Palestinian Refugee Pianist Given Beethoven Prize


A Palestinian refugee, who gained international notoriety after a video of him playing a piano amid the destruction in a Damascus refugee camp went viral, has been given a prestigious human rights award in Germany. Ayham Ahmad, a 27-year-old from the Yarmouk refugee camp, was granted the International Beethoven Prize for Human Rights, Peace, Inclusion and the Fight Against Poverty on Friday night at a ceremony in Bonn, according to the German daily Deutsche Welle.

Videos of Ahmad began to spread throughout social media in 2014, as the situation for the remaining Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk continued to deteriorate rapidly.  The videos depicted him surrounded by collapsed homes and rubble-filled streets as he played on an old, decrepit piano. In some clips, residents of the embattled camp joined him and sang along.  In September, Ahmad fled Yarmouk and took the perilous boat journey from Turkey to a Greek island. From there, he eventually made it to Germany.

Just months earlier, in April, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) armed group invaded Yarmouk and took control of more than 90 percent of the camp. Although they withdrew within a few days, fighters set Ahmad’s piano ablaze in the streets before departing.  Speaking to Al Jazeera by Skype from the Greek island of Lesbos in late September, Ahmad said: “Leaving Yarmouk was a tragic experience.”

“My house came under fire, so I had to flee with my family. 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.”