I was born and raised in Raqqa, Syria. As my hometown, Raqqa in my mind is a place of first memories, mainly beautiful ones: first steps, first achievements, first performance on my school stage, first dreams about the world and many more memories that became more precious after the war in Syria.
But Raqqa, in the Syrian context, was one of many marginalized cities. It was rarely mentioned in the Syrian official television channel. It did not appear on the weather forecast either. It was disappointing to see the weather map changing every five years, according to the latest studio set renovation, without ever seeing Raqqa on the map.
Today, ironically, my hometown is well-known, although I can think of million ways of how Raqqa could have been known to the world other than the way it actually happened. After the so-called Islamic State invaded Raqqa, turning it into its capital and its theatre of atrocities, people everywhere were able to imagine Raqqa and to link it to brutality. Suddenly and unfairly, Raqqa acquired an image that has nothing to do with the real Raqqa or its inhabitants.
Of all the losses that the citizens of Raqqa experienced with ISIS, losing the identity and the image of our hometown was the most difficult, particularly for the civilians who stayed behind and suffered because of their attachment to their homes and their city. In the end, these civilians of Raqqa lost everything to the battle of defeating ISIS.
The Raqqa we know doesn’t exist anymore. I have lost my home, my past and most of the people who were part of it and this is the case for thousands in Raqqa. All I have left are memories of what Raqqa could have been and visions of what it can be.
Right now, Raqqa only conjures up an image of terror. I intend to change that narrative. That is why I created See My Raqqa, as a way to reintroduce my city to the world. The Raqqa I know is a place of culture, beauty and history, and See My Raqqa is an overdue debt from humanity, which we owe to this magnificent city from way before ISIS’s invasion.
See My Raqqa is also a means to inspire conversations among my fellow Raqqa residents—past and present— about what we can build, and about how this time we must have a say in writing the next chapter of our history. In @seemyraqqa I am including the voices and dreams of those who stayed behind. Because if they – those who suffered and survived under ISIS – are not part of the future of Raqqa, who will be?
By Lamis Aljasem
Lamis Aljasem, founder of See My Raqqa