“Only those who are forgotten die, no one is alone if their suffering is shared”: Nahel Al Halabi, composer and orchestra director from Damscus, thus describes his “beloved Syria” that he left in 2012, since the war forced him to leave his country and prestigious positions: as full professor at the Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique de Damascus (National Academy of Music), as chair of the Conservatoires of the country and as mentor of his creation, the Syrian Philharmonic Orchestra.
Since then, Italy has been his chosen country, here he perfected his art thanks to a scholarship from 2001 to 2006. “Italy is the homeland of music and culture and I preferred it to Germany and Japan”, he said with a smile, without even a glimmer of repentance. For over a year now, Nahel, who has been granted ‘subsidiary protection’, has been living in Mantua, together with his partner Marta, a teacher at the city’s high school. For Nahel, the first steps in the working environment were not easy. One day, during one of his many walks to discover the historical beauties of Mantua, Nahel happened to pass by the offices of the diocesan Caritas. He entered and volunteered for cultural mediation. He was referred to the then director, Giordano Cavallari, who in turn introduced him to the bishop, Msgr. Marco Busca.
“Love never leaves things as it finds them – were the bishop’s words to the Syrian composer – . God will give you guidance to give voice to those without a voice.”
“Syrians are paying the price.” In his studio, where he plays and composes music, he remembers the days of the first protests, in 2011, in Daraa, “protesters took to the streets, waving the Syrian national flag, not the revolution flag. All they were asking for was more rights and better living conditions. They demanded freedom, dignity and citizenship. The total rejection of violence: “the Syrian people reject violence, just as they don’t want terrorism. Clearing the country of terrorists should not result in the destruction of entire cities. No one is in favour of terrorists – the composer declared in calm but firm tones -. The piecemeal Third World War, as defined by Pope Francis, is being fought in Syria today. Syrian people are paying the price, owing to the intervention of other nations that have interests that don’t correspond to those of my people.
Syria has always been a harmonious melody of ethnicities and faiths,
with strong feelings of unity and spirit of coexistence. We must make a new start from here to rebuild our homeland. In the meantime we continue being the victims of the sombre sound of weapons.” In fact, a few days ago, clashes resumed between the Syrian army, supported by Russian and Islamist troops and armed opposition to regain the province of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold. And once again, the tragic toll of deaths, injuries and displaced persons was sadly updated.
Syria’s suffering is expressed by Nahel’s music: “the only way to avoid further suffering is to communicate to the world what is happening in my country. I narrate in music real stories that few people know.” One of them is the story of eight-year-old Nayef, “an adult child” from a village on the outskirts of Aleppo, who saw almost his whole family die under the bombs. “His dignity and his pride are those of man imprisoned in a child’s body whose bandaged head conceals the pain and the tears”, Nahel said. – The pictures of the child, found online, are accompanied by the Director’s notes. “Until when?”: is the question that is also the title of the book.
“For how long will Nayef be one of many, too many, innocent people who experience such tragedies every day, in solitude, with their suffering exploding inside their hearts?”
The same question is raised for other Syrians, children like Alan Kurdi, three years old, found dead on the shores of Turkey, after the dinghy on which he was travelling with his family sank, or young women like Aya, who after many vicissitudes managed to fulfil her dream of marrying Fady and reach Sweden. There is no shortage of autobiographical references – entrusted to the song ‘The hope of return’ – in which the composer is forced to leave Damascus while facing rising extremism and terrorism,
“I still hear the gunshots, screams, I see people fleeing and the bloodshed.”
Composer Al Halabi with Giordano Cavallari, former director of Caritas Mantua
“Beloved Syria.” Many stories set to music that have become part of a project called ” “Amata Siria” (Beloved Syria) (www.amatasiria.org) strongly desired by Nahel, under the auspices of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), the Diocese, and the Municipality of Mantua. Nahel began to stage solidarity concerts, with musicians from all over Italy and also involving students from the Music and Performing Arts School in Mantua. “The project – points out Nahel – is independent of any political, ethnic or religious beliefs and aims to join all those who work for the good of Syria.”
The name of the project, “Beloved Syria”, said the composer, is drawn from the “heart-warming expression that Pope Francis often addresses to the Syrian people. The Pontiff uses the adjective ‘beloved’ every time he mentions Syria”. On 27 February last, Nahel was received in audience by Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square. I told the Pope: “Millions of Syrians have lost hope. You are the only hope, Your Holiness.”
Sowing hope. Pope Francis’ answer was immediate and direct: “You bring hope, you are hope.” Words that sounded like a mandate for Nahel: “It’s as if he had told me it’s upon you to sow hope and a desire for peace for Syria, with your music”. A veritable blessing to the project. The ‘musical’ embrace to the Syrian people, which left Mantua, is now looking for new theatres, for “it is necessary to refocus the attention of the media and public opinion on this forgotten war”. “Only those who are forgotten die, no one is alone if their suffering is shared,” repeated Nahel.
This time the thought for his beloved Syria is coupled by another thought: “I want to remember my friend, the Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, kidnapped in Syria in July 2013 and of whom we no longer have news. His love for dialogue with the Islamic world, reconciliation and brotherhood shows us the way forward.” “Evil is afraid in the face of what is good – concluded Nahel, making the words spoken by the Pope at the audience on 27 February his own -. This is my hope.”
“Even in Syria, the days of evil are numbered.”