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Palestinian Refugee Pianist Wins Beethoven Prize

Ayham Ahmad escaped a Syrian refugee camp after militants destroyed his piano.

Palestinian Refugee Pianist Wins Beethoven Prize

A Palestinian pianist who captivated the world with footage of him playing piano among the ruins of the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria was awarded the 2016 International Beethoven Prize for Human Rights, Peace, Inclusion and the Fight Against Poverty last week. Ayham Ahmad, 27 years old, who now lives in Germany after fleeing Syria in September, became famous when a video of him singing and playing the piano surrounded by rubble went viral earlier in the year. He began performing for the refugees in the camp, and broadcasting his performances on the internet, using Skype. But he was forced to leave Syria when militants burned his piano.


“Leaving Yarmouk camp was a tragic experience,” he told Al Jazeera in a September interview. “The camp is no longer a place where we can play music. I am hoping I can get somewhere better where one day I can play music again. I miss playing the piano, and I hate to be playing music away from the camp, but I will play wherever I can so I can be close to the hearts of the people.”

He had found the battered piano in an abandoned schoolyard in January, and began playing impromptu concerts around the camp. “Our choices are limited and bleak inside Yarmouk,” he told Syria Deeply in February. “We either have to join one of the parties supporting the conflict or wait for death; I say it's better to be singing while waiting for death.”

Last Friday, however, Ahmad graced the stage of Bonn’s National Art Gallery to perform “Songs of Yarmouk” and accept the Beethoven Prize.

“With your music, you gave something back to those who were with you—a moment of humanity and dignity—and thus something infinitely valuable: hope that suffering and destruction caused by man can be overcome by people like yourself,” said Friedrich Kitschelt, Secretary of State in the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, in his presentation speech. “We honor you for your courage to make music in an environment where artistic performances are forbidden and sometimes lead to draconian punishment.”

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