Culture Wars: Syria

Abdulkarim Ekzayez

Abdulkarim Ekzayez is a Syrian medical doctor and an epidemiologist. He graduated in 2010 from Aleppo University in Syria with Advanced Surgery Training at Munster University in Germany. When the Syrian conflict broke out, he was resident neurosurgeon in Aleppo but swiftly moved to provide surgery assistance in field hospitals in north-west Syria. With the situation worsening in the war, he joined Save the Children International to lead their efforts in public health and immunization. He was selected for the prestigious Chevening scholarship and has studied a Master of Epidemiology at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Dr. Abdulkarim is a regular contributor to several medical and civil society institutions in Syria. He is a trustee member of two Syrian NGOs, and he is also a talented poet.

doi: 10.18278/aia.2.2.34

Societies with multiple cultural identities should ensure a space of expression for each group that allows them to translate their culture in aesthetic expressions such as exhibitions, worships, traditions, and arts. Otherwise, these groups, if feeling restricted and marginalized, would express their cultures in aggressive ways and display intolerance rather than pride.

Syria is an example where most ethnic, religious, and social constituencies have experienced this marginalization. After four decades, marginalization has turned into feelings of persecution (Callahan et al. 2017). All cultural expressions in Syria are driven by the country’s established political powers. Poets, musicians, and artists have been detained or exiled when they did not conform to political expectations and directives. However, when these groups tried to raise their voice in 2011, the response by the Syrian regime was more aggressive than expected. While anger was initially directed against the Assad regime in the beginning, escalating violence and ideologically driven cultural threats turned groups into enemies of each other. What had been coexistence turned into animosity.

Unless it conveys a political view or incites violence, the sound of art is inaudible in conflict. Media in Syria are politicized vehicles for legitimizing conflict-based art. There is limited reaction against this as people trapped in conflicts tend to focus only on the most basic necessities; art is an interest they cannot afford. Consequently, most art forms live in alienation and most artists feel useless as their ingenuity is no longer desirable.

Yet, some Syrian artists have broken this alienation by finding a different audience even if they have had to flee their country. For example, members from the National Syrian Orchestra have fled across Europe to deliver messages they had previously communicated when there was a Syrian audience.

The conflict in Syria is a thumbnail of the global cultural conflict, in which political and economic interests drive international relations. Unfortunately, some ideological camps tend to use culture and art as conflict tools as well. As a result, conflicts can be a theatre of contestation between dominant national cultures and local identities.

No nation or culture can isolate itself from others in a globalized world. The balance between promoting cultural openness and strengthening local identities is crucial to understand that differences are complementary to each other, not cause for conflict.

The question remains: Can we use the technologies of globalism to invest in building shared values and principles across nations so that cultures can complement each other and offer a better future for humanity?


Callahan, Jack, et. al. The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. (2017) Syrian Women and Children: Identifying Gaps and Goals for Reconstruction. University of Washington. <;