November 30, 2015
Yazbek to Vart land “I fight with words and feel like Don Quixote and his impossible battle against windmills, but memory is an important basis of our existence”

Yazbek to Vart land “I fight with words and feel like Don Quixote and his impossible battle against windmills, but memory is an important basis of our existence”

Lars Flydal, for Vart Land, November 24th, 2015
Photo credit: Lars Flydal

…Samar Yazbek combines humanitarian work with writing. The meeting with the people in the homeland was strong. “I’ve talked to hundreds of people who told me about the horrors of war. The author and journalist in me could not refrain from writing down the strong stories. It was my job to be their memory. There was a whole stack of notebooks from a country in chaos. There was a strong psychological burden to go through the material – and it was difficult having to make it a meaningful narrative.” 

Close to death. You approach the strong destinies both fiction and documentary. Is it difficult to combine?

– Yes… The challenge was to reformulate and concentrate them into one story. Sometimes I have experienced that it’s liberating to write about my experiences. This it was the opposite, the tragedy took me. I saw, wrote and documented – and death has become a part of me. It gave me strength, I felt close to the victims and horrors they lived. I felt on a mission to be their voice and a memory for the Syrian people, she says.

Samar Yazbek believe that a true description of reality is important to take into forward time…

Destroyed country. The original title translates literally into “The gates to oblivion“. The Norwegian title is Into the void. According to author, the title has a philosophical sense, that war leads to destruction.

– ISIS has annihilation as an objective, and Assad is ruining the country with his policy. Together with several other parties, including foreign ones, I am afraid the machinery of war will destroy my country, she says.

You write in your book that imagination is a protection against reality?

– It has been an important question for me. But what I saw and heard in Syria confirms something else: that imagination is sometimes worse than reality. Nevertheless, I used my imagination to help me through the gruesome stories…

Dreams of democracy. She believes that the fictional story can change.

– I have deep relationships with literature and writing this story strengthens the dream that, as a writer, I contribute to more fairness. My Syria is gone, but I have not lost the dream of creating a new, civilized democracy in my country, she says.

Yazbek believes the Arab Spring has undermined women’s rights.

– The situation of women has deteriorated in recent years… In Syria people have paid a high price, but the regime has not fallen… There is a scary beast called ISIS, and we have a long struggle ahead of us, especially women, she says.

Important memory. Can words take up the fight with bombs?

– I believe that words can change the world. I will write down the forgotten stories, and be part of the Syrian people’s collective memory. We have not created the war, and I will fight with words. Sometimes I feel like Don Quixote and his impossible battle against windmills, but memory is an important basis of our existence. I will give life to the victims’ fates, they deserve to be remembered, she says.

She despairs that her country is made ​​for war arena.

– Right now Syria about to disintegrate. The situation is complex and chaos and anarchy reign. Many foreign countries also help exacerbating the situation. Syria is divided in many regions and the situation is highly different in the respective areas. Infrastructure disintegrates and demographics are very unclear – the country is not recognizable. The free rebel groups that started the revolution have been weakened, while ISIS and other extreme groups strengthen. But even if chaos reigns, I clutch to the hope of a future for a free and peaceful Syria, she said.

Terror. ISIS has increased pressure on Europe, through the cruel terrorist acts. What can we do to stem the tide against the growing extremism?

– The question comes too late, it should have been asked many years ago. There is no “magic wand solution.” But the West was silent for a long time about the crimes in Syria, it was part of the reason that ISIS strengthened. And the Assad regime’s bombs killed hundreds of innocent civilians every day. It can not continue. But it must be put into other measures than the purely military to come to a solution to this crisis situation. Bomb the country to smithereens is not a solution, says Samar Yazbek.

Unsuccessful bombing. 

She looks a long way toward a new Syria.

– I’m not a political analyst, but hope we can get into a transitional period during which we will see Assad’s resignation and war criminals being brought to justice. I think it’s difficult to crack ISIS military and the bombing that is now going onis a tragedy for the civilian population. We need a new democracy with new legislation and good educational opportunities. Until now, the Assad family as been the law. That, we cannot have, says Samar Yazbek, who dreams of a new and free Syria