By Ayhan Simsek
BERLIN (AA) – Pianist Eyhem Ahmed drew international attention to the plight of Syrians by playing his piano on the streets of Syria’s Yarmouk refugee camp in the face of bombing raids by the Assad regime.
But now after arriving in Germany as a refugee, he is fighting another battle: to dispel prejudices against Muslims and asylum-seekers, to make the voices of Syrians heard.
“People who come to my concert talk to me afterwards. They say, we live with you… we live in the Yarmouk camp…. we believe what you are talking about, we have to fight for peace. I see eyes changing after the concert and it is very good,” Ahmed told Anadolu Agency in Berlin.
The 28-year-old Syrian has been giving concerts all around Germany since he arrived late last year, trying to draw attention to the sufferings in Syria, and help build bridges between the refugees and German society.
Ahmed expressed regret over widespread prejudices against asylum-seekers and fears of Islam in society, but said positive encounters with refugees help to dispel prejudices and develop better understanding.
“In Germany a lot of people are saying that we need to help refugees. And other people say: This is my land, why did these people come and take my work? I understand the situation,” Ahmed said.
He underlined that most prejudices against asylum-seekers and Muslims are rooted in a lack of knowledge.
“Terrorism is neither Islamic nor Christian,” he stressed.
“Terrorism has no religion. I talk to them and German people understand my message,” he added.
Germany has witnessed growing anti-refugee sentiments and Islamophobia in recent years, triggered by the propaganda of far-right and populist parties, which exploited the refugee crisis and fears of religious extremist and terrorist groups.
Around one million refugees arrived in Germany last year, fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, or other parts of the world.
Like hundreds of thousands of other asylum-seekers, pianist Eyhem Ahmed took the dangerous journey across the Aegean Sea, to reach Greece, and later headed for Germany.
“During my travel, I had in my mind that I would die after five minutes… all the time… That’s why I didn’t take my family,” he said, heavy with emotion.
“My family is still in Yarmouk. It is very dangerous for them to stay there,” he added.
The Palestinian-Syrian pianist finally managed to get official status in Germany this month, almost nine months after his arrival.
Due to Germany’s recently tightened asylum laws, he has to wait two years before being able to bring his family to the country.
“Deutschland [Germany] does a lot for refugee people, and we live in peace… but I need my family and these things take time in Germany… Under the law you have to wait two years,” he said.
Soon after he arrived late last year, Ahmed was awarded Germany’s prestigious International Beethoven Prize, and became a sign of hope for many other refugees.
Encouraged by this prize, the young pianist is eager to improve his talents in music, but an injury from his days at Yarmouk worries him.
“I have a cut on my finger, due to a bomb,” he said.
“I went to the doctor, he told me you have to stop for two years, you have to undergo an operation… With this cut I can’t play Rachmaninov,” he added.
Despite all the hurdles, Ahmed is hopeful for the future, not only for himself and his family, but also for all of Syria.
“Today Germany is a country of freedom, but back in history, maybe 70 years ago, it looked like Syria, it was horrible,” he said.
“I see Syria 10 years from now being a democratic country, with love, hope, and peace. Because the Syrian people have always been for peace. Because we lived together with all religions,” he added.