Tastakel

Sulafa Shikh Hasan

Sulafa has held many positions in local and international organizations in the field of
humanitarian work. She worked in project management as well as in public relations.
She also has experience working with donors, obtaining grants, and building
partnerships between organizations. She also worked on organizing and planning
meetings and symposiums at the local and international levels attended usually
by ambassadors and diplomatic envoys.

Sulafa sees herself as the daughter of the city of peace (Afrin), even though she was born
in Aleppo in 1988. She graduated from the University of Aleppo, in the Faculty
of Arts and Human Sciences, (Department of Turkish Language). Learning and languages
is her passion. Her first language is Kurdish, and learned Arabic at a young
age. She then learned English and excelled in her middle school and secondary
school. She wanted to pursue her studies in English, but she missed out by only
two grades in her high school final exam, preventing her from fulfilling her
dream to study English literature. So, she decided to focus on her fourth
language, Turkish, and pursue it at a university level. Months later, she was
given the opportunity by the Syrian Women’s Network to apply for the Women
Peacemakers Fellowship Program at the Institute of Peace and Justice at the
University of San Diego in the United States of America for the year 2020/2021.
Sulafa succeeded and was chosen after months of communication, responding to
many requests and meetings, as a Syrian woman with three other women from other
countries. They appreciated sharing and exchanging knowledge and expertise. They
formed a wonderful and friendly team to talk about common causes and tackle
controversial issues of mutual concern and interest.

Sulafa’s graduation year from university marked the beginning of a new phase in the lives of
millions of Syrians in 2011. Dozens of thousands of Syrians took to the streets
and started demanding freedom. “This is a history that could never be forgotten”
Sulafa says. However, things shifted quickly as violence and terror spread
everywhere. People helplessly tried to escape. Her family decided to seek safety
near their city, in the northern countryside of Aleppo, hoping for a tranquil
refuge from the chaos. However, tranquility in a country governed by a
dictatorship and conflicts was hard to find anywhere. The family therefore
decided to move to Turkey. She believes it was a correct decision. The family
no longer had a place in Syria.

In the midst of all these conflicts, Sulafa reflected on how to balance between feelings of
national patriotism, while also holding on to her Kurdish identity. Both had
become costly for her. Even after the asylum in Turkey in November 2012, there
remained, around Sulafa, the questions about sectarian, ethnic, and subordinate
issues, and quotas, especially in regard to the way Syrians were trying to
organize themselves. She felt it was unfortunate to see the impact of the Baath
Party and its influence on generations of Syrian for the past decades. For
Sulafa, it was evident and clear that Syrians had to make a decision to start over
to move beyond the corrupt framework.  

Sulafa talks about the right to self-determination and the need to belong without pressure
or discrimination. She wanted to become an activist to consolidate the position
of Syrian individuals and communities that had moved to Turkey in the past
eight years. This is why she can’t talk about herself without mentioning what
she went through in terms of bullying and racism due to being a Syrian woman in
Turkey. Through hard work and determination, she gained plenty of experience and
expertise in several fields. She was learning something new, constantly. She describes herself as being curious, with
deep love for learning and excellence. As a result, she became knowledgeable
and familiar with many things. She became interested in attending Tastakel’s
program for a period for three months, and was happy to learn about many topics
of interest to Syrian women during these months. She came to think of
peacebuilding differently as well the importance of human rights.

The sessions were useful to her, and changed her views about many topics, including transitional justice,
governance, elections, negotiations and conflict resolution. She also enjoyed the classes on leadership and personal psychological wellbeing. Each of these topics opened up her world and she found herself asking more questions. “I realized how far the new concepts could
impact local society. Every woman who does not have this kind of knowledge or the skills will not be seeking decision-making positions, and this negatively affects the development and progress of society in return,” Sulafa affirms. While being among Tastakel’s
groups, given their different backgrounds, she felt that she belonged and experienced the spirit of working in a cohesive team, consisting of different sects, backgrounds and affiliations, varied in their lifestyles or intellectual orientations. She saw that they formed a cohesive unified group, united in pain and brought together by hope.

In addition to the information they received, which enriched their minds with knowledge and
experience, Sulafa says their dreams also changed. They became filled with hope for a better tomorrow in which women would be empowered with knowledge and the tools to wage peace. She says, they also started thinking of the importance of women leaders in a new Syria; and the perspectives they could bring to the table. Sulafa explains how the classes made them interested in learning how to build a peaceful democratic country, and the need to change and transform, and how even small steps could start journeys with big consequences.