Celebrating Cultural and Religious Diversity in Northeast Syria: Fostering Dialogue and Development
As we mark World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, we examine northeast Syria, a home to people from diverse religious, ethnic, and social backgrounds who are united through their shared history. Northeast Syria is a land of diverse ethnicities, including Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Syriacs, Armenians, and Turkmens, among others. Each group contributes its unique traditions, language, and customs to the cultural diversity of the region. Similarly, religious coexistence thrives, with communities practicing Islam, Christianity, Yazidism and other faiths. For centuries these communities have been contributing to the rich fabric of society: embracing their similarities and celebrating their differences.
Northeast Syria faced immense brutality during Daesh’s occupation from 2014 until 2019 — when the last pocket of Baghouz was liberated by the Syrian Democratic Forces with support from the Coalition. The terrorist group methodically murdered and oppressed ethnic and religious minority groups, attempting to extinguish the tapestry of cultures that had flourished for centuries.
Since the liberation from Daesh, the people of northeast Syria have demonstrated incredible resilience in the face of acute challenges, as they determine to rebuild their communities. Community leaders, educators and civil society organisations have taken proactive steps to facilitate dialogue that bridges divides and nurtures empathy. The impact became more visible in February 2023, following the earthquake that hit Turkey and northern Syria, in which the people of the region showed a powerful example of solidarity. Over 140 truck-loads of relief aid were collected and shipped to impacted areas in northwest Syria whilst fund-raising campaigns continued apace. ‘People from different backgrounds and ethnicities came together to rescue those afflicted by the earthquake in Northwest Syria, regardless of any affiliations,’ said Hamdan Al-Abd, Deputy of the Executive Council Co-Presidency of the Autonomous Administration.
With the support of international organisations such as the UNDP, USAID, and Mercy Corps, local communities have been gradually rebuilding infrastructure, revitalising local economies and investing in education and healthcare. The inclusive approach of these organisations ensures that progress benefits all communities, irrespective of their ethnic or religious background.
Celebrating the diversity of traditions in northeast Syria fosters intercultural harmony and serves as a bridge transcending boundaries and reinforcing the shared values that connect the people of this region. Syrians there boast a vibrant tapestry of celebrated traditions, including the art of handweaving textiles, the rich culinary delights blending Arab, Kurdish and Assyrian influences, the Spiritual ceremonies of the Yazidi community and many others that promote unity. Local initiatives such as Lucin Qassabiyan’s dance school have emerged, enabling people to celebrate their heritage. Lucin established a dance school that brings together youth from diverse ethnic backgrounds to revive the region’s traditional folk dance, Dabkeh, which holds a special place in the hearts of Northeastern Syrians. Lucin expressed that ‘even though each one has his own language or ethnic background, through Dabkeh they are connected.’
The journey of recovery and healing in northeast Syria continues to take place. Collaborative projects and initiatives promote economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, and shared spaces that celebrate diversity. On this World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, let us draw inspiration from the people of northeast Syria who have taken commendable strides to rebuild their communities and continue in their recovery journey.