Syrian refugee spreading hope through music

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - A Palestinian-Syrian pianist who performed in the war-torn streets of a Damascus suburb has held a concert in Tokyo, working to raise awareness and acquire more support from Japan.

 Aeham Ahmad, 30, grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, Syria. On Sunday he sang Arabic songs accompanied by piano at the University of Tokyo, including a song about a friend from the camp whose pregnant wife died on her way to the hospital at a checkpoint installed by the Syrian government. 

 The friend wrote the lyrics and Ahmad composed the song. At the end, he mimicked the sound of a heartbeat on the piano.

 “Every time I [play the song I] feel guilty and unhappy,” Ahmad told the audience afterward. He currently lives in Germany, and said he feels guilty because many of his relatives and friends remain in the camp. He added, “I shouldn’t play under lights, I need to play on the streets.”

 Fighting broke out between the Syrian government and opposition forces in 2011, but Ahmad kept playing piano. Even after a piece of shrapnel injured his right hand and almost ended his career as a classical concert pianist, he continued to play an upright piano on the streets to spread hope and joy among the people.

 However, the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which prohibits music, entered the area and burned Ahmad’s piano. “The piano was my friend; it is as if they killed my friend,” he said.

 Since entering Germany as a refugee, Ahmad has given hundreds of concerts in various cities in Europe. A series of terrorist attacks in European countries has harmed the image of refugees in those countries, but Ahmad serves as an ambassador, representing the hardships of refugees and the suffering of ordinary people in Syria.

 A day before the concert in Tokyo, the United States, Britain and France launched airstrikes on Syria in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on its people. After the concert, Ahmad condemned the use of chemical weapons, saying, “I want all the superpowers to stop fighting because the people are the ones who suffer the most.” 

 He urged Japanese people to “support organizations that provide assistance to people in Syria and refugees.”

 The concert was organized by the nonprofit organization Stand with Syria Japan. “We stand with the people of Syria in solidarity,” said SSJ chief Icchiku Yamada, a graduate student of the University of Tokyo.

 Ahmad will hold another concert in Hiroshima on Thursday. “Hiroshima was destroyed by an atomic bomb, and Syria is also destroyed. I want to see how people in Hiroshima reconstructed the city and tell that to the people in Syria,” he said. 

 For more information visit the SSJ’s website at