Hala Alnaser comes from the city of Raqqa. Currently working as a researcher in oral history, she resides in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. She is a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement.
Born in Raqqa, which she describes as ‘the crown jewel of the Euphrates River’, Hala carries a huge reservoir of affectionate memories about her city. “I love Raqqa, the crown jewel of the Euphrates River. As for the river, it is a story for another time. I still remember the long night-time fun times I had with my family by the river banks. The river also witnessed the hours of fun and intimacy I spent with my friends, as well as my husband. The songs of the Euphrates region live forever in my mind and I sing them all the time.”
About her work, Hala tells us that she worked for 35 years as a primary school teacher in the schools of Raqqa. “It was an experience to be proud of,” she says. “I currently use my experience to teach Arabic to the children of some of my friends here in Turkey. Syrian children in Turkey have a disadvantage regarding learning their mother tongue, because it is not taught in Turkish schools.”
Opening up about her response to the start of the 2011 Revolution, Hala says, “I said to myself, ‘finally it’s happening’, and even though I did not participate in the peaceful demonstrations, I wholeheartedly supported them.”
About her motivations to support the uprising, Hala says, “Freedom. It is the simplest and most essential of rights. I also wanted to oust the oligarchy that had ruled Syria for decades. I wanted a new country based on the rule of law and equal citizenship.”
Hala was forced to leave Syria in 2014 when Daesh took over the city of Raqqa. “Everybody knows that Raqqa was the first major city in Syria to become completely independent from the regime. It was governed by the opposition’s Free Syrian Army. Afterwards, the shelling against Raqqa escalated, which made me think seriously of moving. But the final push which made me leave with no hesitation was when Daesh took control of the city.
“I am of a secular mindset. My husband is also a member of The Communist Labor Party, and was as a result jailed for ten years in the 1980s during the rule of Hafez Al-Assad. Thus, my husband was likely to be arrested by Daesh due to his liberal opinions and his rejection of radical Islamism. We received several threats from Daesh fighters, so I decided to move immediately towards Turkey.”
Feelings of instability and anxiety are Hala’s main concern right now. “I live in Gaziantep, Turkey, with my husband. Like millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey, I hold a temporary residence permit, known locally as the Kimlik. Therefore, we live in constant instability and anxiety. Everybody knows that the status of all Syrians in Turkey is subject to a volatile political situation.”
“Financial difficulties are the most pressing. Then comes linguistic difficulties. I find it really hard to learn Turkish.”
Hala is currently working on making interviews with Syrian women within a project to document the “oral history” by the Badael organization. “I carried out dozens of interviews with Syrian women. I have learnt a lot from this project. I met several women, of all ages, from various Syrian regions. Each lady I met had her own experience and a unique story to tell. I formed a comprehensive view of Syria in general, its history, and the events that people witnessed. I also created a strong social network with Syrian women who have done a lot for their country. They were able to prove their abilities and skills against all the odds.”
“I want a country of equal citizenship, with no security forces, armed militias, or extremist groups, a country based on human dignity and freedom.”
Talking about the challenges that faced any political activist who opposed the regime before 2011, Hala says, “Any political act which was not approved by the regime was punishable by death”.
“Assad the father oppressed any political activity that put his regime at risk. He threw hundreds of his opponents into prisons in the 1980s. He also fought tooth and nail against any revolutionary action. Syria today is still pretty much the same. Bashar Al-Assad is just a chip off the old block. Some say he is even worse than his father. The reason may be the fact that the Revolution spread to a large area of Syria.
“The challenges facing political activity nowadays are even greater. In addition to all the above-mentioned challenges, several local and foreign powers have become the sole controllers of large swathes of Syrian territory. Other complications relate to the fact that millions of Syrians are now displaced and live in diaspora around the world. The longer the crisis in Syria continues, the greater the challenges become. There are some problems arising from internal causes; the Syrians are divided and cannot agree on the political process that should be followed. One important issue to be taken in consideration is that millions of Syrians who have emigrated no longer consider the Syrian crisis their main concern. Rather, they are trying to find their feet and to integrate in the new country, especially because the political solution in Syria still looks too far away.”
As for the challenges facing women working in politics, Hala says, “Outdated traditions paralyze women on the economic and social, let alone the political, levels. There are other challenges related to religious practice. Some challenges have been created by displacement. Others were imposed by radical Islamic movements. We can also talk about patriarchal and male domination as well as the persistent stereotypes of women. So, the challenges are many and they started before the Revolution but have become more complicated by the ongoing conflict.”
“I say to the Syrian women, with all the skills, knowledge and abilities we have gained over the past ten years, we now have an opportunity to raise our voice and achieve our demands in reaching justice, equality and leadership.”
About the Syrian Women’s Political Movement and why she joined, Hala says, “It is of paramount importance that we have an organization representing women. I believe that the SWPM is capable of carrying the voice of Syrian women to the highest levels. It will be able to create a body to change women’s roles on all levels, which will enable Syrian women to be involved in leadership and in the decision-making process.”
The SWPM should, in Hala’s view, “increase the number of women in decision-making positions, and empower women on the political level. I know that the greatest challenge for the SWPM is currently its finances, but I believe that this can be overcome by self-improvement and by our belief that this organization is a necessity especially at this moment in time. It brings together Syrian women from different regions, backgrounds and ideologies. This will definitely help in creating a consensus among Syrian women about the form of change needed, and their demands in the new Syria.”
“We have strayed away from the ideals on which our Revolution was based. I feel so sad that we’ve lost our sense of direction, and allowed Syria to become a playground for strangers. I dream of returning home every day, not to the Syria we see today, but to the Syria in my imagination.” Describing the current situation in her country, and the Syria she dreams of, Hala says, “I want a country of equal citizenship, with no security forces, armed militias, or extremist groups, a country based on human dignity and freedom.”
Addressing Syrian women, Hala says, “I mentioned how my work on oral history has given me an insight into how strong Syrian women are among all the economic and social challenges they face, in addition to the difficulties created by displacement. I have seen for myself how women are capable of creating change. I say to the Syrian women, with all the skills, knowledge and abilities we have gained over the past ten years, we now have an opportunity to raise our voice and achieve our demands in reaching justice, equality and leadership.”