A voice for newcomers in Sweden

The Jewish Syrian who dreams of rebuilding his country

Alanov. Photo: Private

Published: 25.Jul.2016 10:30 hrs

Being Jewish in Syria was not easy, says Alanov, 25, who has been in Sweden since 2014, but he still dreams of returning home to help rebuild his country.

There has been a Jewish community in Syria since Roman times. In the 19th century it numbered several thousand, but by 2005 just 80 Jews remained. Most of these have fled since the war started, and by the end of last year it was estimated that just 18 were left in the country.
Under Assad, Jews were officially banned from politics and government employment.
“If you talk to my grandparents, they would tell you that there was no hatred among Syrians toward Jews or anyone else. Jews used to have jobs and trade, and that was very popular in Syria before the Assad regime came to power in the seventies, after which most Jews were forced to flee.”
Despite this Alanov says he had a great life, and was two years into a Law degree when he came to Sweden. But back in Syria he had to be discreet about his Jewish background:
“Most of our neighbours knew that we were Jews, it was quite normal and fine. However, I have never said openly that I was Jewish to those who didn’t know us”.
Most Syrians don’t feel comfortable hearing about Jews living in Syria, he says.
“That was not because we lived in a society with a Muslim majority, it’s mostly because of the Assad regime’s approach, and what Syrians were taught at schools. Schools always taught indiscriminate hatred of all Jews.”
“Whenever I was asked, I would say that I’m Christian.”
Despite the difficulties faced by Jews, Alanov is clear that he loves his country.
“I love Syria, I love Damascus,” he says. 
“We used to love each other, my friends were of all religions. I celebrated Ramadan and Christmas with my friends, and that didn’t mean I changed my religion.” 
Alanov says his parents told him that before the Assads came to power in 1971, Syrians were highly educated, open minded and liberal. Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar, the current president, “destroyed the country on all levels, they kidnapped the whole nation.”
Jews felt this particularly: “We couldn’t practice our rituals normally by going to synagogues for example, and mostly worshipped at home in secrecy. The worst thing to me was hearing my schoolmates expressing hatred towards Jews,” he says.
“After all the destruction in Syria, a country with more than 5000 years of civilization, I started to doubt God’s existence.”
Alanov came to Sweden in 2014, after five years in Lebanon. His brother is also in Sweden, his sister is in Germany and his mother is back in Lebanon. Seeing his family is an impossible dream at the moment. He points to the irony of Europeans freely travelling to Syria to join Isis, while innocent Syrians are unable to travel. 
“In the asylum countries, they give you something and take others. Here for example, you have to wait for them to decide on your life. You might wait for two years to have the chance and know what they have decided for you; either to stay or to be deported – is that freedom? Isn’t that degrading?
"And that’s not only in Sweden, it’s everywhere. To all EU countries I ask, why have you closed your borders now? Now there’s more destruction in Syria than before?”
Despite the frustrations, he is full of praise for the “respectful and humane” way Swedes have received refugees.
“They are not racists – love stems from their hearts. At the time of the refugee crisis, I went to Stockholm’s Central Station to help people; and we saw how the Swedes were taking off their jackets and clothes to offer them to the refugees. They helped while no Arabic country wanted to do so.”
Alanov still longs to return to his homeland, despite the difficulties faced by Jews there.
“It’s not about Sweden or anywhere else, but it’s hard to feel like you’re losing your homeland. In Sweden I can openly express my beliefs – but still, that doesn’t mean I am free.”
“We need to go back and build our country; we can build the future of our country and no-one else.
“I have lost my dignity, and I have lost my freedom. I am free when I am able to say it openly among my Syrian brothers and sisters: I am a Syrian Jew.

More Stories

Ratiba says living in Sweden will "give a new meaning" to her life.

Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens

Ratiba Hanoush, 28, left Syria for Turkey in 2012 before arriving in Sweden last year. She admits that she still feels like an outsider, but explains why she is happier here than at home. READ
Swedish national Osama Krayem, linked to the deadly attacks in Paris on November 13 and in Brussels on March 22, is now suspected of having plotted to attack also the Schiphol airport in the Netherlands. READ
American singer-song writer Bob Dylan has removed any mention of him being named one of this year’s Nobel Prize laureates on his official website. READ
Sweden received 70 percent fewer requests for asylum in the period between January and September 2016 than it did during the same time last year, the country’s justice and migration minister Morgan Johansson has revealed. READ
Writer Roger Hill details his journeys on the boats that carry books over Stockholm's waterways and to its most remote places. READ
Justus and Emma

A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage

Closeness, selflessness, and pleasure; falling in love is a strange but wonderful human experience. READ
Police suspect arson in the blaze, as well as a similar incident which occurred last Sunday. READ
The bad news just keeps coming from the Swedish telecoms giant. READ
The social media giant had censored a video explaining how women should check for suspicious lumps in their breasts. READ
The spectacular drone footage captures both Sweden's south and the opposite extreme, thousands of kilometres north. READ

'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'

Syrian programmer Samer Malatialy got an IT job after just over a year in Sweden. His new homeland has all the ingredients to be a global startub hub, he believes, but it needs to embrace more foreign talent and fix a couple of serious bottlenecks. READ