Syrian Novelist Khaled Khalifa in Brussels

Through his powerful novels, Syrian writer Khaled Khalifa has been helping international readers understand the atrocity, complexity and hidden nuances of the Syrian civil war.

Speaking from Brussels, Khalifa weighs in on last weekend’s Western coalition airstrikes in Syria and says there should be no illusion that the attacks will be a game changer in the 7-year-old war.


Internationally acclaimed novelist, Khaled Khalifa, is one of Syria’s greatest contemporary writers.

In spite of the war, the writer continues to live in his native Syria but was in Europe last Saturday when the United States, France and Britain hit a Syrian chemical site.

The Western coalition airstrikes were in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack by government forces against the Damascus suburb of Douma.

Khalifa says that although the West’s latest military action may look like a resolute iron fist against Syrian President Bashar Assad, it falls short of bringing about any true and effective change against the Syrian regime.

“The coalition airstrikes seem to show that there’s a new approach that goes in the opposite direction to that of (former US President Barack) Obama in Syria; however in reality nothing has changed, it’s all just on the surface.”

“The message is the same: (Syrian President Bashar) Assad, you can continue doing anything you want, just without chemical weapons. The problem hasn’t been solved”, says Khalifa.

Khalifa says the world is only pretending to help; in reality, it’s looking the other way and allowing the wounds of war to fester even further. 

After seven years of war, he adds, Syrians have come to the realisation that they’re in this alone.

“The only thing we (Syrians) believe in is that now no one can help us. Actually, everyone can help us but nobody wants to. One day the Syrians will realise that they’re paying the price for all the dirt in the world.”

“I’m talking about after the war will end and the regime will go away. The regime won’t be able to survive longer than another year, two years, ten years; and at that point the entire world will have to provide answers to the Syrians and that will be the moment of truth”, the writer says.

Khalifa was born in 1964 to a peasant family in a village near Aleppo and now lives in the capital Damascus.

His fictional works offer a heart-wrenching window into the daily suffering, horrors and dilemmas of fellow Syrians as the conflict continues to rage in the country.

The writer is in Brussels on a foreign trip that coincides with the French version release of his latest novel “Death Is Hard Work”.

The novel highlights how even humanity’s most inevitable and heartbreaking experience, death, can turn into a complicated affair in Syria.

First published in Arabic in 2016, “Death Is Hard Work” has been translated into several foreign languages.

The book tells how a father’s dying wish to be buried in his native Aleppo turns into a farcical road trip as the mourning family set off from Damascus. 

The idea was inspired by a crucial episode in Khalifa’s own life, the writer recounts.

“This story for me is personal because in 2013 I had had a heart attack. I was hospitalised in Damascus and then for five minutes I kept on thinking ‘What will happen if I were to die now?’ My family will transport my body to my village, 400 kilometres north (of Damascus) near Aleppo.”

Tourab runs from 17 to 27 April and opened just a week ahead of an international donors meeting on Syria.

His third book “In Praise of Hatred” was banned by the country and his movements restricted.

Published on AP’s YouTube channel here.

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