“I was born from the sand of Qamishlo,” one of the main Kurdish cities in northeast Syria, says Hassan. “The memories, the things that happened in Qamishlo, both happy and sad, they stay with me.”

Music was not allowed in his household as a boy. So he would sneak home during the daytime, when his father was at work, to play the saz and sing. The neighbors started to talk. “‘Your son plays well,’” he remembers a neighbor telling his father. “He doesn’t sing,” said his father, bewildered. Everyone laughed.

Hassan became a popular musician, despite oppression by the Syrian regime which he says prevented him from publishing music as a Kurd until 1995. He recorded several albums and started touring, performing at concerts and parties in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Turkey, Nigeria, Chad, and other countries. He made music videos about and in Qamishlo.

But the more fame he garnered, the more he was pulled away from the music that meant the most to him. Syrian TV channels would ask him to perform Arabic songs for their viewers, not Kurdish songs. It didn’t matter that his music wasn’t political—the songs were in a language that was still marginalized.

Hassan and his family crossed the border into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq on August 15, 2013. Today he lives in Darashakran camp where, he says, “Everyone knows me.” He still yearns for Qamishlo.

In Kurdish, he sings, “What’s my sin that has brought me far from my country?”