The Pianist Of Yarmouk (omnibus)

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Ammar Haj Ahmad reads Aeham Ahmad’s dramatic account of how he risked his life under siege in Damascus to defy the Syrian regime with his music.

Newly married with a young baby, living in a comfortable Damascus suburb and working as a music teacher, Aeham’s life is turned upside down by the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2012.

When they are bombed out of their apartment, Aeham and his family take refuge in their music shop in the ramshackle district of Yarmouk. But soon the rebel Free Syrian Army takes control of Yarmouk and President Assad’s forces are determined to bomb, shoot and starve them out, regardless of the plight of the ordinary residents.

‘Overnight, the checkpoints were closed. No one got out. Nothing got in. No rice, no oil, no milk powder, no sugar. The siege began. The electricity was turned off. Food prices exploded. Soon, people started dying of hunger. Every day, we could hear artillery fire and rifle salvos. Yarmouk was descending into darkness and silence. Without electricity, we had to improvise. I put baby Ahmad’s dirty nappies in a large metal tub, put on some rubber boots and waded around in the water. When we ran out of washing up liquid, we began cleaning our plates with ash. We had hardly any soap, so we washed our hands only once a day. We almost never had milk, so we gave the baby water with sugar. There was no more tobacco, so I used dried mint to make cigarettes for my father.’

Over five episodes Aeham tells how he fought to keep his family alive and how, in his anger and frustration, he eventually pushed his piano onto the streets and brought music to the desperate people of Yarmouk.

But when ISIS take over he has to make the agonizing choice between staying in Syria and waiting to be killed or making the perilous journey to Europe alone and abandoning his family.

The Pianist of Yarmouk is read by Ammar Haj Ahmad, who trained as an actor before fleeing the conflict in Syria. He recently starred in the critically acclaimed play The Jungle, set in the notorious Calais refugee camp, in London and New York.

Written by Aeham Ahmad
Read by Ammar Haj Ahmad
Abridged and produced by Jane Greenwood
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4 first broadcast in five parts in 2019.

Aeham Ahmad\u2019s dramatic story of how he defied the war in Syria with his music.