Akitia: The Story of Land and Identity

Akitia: The Story of Land and Identity
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Angel Al-Sha’er

Ooctober,9, 2017


“The night extended its heavy wetness over the souls of the beings in the land of beginning,  as the invisible spirits moved slowly into their dreams. A cold autumn wind slept intermittently in the dark gray bed, and the weary sand became fatigued from the pursuit of his mysterious dream on the sails of the wind; lying down on his mother’s warm lap. Only the miserable hearts remained awake controlling the worried balance of creation in the equation of life and death.” That is how the writer Jad Abdul Kareem al-Jiba'i  started his novel Akitia, which is rich with symbols and signs that lead the reader into an enchanted world where language opens one of its doors only to close another. The luxurious language seems to be the protagonist of this novel as it is in Salim’s Barakat novels.


The language used by al-Jiba'i is profound with layers of meaning and symbolism. The writing filters the words to reveal the essence of language or the language of the soul, which opens up symbolic and mythical spaces in which there is the echo of those who are suffering, deprived of their rights and uprooted from their land. This language defies the reader’s analysis of its composition and interpretation.


Akitia is a novel by Syrian writer Jadallah al-Jiba'i and was published by al-Hasad publishing house in Damascus in 2011. Before the novel, he also wrote The Friezes of the Phantom Windows, also published by al-Hasad.


The novel Akitia deals with two different issues: the Kurdish issue and the experience of IDPs from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. These two topics are examples of similar issues from different places and  times. However, the writer does not deal with them from a political context, but rather from a humanitarian perspective. The novel’s heroes are subjected to the security authorities, which watches and humiliates them under the guise of the ‘Social Affairs Services’. Thus life loses its meaning in their eyes and as the saying goes, “The prophets resign from their prophecy”.

Adam, a Kurdish man, is stripped of his Syrian citizenship along with hundreds of thousands of Kurds in the 1962 census in the Jazira area, in northeastern Syria. This census sought to replace Kurdish farmers with Arab settlers. Their case is still pending today. Samaan Jolani’s land in the Golan Heights is also taken from him by Israeli forces after the June defeat in 1967.


It is as if the writer wants to say that the land and nationality are equal in value and they are equal to identity and home in content. Otherwise why do we call an individual ‘Syrian’ or ‘Egyptian’ or ‘European’, if the meaning of identity is not connected with the land, and if the identity does not highlight the personal characteristics of individuals? An important question comes to the mind: Had the character of Adam or Samaan held the correct  nationality neither would have been uprooted from his land or deprived of his rights in it?


Samaan and Adam share the suffering of their loss of self and identity. This is not only the loss of national identity but also human identity, the identity of existence. Adam is exiled from existence; he has no characteristics, no identity and no land. This is also the case with Samaan in spite of the different reasons that led to his suffering.


The writer's choice of the characters’ names was an attempt to mix myth with reality. Each character has its symbolic significance and mythical counterpart. Adam the man and Adam the father of the prophets, was born without religion, sect, nationality, ethnicity or homeland. His homeland was the universe until the emergence of the kingdom where Adam became wretched. His real equivalent is the tortured Kurdish Adam in the novel, who belongs only to misery and nothingness. Samaan (or Simon in the Bible) is the ascetic who remained sitting on his pillar for forty years, deprived of the baggage and pleasure of the world. His equivalent in the novel is Samaan Jolani who is deprived of his rights.


Ahayqar al-Baasir, the King of Wisdom in the novel, is merely a witness to the human suffering and the reality of injustice. Where is the wisdom in the alienation of man from his humanity? And where is the justice of heaven and earth in the equality of human beings? Unlike Ahayqar, the poet Abu al-Ala al-Ma'ari defined the border between existence and non-existence, and justice and injustice, making the prophets bear responsibility for human misery. The evocation of all these characters is an evocation of existence from the heart of nothingness, and rejection of a reality that has become a hollow, violation of human life.


According to the novel, Adam’s daughter Akitia, whose name indicates the Kurdish New Year, has a degree in law. But it means nothing since her father is guilty of being Kurdish. A man is found guilty in the eyes of the despotic authorities when he is born with an ethnicity that is different from that of the authority. Akitia has no right to work with her certificate or to claim its most basic rights. Should the Kurds apologize for being Kurdish in order to recognize their humanity and claim their rights?


Adam’s home is Ghubira, a border desert village, which like its residents struggles to assert its identity. There the sun and its shadow are deceitful. It is filled with dust and smoke which obscure its morning face. Ghubira was only a container for those who lost their human identity under the watchful eye of a political authority that does not neglect anything. Samaan dies inside the Social Service Affairs Office, which is a branch of the Security Services that brings news, monitors individuals, and controls according to its own whims. Samaan goes to that office daily with Adam to prove that they did not leave their place of house arrest. This branch is headed by a first assistant named Abu Nizar al-Sumein who has a bulging potbelly as a result of his extortion activities. Samaan ultimately dies defeated, truncated, and humiliated. His humanity died in this question: "Where have you been so far, Samaan?" The question was repeated several times: “Seven days, Samaan; a time of complete creation. Where were you in those seven days”? Samaan replied in one word: “I did not. (…) I was dead on the roof of my house, under the shadow of a fig tree, if you like”. Samaan slept, and the trace of his body left him.  


The Kurdish issue is a chronic problem, as is the situation in Golan. The issues related to these contested areas remain unsolved. Perhaps only the passing time of history will be enough to mend their wounds. What is happening between Kurds and Arabs in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere is clear evidence of the fragility and pitfalls of coexistence. Bringing together Samaan and Adam in the novel links two different nationalities, neither of which recognizes the other, but what unifies them is stronger than ethnic tendencies, fanaticism and ideological follies. Human experiences are common to people of different languages. We must learn the art of moving from noise to coherent speech. Speaking is the production of meaning and value. We must learn the art of moving from faith to thinking, which is to learn the art of moving from dependence to freedom. Faith rules out the “other” intuitively, but critical thinking provokes its necessity, and on this evocation, the use of the “other” and recognition of their right to be different is where tolerance is built, according to the writings of Gad al-Karim Jubai.


Women are not absent from the novel. In the eyes of the writer their presence is felt in every event throughout the novel even in the moments of their absence. Women are the regeneration and resurrection represented in Akitia and the connection of heaven to earth as represented in the deceased wife of Adam who continues to speak to him saying:


“Adam, wake up, do not sleep. Look up to the heart of the sky and you will see me. I am the bright star of morning; the necklace of the light on the chest of the charming night. I am the goddess of charm…the soul of Babylon and the smell of Eden, the lighting of the light and the fountain of the laughing spring…My father called me the pearl of the sky. My mother called me the foam of the sea. My name was written with the delicious smell of fruits and the branches of the palms, and the kingdoms of evanescence denied me.” Ghubira and Golan are like women, denied by the kingdoms of evanescence.


“It was the evening and it was the morning of another day”. This biblical rhyme used by the writer symbolizes the absurdity of existence between two contradictory poles in one life; in the equation of life and death, justice and injustice, good and evil, light and darkness.





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