The Pianist of Yarmouk

Last month a very special event took place at Emerson College in Forest Row, East Sussex – a concert by Aeham Ahmad, known as the Pianist of Yarmouk.

For four years, Aeham Ahmad played his piano as an act of human solidarity during the devastating war in Syria. In the suburb of Yarmouk, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, he wheeled out his piano to perform in the streets, playing for the local children and neighbours who were looking for some respite from the misery and hardship of a long siege, during which many starved. He would sit at his piano, in the midst of all the rubble and destruction, and would play to keep up the spirits of the local people.


Aeham Ahmad, seated at his piano amidst the ruins of Yarmouk (photo via Irish Times)

This was dangerous work; he has a scar on his forehead and another on his hand, where a tendon was severed by shrapnel and sewn back together by a carpenter, who agreed to operate on him because the doctors had all fled. He has mental scars, too, and thinks constantly of the people he left behind in Yarmouk, which the UN branded a “death camp” last year; and of Zaineb, a young girl murdered by a sniper, as she sang beside him.

Ahmad’s piano was eventually destroyed by Isis, burned before his eyes. His family’s music shop, which housed thousands of instruments – 1,200 ouds, 600 guitars, and pianos – was bombed to pieces by Syrian regime forces. In 2015, unable to carry on any longer, the pianist finally fled Syria, crossing Turkey and risking death on the Mediterranean, before arriving in Germany. His wife, two young sons, and parents have now joined him.

During his concert to a packed audience at Emerson College, we heard the extraordinarily emotive playing of Aeham as he evokes what it felt like to be under siege and bombardment, veering between an outraged resistance to injustice and descent into total despair. Occasionally, his voice erupted in a wail of wordless horror and grief and his hands pounded the keys or plucked and thumped the piano strings. You can hear  and see him here.

Between the musical pieces, Barbara Schiller from stART International (an anthroposophical organisation based in Germany which works with traumatised refugee children), read extracts from Aeham’s book about his experiences, The Pianist of Yarmouk.

This concert, called ‘Art for Peace’, was a collaboration between Emerson College, stART International, and Aeham Ahmad. For the refugee children with whom stART International works, life has changed fundamentally and will never be as it was before their exile. Traumatic experiences such as war, escape from dangers in the home country or natural disasters are particularly harmful to children and stART international considers its task to be to assist children in these situations. They have found that artistic or playful activities under pedagogical and trauma-therapeutic guidance directly activate the self-healing and power of resistance of the child and thereby help it to regain its stability and inner balance.  A report here shows just how difficult life is for these children who live in the refugee camps.

On the morning following the concert, Aeham and Barbara led a workshop for people interested to find out more about trauma pedagogy and emergency aid for children. As a result of the generous response from the concert audience, we were able to make a significant donation to the work of stART International; and the College is in discussion with them about possible further collaboration in the future.

Aeham Ahmad is now a YouTube star. Initially, he was anxious about being recorded, and astonished when the videos began to go viral. Later, he realised that the internet gave him a kind of freedom, bridging the gap between his experiences in Yarmouk, and those of us in the rest of the world who are gradually becoming aware that there is no essential separation between ourselves and all the people who are suffering in conflicts such as in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

If you would like to make a donation to the work of stART International, you can do so using these details:

stART international e.V. – Postbank München –

BIC/SWIFT: PBNKDEFF – IBAN: DE56 7001 0080 0009 0098 05


Filed under Aeham Ahmad, Emerson College UK, stART International, The Pianist of Yarmouk

2 responses to “The Pianist of Yarmouk

  1. David

    Thank you for sharing this Jeremy – one human interest story like this is worth a thousand from the mainstream news.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Silver Moon

    It is good to hear that one Syrian refugee has managed to get to Britain, and find some worthwhile work. Most, if they were trafficked to the UK at all, are in for a life of menial work at well below minimum wage. It’s a lot more than they could earn in Syria* though. More important is to ask why there are refugees at all. Without the US intervention (via ISIS) there would have been no migrants. Before this, Syria was a place where Jews, Muslims and Christians all lived together in cities like Aleppo and Damascus. It wasn’t perfect, as witnessed by several Syrian refugees I met who attested to the cultural limitations on their lives; nevertheless, for most, it was as comfortable an existence as any. After all, Syria had one of the best education systems and healthcare systems in the Middle East, ranking with those in Eastern Europe. The only other state with an equivalent was Iraq. Well, we all know what happened there, don’t we?

    It is pointless to mention where Britain’s quota of refugees are because it’s not part of the media narrative in the UK. However, it is of note that Rudolf Steiner did not give his lectures on the Karma of Untruthfulness because the UK is a paragon of virtue; he gave them because the UK – and England in particular – has been known as ‘Perfidious Albion’ since the Middle Ages. And with good reason.

    Britain’s involvement in Syria has been one that the media is extremely uncomfortable with. Steiner detailed English media methods with regard to besmearing the Germans in the generation leading up to World War 1; the tactics having been successful, were then rinsed and repeated in that all too Ahrimanic way. It has always been so much easier to brand an individual as a dictator because that is what the readers of the British media can form as an idea in their heads. This is an essential element of propaganda: the lie has to be believable. That, by the way, is the first Law Of Propaganda.

    Syria has its problems, they are rarely the ones discussed in the media – for reasons that should be obvious. Dictators aren’t branded dictators because the media wants to tell you the truth; it’s easy to brand someone a dictator. It’s harder to deal with the reality, the truth.

    But then, Britain’s government got a deal with the EU by betraying the DUP; the Americans in Syria ‘won’ their war by betraying their allies, the SDF. Who have the British betrayed in Syria, other than Bashar al-Assad, the eye doctor from Moorfields hospital? It is almost routine that the media speak of him either bombing or gassing his own people; not the usual pursuit for a doctor, but that’s not how propaganda works, is it? It relies on people not asking stupid questions like “why did Assad gas his citizens at precisely the moment the US wants to commit another war crime in Syria?” It was so successful that the media claimed Assad did it several times. Ahriman, again.

    It brings to mind an interview on Radio 4, held several weeks ago in the all too important twenty-to-nine slot, where a Russian General was being grilled for their exploitation of the situation in Northern Syria, but without mentioning the betrayal of the Kurds by the US. All was going swimmingly until the said General asked his British interviewer whether there had been a UN mandate on Syria. “No,” said his interviewer, innocent of the portent of this question. “Or a UN vote to take military action in Syria?” “No,” said his interviewer, completely unaware of the trap he was walking into. “Then why,” asked the General, in his mild, inoffensive way, “are there British Army troops in Syria illegally?”

    The interview was wrapped up with all the haste of a car crash, it being clear that this is was not news allowed on Radio Four. It is not for the public to know that British army officers are training ISIS in Syria or co-ordinating the shelling of the suburbs of Damascus by ISIS. That would mean Britain was calling the kettle black, in the way they blamed Germany for being warlike, back in the 1900s. The British duly believed this lie because it was something the British did so well. Tell the British the truth about Germany and they’ll tell you that you are wrong – but without being able to tell you quite why. That, by the way, is the demonstration of the Sentient Soul.

    If people started thinking, started reading the ‘Philosophy Of Freedom’ and allow its true depth to work on them, propaganda would not have the least effect. It’s what Anthroposophy has to offer the world: to realize when an untruth is being spoken. The bitterness follows when one realizes how many one had believed.

    (*Unless they get the $30,000 paid annually to each of the US backed terrorists.)

    Liked by 1 person

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