Born in Aleppo, Suzan Khawatmi is a Syrian writer and journalist who previously worked in Kuwaiti newspapers and currently lives in Turkey. She is a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement.
In addition to Suzan Khawatmi’s membership in the SWPM, she is also a member of the executive committee of the Syrian Writers Association, the Syrian Women’s Network, the Syrian Feminist Lobby, and the Syrian Writers Forum in Mersin.
Suzan had been living since the 1980s in Kuwait where she worked as a cultural editor. She wrote for several Kuwaiti papers and journals. She has published five short story collections and one novel. In 2018, she moved to live in Mersin, Turkey.
“It was heartbreaking for me to compare between countries that were striding towards development and modernism on the one hand and Syria which was witnessing a period of moral and material deterioration, on the other. We Syrians have lived through a process of subjugation. We were not allowed to ask why our country was turned into a private venture run by senior government officials. We had no right to criticize or object to anything especially in politics. The walls had ears in Syria.”
“My relationship with my home country was that of an expatriate visiting occasionally to meet relatives and loved ones,” she says. “The last time I visited Syria was in 2010, a few months before the revolution started.”
About joining the revolution, she says, “I had detached myself from politics. I don’t remember ever following the news. Then the revolutions started in Tunisia and Egypt and my eyes were glued to the TV screen. I followed every detail of the demonstrations of the Arab Spring, often wondering how the people managed to break free and rebel against the rulers. Was this a dream come true?”
“At the beginning of the revolution is Syria, I was in Kuwait,” she says. “I followed the first protest in Damascus via social media. I was amazed by the courage of the demonstrators, some of whom I knew personally. I belong to a generation that was fed on fear and taught to stay quiet. I feared the regime’s brutal crackdown, which did happen. I had not forgotten the events of the 1980s and their aftermath especially in the city of Hama. Despite being far away from the people protesting on the streets of Syria, I felt empowered by them. I believed that we were able to stand up to the iron fist of the police state. I felt that we should confront this oppressive ruling party which corrupted every aspect of life in our country, and systematically spread ignorance among the Syrian people who had a rich cultural heritage and invaluable resources.”
“I have been with the revolution since the first moment, with every voice demanding freedom and dignity, because it is a just cause. In the end the rulers will go away and it is the people who shall stay.”
About her contribution, Suzan says, “I participated in the revolution with the thing I was best at, writing. I wrote about the revolution and about the Syrian situation in my opinion pieces, my novel Rub‘ Waqt (A Quarter of the time), and in my short stories. In 2012, together with 9 other Syrian and Kuwaiti friends, we started a voluntary charity called Jasmine House. We used to sell Syrian home-made foods in charity bazaars and give the proceeds to refugees living in camps. In 2015, the group changed its focus to supporting education. We opened two schools in al-Qadriya camp in the Western Beqaa district of Lebanon. Even during the current financial crisis in Lebanon, the project is still helping to teach 341 children in primary school age. It also offers job opportunities for teachers living in the camps.”
“My family and I are still adapting to our new life,” she says about moving to live in Turkey. “It is no easy feat; we have to learn a new language and live in a new country. But my feelings of loss are more difficult. I feel as if I lost my faith in the real meaning of the word ‘home’. A Syria ruled by Bashar Al-Assad and the Baath Party is not a home. Let alone thinking about the losses suffered by Syrian men and women who are being killed, displaced and tortured on a daily basis.”
‘‘If women were marginalized under the rule of Al-Assad family, this was not due to a lack of capacities among Syrian women, but it was the result of a constitutionalized and systematized silencing of the entirety of the Syrian population. The traditions of a male-dominated society only added more restrictions on women.’’
About what awakened her interest in political activism, Suzan says, “As I followed the developments in Syria since 2011, I had the urge to be involved in public affairs in one way or another. I started to join movements and organizations which were supporting the demands of the Syrian people in building what the late actress May Skaf called ‘Syria the great’”.
