Haitham Hussein: the continuing story of a Syrian Kurd novelist

By Abdullah Mezar Hussein:

Haitham Hussein

Haitham Hussein

Haitham Hussein is a Syrian Kurd novelist, an acclaimed critique writer and reviewer. Born on November 16, 1978, as one of eight siblings from a minority Kurdish family in the city of Amoudah in the province of Hasaka, Syria, Hussein attended senior secondary education in his hometown, before moving to the city of Hasaka where he spent two years at the Institute of Arabic Language for Teachers Preparation.

After graduating in 1998, he was appointed to teach Arabic in one of the remote villages on the Iraqi-Turkish borders, where he spent a year before he was conscripted into the Syrian army. He was badly injured in a fire, suffering third degree burns which left him with physical and emotional scars. He was discharged after two years and five months, just a month from completing the usual compulsory period of military service.

After his release, Hussein couldn’t teach because standing on his feet was difficult. After big efforts he managed to settle into administrative work in his hometown of Amoudah, as the secretary of the Centre for the National Program for the Dissemination of Information Technology.  It was another opportunity for him to learn, dealing with  computers and the Internet, and to enter into the world of technology. He was among those who helped to promote and encourage a culture of  internet technology in his town.

In 2003, he met Hassan Draei, a writer and lawyer. They co-wrote a documentary script, Amoudah is Burning. This was about the fire that gutted Amoudah Cinema on November 13, 1960, killing more than 200 Kurdish children, and leaving more than 200 injured and disabled. Among those who died were three of Hussein’s cousins. His mother and uncle had left the cinema not long before the fire started.

In the course of writing Amoudah is Burning, Hussein began writing his first novel, Aram: the Descendant of Unspoken Pains (Dar Alyanabih Publishing House. 2006).

He wrote poems when he was a teenager, and simultaneously penned opinion and critical articles. In most of his writings, he has advocated respect of human rights and the addressing of Kurdish issues. In 2007, he translated a book from Kurdish into Arabic entitled: Who is Killing Mammo ..?!  The Swing of Wolves by the Kurdish writer, Bashir Mulla. (Mammo is the legendary Kurdish lover in the Kurdish epics). This is four Kurdish plays describing the suffering of Kurdish people and their challenge to the oppressive systems.

Two years later, in 2009, he published his second novel, Hostages of Sin, which was translated into Persian. Then he published his first work of literary criticism, The Novel as Mine and as a Puzzle, in 2010.

Hussein’s works attracted the attention of the security authorities (Al Mukhabarat) in the province, which exerted pressure on him to give up his writings or be crushed. When he refused to stop writing about human rights and Kurdish issue in Syria, they threatened to dismiss him from his civil service work, which they commuted into channeling him to teaching in a remote area with a poor transportation network – Annabiah, near Tel Tamir, which is more than 80 kms from Amoudah. This was by recommendation of the Mukhabarat and by order of the provincial governor.

He remained in that school for a “year of suffering” until the beginning of the Syrian revolution against the Bashar Al Assad regime. It was then that the Mukhabarat ordered his return, apparently to ease tensions in the rebellious Kurdish area – a sort of political pawn and sponge to cool off opposition to Al Assad in Amoudah.

However, Hussein decided to move to the city of Damascus where his parents were staying in one of the capital’s suburbs, in Shebaa, East Ghouta. Within six months, their apartment was bombarded by the Syrian fighters, and the family fled to Amoudah.

Then the daily assassinations in the Kurdish area forced Hussein to flee for his life to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), enroute to Lebanon, and now he lives in Cairo. His younger brother and sister fled to Turkey, where they live with their uncles.

Hussein works as a freelance journalist and critique writer for the major Arab newspapers such as AlHayat, Assafir, Al Bayan, AlQuds, Alarabi and several other Arab papers and journals.

He tries in his writing to foster a culture of dialogue and respect for other cultures, and now he writes about the Syrian revolution and the massacres by the Syrian regime.

