Aeham Ahmad, Syrian Pianist
Interviewed by Maria Cuffaro, TG3 Rai
Aeham Ahmad – born in Damascus in 1988 – belongs to the Palestinian minority in Syria and lived with his family until 2015 in Yarmouk. Originally a refugee camp to which in 1948 his grandfather fled to from Palestine, Yarmouk had become a bustling suburb of Damascus before it was destroyed during the war in Syria. Yarmuk is still besieged and no organizations come in to distribute food. Today, the camp has disappeared from the public’s consciousness.
His father, who is blind, is a musician and plays the violin. Wanting his son to follow in his rebellious footsteps, Aeham’s father insisted he play the piano since the age of 5. At the age of 23 he graduated from the conservatorium in Damascus and Homs. He and his father opened a music shop in Yarmouk where Aeham would teach music lessons to the children of the neighbourhood, and his father, a carpenter by profession, would fabricate the instruments to sell. In his music shop, away from the restrictions of the conservatory, Aeham reinvented his piano playing to his own taste, creating his own sound and interpretation. This was all before the war.
In December of 2012, Aeham’s beloved Yarmouk became a battleground, as the Syrian Army bombed the neighbourhood. Surrounded by destruction, hunger and death, Aeham took out his piano, loaded it onto a cart, and began playing music amongst the rubble to bring the people of Yarmouk some hope and joy. His street concerts were filmed and posted on YouTube, and his story of trying to bring a bit of joy against the backdrop of a war zone went viral. In 2015 an Islamic State-group jihadist killed a girl that was singing with him and burned his piano. Since this incident, his life was under serious threat.
With a heavy heart he left his wife, two sons, and the rest of his family in Yarmouk to seek refuge in Europe, where he hoped to eventually be joined by them. He journeyed across the perilous Mediterranean & Balkan routes that many to this day pursue in seek of asylum, first to Turkey, then to Greece, and finally to Germany. He was granted asylum in 2016, allowing him to be reunited there by his family.
Today, he continues to play the piano, but in concert halls across Europe, hoping to tell us his own story, as well as those of the many who have escaped Syria, through his music so as to make sure we never forget Yarmouk and its people.