Category Archives: Kurds

Visiting the birthplace of Syria’s much loved philosopher poet.

Yesterday, the @guardian carried a report by Martin Chulov about the latest bombing in Syria. It took place in the famous town of Maarat al Numan, not far from Aleppo. The town had been home to one of Syria’s much-loved philosophers, al Ma’arri. And so I took a  local bus there to find out more. This was before the war in Syria had become so terrible. Here’s the story:

I get off the bus at the top of the town and start assembling my meagre vocabulary in order to get to al Ma’arri’s tomb.

Abu ‘ala al Ma’arri or, to give him his full and glorious name, Abu ‘ala Ahmad ibn abd Allah ibn Suliman al Tanookhy al Ma’arri, was a writer I think I might well have got on with. He had a quirky, iconoclast take on life – a refreshing antidote to the strict, humourless way in which religion in Islamic countries today is sometimes both presented and perceived. He was also a vegetarian and an atheist – and therefore a very rare bird indeed in these parts.

Al Ma’arri was born in Ma’arrat al Numan, in 973CE and spent the greater part of his 84 years here. An illness left him blind from the age of five and he was forced to develop other compensatory skills including that of an exceptional memory which allowed him to study at Antioch, Aleppo and Tripoli – three of the great centres of learning at that time. His literary career was helped by the fact that he had a small private income.

In his 30s, he travelled to Baghdad where he established himself as a writer with very individual views and where he was much in demand at literary get-togethers. Those same views, however, worked against him when he decided that rather than sullying his art by selling his work he would simply recite it or offer it for discussion. Such high ideals, however, required a patron and unable to find one, and his own private income not being enough to survive on, he ran up against hard times and two years after arriving in Baghdad left it again to return to Ma’rrat al Numan. By then, he was 37 and on the way to adopting a lifestyle that was to characterise him for the rest of his long life.

From then on, he withdrew into himself, renouncing the excesses and vagaries of contemporary life. His own was governed by three things: his blindness, his writing and his solitude.

If this had been all I had to go on, I might have written off al Ma’arri as an eccentric recluse. However, his views marked him out as a very rare writer indeed for he spoke loud and clear of possibilities other than the orthodox.

The idea that there was only one true religion was one he rejected out of hand and, writing some seventy years before the First Crusade, was remarkably prescient: “Religions have only resulted in bigotry and bloodshed with sect fighting sect and fanatics forcing their beliefs onto people at the point of a sword. All religions are contrary to reason and sanity.”

Read more about the town in my book My Home is Your Home

 

 

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Filed under Books, journalist, Kurds, literature, Observer newspaper, Syria, Travel, Uncategorized

Young Syrian has refreshing viewpoint

Seventeen year old Nujeen  Mustafa, a Kurdish Syrian asylum seeker. is a tough nut. With the help of her sisters, she fled Syria last yeat, negotiating the  3.500 mile sea and overland journey in her wheelchair.

Interviewed in the Guardian recently she offered a refreshing view on the Harry Potter book: “Harry Potter is such a lifeless book, there’s too little emotion and too much display of power… it makes every boy in the world think they are the chosen  one.”

Clearly,  the hype failed to reach  Manjib, a town in northern Syria.

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Filed under Books, Kurds, Life, Syria, Uncategorized

Saleh, the Kurd from Qamishli

I don’t know what Saleh’s sleeping arrangements are but I’ve discovered that he comes from Qamishli, a border town way over on the Syrian/Iraqi border and that he is a Kurd.
“I am not Arab,” he tells me, many times. “I am Kurd.”
Kurds make up the Middle East’s fourth largest ethnic group with many of them living across five countries: Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Though twice promised a place of their own – once in 1920 and again following the Iran/Iraq war – they are still stateless even though they number 40 million. Some crossed the Turkish/Syrian border as horse and sheep traders and there are now about one million of them living here in Syria though their rights and residential status are far from secure.

There is a statue to Damascus’s most famous Kurd just outside the citadel and as soon as I arrived here I went to have a look at it. It’s an imposing, declamatory statue of a man seated on what I can only call a horse rampant, the rider’s arm raised in triumph. Behind him, slumped dejectedly on the ground, are two knights in chain mail. The horseman is Salahadin – the name means honouring the faith – and he’s the man who knocked Richard Coeur de Lion off his crusading perch.

From my book about Syria  My Home is Your Home, A Journey Round Syria          http://wp.me/p1Frlu-2k

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Filed under Kurds, Salahadin, Syria