• Saturday, November 22, 2014

'The pianist' of Syria war

Afp, Beirut

In the Yarmuk camp in southern Damascus, the notes escape a piano set in a scene of destruction and the children in Ayham al-Ahmed's little group sing of hunger and suffering.

The music in the Syrian camp, under siege for a year and wracked by violence, seems at odd with the brutality that is all around.

It is almost reminiscent of the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish pianist in the World War II, immortalised in the film "The Pianist" directed by Roman Polanski.

"I loved that movie, which I saw in 2007, but I never thought that I would come to embody such a character," Ahmed told AFP, contacted by the Internet.

In photos posted on Facebook, the 26-year-old plays the piano in streets littered with debris, his face growing thinner with each passing month.

Once a thriving neighbourhood home to 150,000 Palestinian refugees and Syrians, Yarmuk has been reduced to a shell of its former self in the conflict that began in March 2011.Caught in fighting between rebels and the regime, just 18,000 residents remain, suffering under a government siege that has caused the deaths of some 200 people in a year, including 128 of hunger.

"I weighed 70 kilos between the siege, today I weigh 45," says Ahmed.

Under the circumstances, Ahmed's creation of the "Youth Troupe of Yarmuk" in 2013 was a rare ray of light.

"It was important to emerge from the despair we were living in," he says.

When he plays, he says, he feels that "there is once again something good in this life".

Ayham's father, 62-year-old Ahmed al-Ahmed, is a blind violinist who played with the troupe until rheumatism exacerbated by malnutrition forced him to quit.An admirer of Bach, as well as the greats of Arabic music, Ahmed is proud of his son, who composes music for songs written by amateur poets in the camp and refugees abroad.

"Music is a universal language, a passport to reach that other," the elder Ahmed says.

"I want to put a smile on the faces of children," says Ayhem al-Ahmed, who named his children's choir "Buds of Yarmuk".

"When the children sing, I feel that there is hope again," says Ahmed, who dreams of one day playing in a professional orchestra.

Published: 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Last modified: 2:15 am Wednesday, August 13, 2014

TAGS: Damascus Yarmuk camp destruction Syrian camp Wladyslaw Szpilman

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