Suzan joined the SWPM because she knew the importance of giving women their rights and the need to demonstrate women’s contribution to the revolution, and the SWPM aims to empower women’s participation in politics. Convinced that mere verbal support and sympathy do not suffice, she believes that women should and must be part of all political bodies and the decision-making process. If women were marginalized under the rule of Al-Assad family, this was not due to a lack of capacities among Syrian women, but it was the result of a constitutionalized and systematized silencing of the entirety of the Syrian population. The traditions of a male-dominated society only added more restrictions on women.
Suzan believes that the most significant challenges facing political work in Syria are the lack of a safe and encouraging political environment, in addition to the fake political role played by the current political parties working inside Syria under the aegis of the police state. Moreover, Suzan adds, the culture of accountability is completely unpracticed in Syria whether within parties, in parliament or in any other political form. The Syrian people’s lack of experience in exercising their political rights was reflected in the behavior of most political bodies in the opposition.
As for the challenges facing women in politics, Suzan says: “Women’s presence in politics has always been called into question. They are often included as a symbolic gesture. If we assume for the sake of argument that women have not played real political roles previously, this was because of their continued marginalization and attempts to suppress them in various ways. Even those who claim to be championing women’s rights, do not actually apply this to the ballot box or when voting for their representatives in any political platform.”
“Women have always been stereotyped and their roles have been restricted to taking care of their family and giving birth to children. Perceptions of a woman’s contribution to society were limited to her being a wife and a mother. This typecasting of women has destroyed the achievements made by women since Syria’s independence from France, as well as the gains made by educational organizations and women’s societies which had worked on securing women’s rights in education, work and political participation before the representation of women was monopolized by the state-led ‘Syrian Women Union’ whose activities, since its foundation until the decision to dissolve it in 2017, were limited to applauding the government, and organizing sewing and hairdressing courses. The feminist representation in the Syrian revolution strives for Syrian women to become an active part of society by protecting their rights to citizenship and equality. These are simply rights and should not viewed as favors bestowed upon women. Women are capable of achieving success in all fields.”
“We need to create an environment of dialog among ourselves as Syrians. We are no longer two distinct teams: pro-regime or against it. We have all become pawns used by other players who are working against our interests and wishes.”
Suzan believes that the only way to correct the course of the revolution is to stop the current loyalties of Syrian parties to foreign forces like Turkey, Iran, Russia and others. It has been proven time and again that these countries care about nothing but their national interests even if this means shedding the blood of Syrians. “We need to create an environment of dialog among ourselves as Syrians. We are no longer two distinct teams: pro-regime or against it. We have all become pawns used by other players who are working against our interests and wishes,” she adds.
Asked about her motivation to continue working in the public sphere, Suzan says, “In my darkest hours, I stand up to my despair and say that if there’s not hope, I shall create it myself. I have a firm belief that the impending change will not only overthrow the oppressive regime, but will also create a chain reaction of social, intellectual and moral transformations. If my generation does not witness this change, the coming generations definitely will.”
Reminiscing about some remarkable points during the last nine years, she says, “The moment when the statue of Hafez Al-Assad in Homs was toppled by the crowds demanding freedom and chanting revolutionary songs, I felt that their voices were leaving their throats to reside in my soul. It was a decisive and historic moment for me.” Suzan considers the pain felt by each and every Syrian mother who lost a child, whether by imprisonment or forced disappearance, to be her own.
Suzan dreams of a free, democratic and pluralistic Syria, a state governed by law before which all people are equal, a state where a human being may live in dignity, and where women are respected and freed from the discriminatory laws that stop them from being partners in building a Syria which is a homeland in the true sense of the word.
Addressing the women of Syria, Suzan says, “We are an unstoppable force but our efforts are going to waste. If we combine our abilities we can have a strong presence in all fields of politics, economy, science, and others. It is our duty to form pressure groups that would help us break the male-dominated circles within which we have been kept for a long time.