During his sojourn in the UAE, he held lectures in many cultural centers, and he was asked by the Department of Culture of the Sharjah government to render service for the 31st  edition of the Sharjah International Book Fair.

He is married and has a newborn daughter called Heivy, which is Kurdish for ‘Hope’.

His works


Aram: the Descendant of Unspoken Pains, in Arabic (آرام سليل الأوجاع المكابرة)  publisher: Dar Al Yanabih, Sweden 2006, Second edition by Dar Al Nahrin, Damascus 2010.

This novel talks about the yearning for returning home. His two main characters have the same name, Aram, and reflect a general phenomenon, not just an individual case. One is trying to immigrate to Germany and the other Aram lived in Germany for years. Hussein shows how the Syrian government by commission played a role of pushing Kurdish youths to leave their cities for anonymous places. Aram lives the cultural shock in Germany but, at a certain point in life, he decides to return home despite the unfair practices against him. In the face of tyranny, he decides to agitate for a revolution, landing into prison where he is tortured.  He gets released and, unfazed, wants to start again in a show to his fellow desperate souls that life neither stops nor will the current slow down for a resistant fish and that beautiful days will come. This novel shows the psychological side of the Kurdish people and their rebellion before the Syrian Revolution.

Hostages of Sin, in Arabic «رهائن الخطيئة». Dar Attakwin, Damascus, 2009. This novel talks about the suffering of the Kurdish people, their dispersion among several states, and the impact of that displacement on their lives. It also highlights how the Kurds were always falling victim in the conflicts of the major powers and international alliances.

His protagonist is a strong female character, Khatonh. Hussein imagines an end to the affliction of an entire generation of Kurdish women, a generation that survived despite oppression, crime and homelessness. He also argues that our sins and the sins of others could become virtues through a strong will and a genuine desire for change.

In the events of his novel, Hussein tries to tell the painful historical lesson that his female character learned. Optimism is central in the mind of his character. Unfortunately however, the present continues as the painful and catastrophic pat

Needle of  Horror in Arabic (إبرة الرعب) is due be published soon. It deals with several topics, including the erroneous understanding of the world, and a violent response to the injustice the main character is subjected to. Through a novelist context, this character tries to have a personal revenge for a long history of pain. It gets into the details of corruption, marginalization, human trafficking, sexual changes, the features of extremism, and the role of some Syrians in the Lebanese civil war (1975-1991). The novelist depicts several places, from a remote Kurdish village in north-eastern Syria and via Damascus and its countryside and Beirut.  In this novel, Hussein has adopted multiple voices of narrators, and tried to delve into serious problematic topics in middle-eastern culture, exceeding the red lines imposed by the walls of political regimes or the curtains of social system.

Literary criticism:

The Novel as Mine and as a Puzzle in Arabic (الرواية بين التلغيم والتلغيز). Published by Dar Noun, Aleppo, 2010. The book is divided into two parts. In the first part, Hussein talks about the death of the novel as declared by Milan Kundera and comments on Kundera’s announcement of the death of this art. He describes this announcement as a renewed call for the birth of this art. About the question: “Did the novel really die?”, he says that the novel which is close to life, and follows in the tradition of the old,  conscious novel of the past, has not died . He posits that if the novel does not break silence and uncover unspoken pains then it will die. He also talks about the small details of the novel, and the dialogue that permeates most accounts. Hussein explains the effects of times and places, and writes about the overlapping beginnings and endings of novels.

In the second part, he chooses novels that have a global resonance, gaining a lot of positive feedback but also causing problems for their authors, including Nahid Rachlin (Daughters of Iran) and Waris Dirie (Desert Flower). Other books he considers are: Death in the Andes (Lituma en los Andes) by the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa; Brida by the Brazilian author Paulo Coelho; Marrying Buddha by the Chinese author, Wei Hui; The life of Hunger by Amelie Nothomb, and Sputnik Sweetheart by the Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami.

Abdullah Mezar Hussein is Foreign Affairs correspondent for ‘Alkhaleej’ in the U.A.E.

Copyright © 2012 Kurdistantribune.com

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