Ravda Nour Jouma
I first met Ravda last November at a workshop in the border province of Hatay, hosted by the Ankara-based Research Center for Refugees (IGAM) and the Association of Journalists. But over the past four months she must have grown at least four years: The sharp-tongued small girl defiantly blasting the media for using hate speech in stories about refugees was replaced by a calm young woman very much aware of what she wanted and what she may achieve.
“I’m not a politician. I had some political tendencies a while ago but learned from bitter experience that there might be many faces and languages of politics,” she said, skillfully avoiding questions about how she viewed the political statements of Turkish leaders. “I know my limits and I’m in no position to answer why the president recently said 3.5 million refugees would be returning to Syria. He must possess details and information that are unavailable for me.”
But she was clear and outspoken in stressing at the latest workshop, this time in Adana, that not all refugees would be willing to return. “My grandpa would definitely say he would pack to return as soon as the right conditions are created in Syria. My father might seriously consider returning too. But would I return? No. I am now a Syrian and Turkish dual citizen. I am a world citizen. I cannot return to Syria. I have opened my eyes to a new reality, a new world in Turkey. I want freedom, I won’t return,” Ravda said.
“We have lost a generation because of the war. Even if the war ends and peace is established in Syria, will schooling be available tomorrow for our children? Will security, economic life, and social life return to normalcy tomorrow? Should we lose yet another generation while Syria reestablishes normalcy?” she added.
“Perhaps Turkey, Syria and other governments should sit down and agree to a transition, discussing how normalcy should be restored and how security can be ensured for those who sought refuge here and elsewhere but are considered traitors back home. They should discuss how those people can return to live there in security and tranquility,” Ravda said.
She was aware of what she was talking about, touching on the tough and sensitive aspects of problems like a ballerina. Just two weeks ago she was guest of a women’s conference hosted by the U.N. in New York. There, she was proud to disclose, she was asked to “speak on behalf of Arab women,” not just for the Syrians. She also visited Washington and met with various U.S. senators. Works are said to be in the pipeline for her to become a United Nations goodwill ambassador, but she has set herself the goal of completing university, completing post-graduate studies, and placing a “Dr.” in front of her name.
“If I return to Syria, will I be able to continue my education? In those areas people don’t generally appreciate women going further even than high school. I am in favor of the education of girls, which indeed is how I managed to leave my shell while organizing civil activities in the refugee camp,” she said.
Turkey is country a country of refugees, formed as the remains of a shrinking empire. A vast geography, including Syria, was once part of this country. Groups from all corners of the former empire in the founding period of the Republic helped form the present-day culture of this land. But for any country, adding four million new people – with all the attendant linguistic and cultural barriers - might be rather challenging.
Ravda disagreed. “It may be a challenge but it’s also an opportunity,” she said.
I’m sure we will talk and hear a lot about Ravda in the years ahead.