine (called chelcheragh). I was accepted in architecture school in Tehran. During those days I started a literature tour of Middle Eastern and neighboring countries, from Najib Mahfoz to Orhan Pamuk. I fall in love with Orhan Pamuk so I decided to read his books in his mother language. Crazy hah? So I ordered a Turkish version of “my name is red” and signed up for a Turkish course. Later on I applied for a scholarship offer to study journalism in Istanbul and here I am; I left architecture school for communication and media school.

 When I moved to Turkey for the first time I understood apparently people don’t love Iran as much as I do. I understood there is hate and discrimination in the world. I understood my skin even though it looks white, it’s not white enough. Living in Istanbul gave me a better insight on the Middle East; I found friends from Arabic speaking countries and got passionate to learn their language and travel their country. I understood the Arab world wasn't what western media or Iranian media was showing to me.

Meanwhile in Istanbul I have witnessed the refugee crisis and many other hard days in region as ISIS terrorist attacks. I work for an NGO to empower youth and help displaced people. I taught Turkish and English to refugee teenagers and tried to build some hope. I got to know many Afghan refugees and their problems in Iran.

The Middle East for me is all those beautiful patterns on the mosaics and walls, it’s the kindness and hospitality of my people even though they don’t have much to offer, but they will open their door to strangers and share their food. The Middle East and its people, the Middle East and its artistic patterns and traditions has a place in my heart. All these people are living somewhere in my soul and if I could I would have design my heart as Blue as the Blue mosque. Then if you ask me what it is like living in Istanbul, imagine yourself walking in pavements of Istanbul, hearing Turkish, Arabic, Farsi. People bumping to your shoulder, passing by you, running around you and suddenly a stranger smiling to your face and invites you to cup of tea--it is chaotic but you are going to love it.

©2023 by De-Otherize Dialogue Project

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A collaboration with the Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Program

Inquiries: 

Josie Ygnatowiz

josie.ygnatowiz@gmail.com

760-408-5756