Born in Quneitra, Syria in 1957, Samih Choukeir is a musician, composer, and singer (here is the link to his YouTube account). Choukeir graduated from the Ukrainian National Conservatory of Kyiv, Ukraine. In 1982, he began his career as a song writer and composer. Over the past 4 decades, he has produced 10 albums and performed in concerts around the world. Choukeir also writes poetry. His songs are always with a cause, defending freedom of speech and oppressed peoples all over the world. Choukeir left Syria in 2010 in protest of the censorship imposed by the Assad regime on all free thinkers and artists. Now he lives in France.
When the uprising began in 2011, Choukeir was the first well-known Syrian artist to clearly side with the revolution and use his music to further its cause after he launched his iconic song Ya Haif, which went viral in an unprecedented manner. SYRIAWISE interviewed Choukeir to speak about the current events in Ukraine as well as the ongoing crisis in Syria.
SYRIAWISE: In a statement published by the Conscience Movement on the anniversary of the start of the Syrian revolution, you referred to the repetition of the scenario of the Russian aggression against Syria in Ukraine. Do you see that the Ukrainian issue is facing global betrayal, as happened in the Syrian issue, according to what was said in your statement? And what is the way to put an end to the series of Russian attacks, previously against Syrians, and nowadays against the Ukrainians?
Choukeir: Regarding the war on Ukraine, the similarity between it and the Syrian scenario is in regards to aggression and destruction as well as forcing millions to emigrate, not from the viewpoint of global betrayal. There is a lot of Western support for Ukraine on the military and political level, even though it is ultimately a victim of the conflict between Russia and NATO. I believe that putting an end to the imperial tendencies of a dictator like Putin would undoubtedly have a positive effect on both Ukraine and Syria.
SYRIAWISE: As an artist, you have had a significant impact on the Syrian uprising since the beginning of the revolution and throughout your career you have been famous for addressing the liberation struggles of other people. Should we be expecting you to address the events in Ukraine in the near future?
Choukeir: This is possible, of course, as I follow the events and the scenes of destruction are painful, and the pain of those fleeing the war hurts me as well. This reminds me every moment of the pain of our people. Apart from being emotionally attached to Ukrainian people because I spent my music school years in the capital, Kyiv, I have the best memories of them as educated, kind, civilized, and peaceful people.
SYRIAWISE: You see that the political bodies that were created to represent the different factions of the Syrian opposition have not succeeded so far and you have called for a “national initiative to achieve a new representative body that embodies the aspirations of Syrians for freedom and dignity.” What are the obstacles you face? And where did you reach in the practical steps?
Choukeir: I share with many Syrians their belief in the failure and collapse of the opposition’s political bodies that claimed to represent the revolution. I believe that a new, credible body must be born. Otherwise, the emerging political vacuum is a gift we present to the dictator for the rehabilitation of his dilapidated regime. There are serious attempts to produce an alternative body, but the task is not easy at all, and it is a challenge. I hope that Syrians will succeed.
SYRIAWISE: The way you sing has always evoked feelings and emotions that stem from the heart. That fact that you are now in France has not prevented you from exercising your art and uniting your free voice with those of the demonstrators calling for the toppling of the Assad regime. What is the legacy that Samih Choukeir wants Syrians to remember?
Choukeir: I do not think about what I will leave as a legacy, but I write, sing, and live open to all contemporary human issues and I realize the great interdependence among all crises on this planet and the effect they have on everyone. I feel the effects of the destructive behavior towards nature, apart from war, which is practiced by man without accountability for its results, that put us on the brink of mass destruction. I see that culture and the arts play a prominent role in awakening the conscience to the awareness of the dangers that surround us, in addition to its main battle in terms of its defense of beauty and humanity.
SYRIAWISE: Were you able to obtain the archives of your past performances from Syrian state TV?
Choukeir: No, I was not able to do so because the regime had forbidden the broadcasting of my songs and hid my archives since the first days of the revolution.
SYRIAWISE: What does it mean to you to be Syrian in 2022?
Choukeir: It means more to me than ever before: to be a messenger for the Syrian cause wherever I go and to show the world the extent of the Syrian tragedy and the justice of the demand for freedom and human dignity in a republic of fear and dictatorship. I don’t hesitate to exhaust all efforts in working with all Syrians to restore Syria as a state of citizenship and democracy and to get it out of the clutches of tyranny.