The Pianist Of Yarmouk
Aeham Ahmad is the son of parents who were refugees to Yarmouk in Damascus, Syria from Palestine during the Palestine – Israel conflict of 1948. As Palestinian refugees, their official status was neutral in their adopted country.
Aeham’s father was a blind cellist, an instrument maker and extremely resourceful and talented in many ways. From an early age Aeham cared for his father by helping him to navigate the streets of a Yarmouk and beyond. They had their own instrument shop in Yarmouk in a part of a thriving area of businesses and souks.
Showing an early tenacity, courage and perseverance Aeham Ahmad urged on by his father attended a prestigious music school in Damascus and learned to be a classical pianist. As he grew older, he rebelled at his father’s insistence that he carried on learning music as his father believed it would give him an excellent skill that could take him far in the world. Little did he know exactly how far!
As the civil war in Syria began to reach a peak, Yarmouk became a city under siege.
In December 2012, fierce clashes erupted in Yarmouk, an area of Damascus home to approximately 160,000 Palestine refugees. The intensity of these clashes and the widespread use of heavy weapons caused numerous civilian casualties, severe damage to property and the displacement of 140,000 Palestine refugees and thousands of Syrians. In July 2013, a state of siege emerged in Yarmouk, trapping the remaining 18,000 civilians inside and preventing the entry of commercial and humanitarian goods. Severe hunger and deprivation emerged over the following six months, while intensive armed clashes continued.
In April 2015 extremist groups took over control of large parts of Yarmouk and it became a battleground fought over by the groups. Conditions were horrendous. The area was bombed back to the Stone Age. Apartment blocks destroyed and many of the people survived amidst the ruins. They were starving. People starved to death. Aeham discovered a way of making falafels using stored supplies of lentils and distributed them to the starving population.
As a way of entertaining people, particularly the children and using his music as a form of protest, Aeham wheeled out his piano into the streets to play. Videos of him playing were uploaded to YouTube. Aeham Ahmad became known throughout much of the Western World.
His eventual escape from the area was miraculous and hair raising and followed on Facebook by thousands of people.
Watching the videos on YouTube of him playing the piano in the bombed out streets surrounded by small children is heartbreaking and those images will stay with me, particularly when those who choose to do so for their own ends use the refugee crisis created by war in Syria for negative propaganda.
A fascinating book about the strength of human spirit and suffering and the ability to survive against all odds. Half way through this book I was desperate to read the whole story of the Pianist of Yarmouk and it was on my mind when I fell asleep at night. Consequently I woke up during the night to finish the rest of the book.
With thanks to the publisher for my copy via a NetGalley