In October 2020, the city of Gothenburg welcomed Ahmad Azzam, a Palestinian-Syrian writer and journalist, as their new ICORN writer in residence. Ahmad had been living in Turkey since 2015 as a refugee after fleeing from Syria due to threats to his life. Both during and before his time in exile in Turkey, Ahmad has been a prolific artist: he has been a writer for several online outlets, written scripts for cartoons, TV shows, and produced artistic shorts, including the film ‘Yellow’, inspired by a friend’s experiences in a Syrian jail.
In a small cafe owned by a fellow Palestinean- Syrian, Ahmad Azzam speaks to the distinguished writer Mustafa Can about his background, the reasons behind his work and art, the reasons that led him to flee, as well as his plans for his next two years of his ICORN residency in Gothenburg.
In the interview, Ahmad eloquently shares his perspective regarding exile and being part of a stateless people:
“.. from a purely artistic point of view, exile – being a refugee, a stranger – is a bountiful source. It gives you a different perspective and accustoms you to the idea that identity is an incessant reciprocal action between humans and their surroundings. What you’re confronted with are other stories, conventions, social codes, different ways of mixing... And each community has its own myths, legends and historical truths. It may sound paradoxical, but... I’m comfortable with being a refugee just as long as I don’t have to be afraid. And so long as I have the chance to create.”
Ahmad also shares his initial reactions upon arriving in Gothenburg and as he looks forward to the next two years of his ICORN residency:
‘The seasons, the cold – oh, I hope it snows soon – the dark and wind suit my personality. I can barely write a line when the weather is beautiful – I usually just read. And the streets and neighbourhoods in Gothenburg that are still cobbled remind me of the Old Town in Damascus. I’ve only been here for forty days, but I already feel at home.’
‘During the two years I’m going to spend in Gothenburg as a City of Refuge artist, I’ll be able to move around freely. If I want to head to Malmö or Stockholm to visit friends, then I don’t need to apply for permission and wait for two weeks to get my papers stamped. Out of the forty days I’ve been here so far, I’ve had no bodily or mental stress for thirty of them. No men in uniform out on the streets. No nightmares. No looking over my shoulder constantly. I’m not worrying about what’s waiting for me when I go around the street corner.’
You can read the full interview in English and Swedish here.
"The biography that never begins" is the title of Azzam's essay about his childhood in Damascus.
This interview was written by Mustafa Can and translated by Ian Giles. The photo is by Anders Hansson. The interview was produced as part of the exhibition Cities of Refuge - a response to persecution and oppression by the Västra Götaland region. Gothenburg’s City of Refuge Program (Fristad Göteborg) is coordinated by the Cultural Affairs Administration of the City of Gothenburg.