There was a place Ali used to go to write music in Amuda, an elevated Syrian town populated by Kurds and Assyrians. Amuda Park. A cinema there once drew locals looking for diversion. One day in November 1960, 150 children sat down to watch a film reportedly sponsored by the government. The doors locked behind them. They were trapped inside as the theater, constructed of wood, filled with flames. “Nearly every family in Amude, on the Turkish border 400 miles northeast of Damascus, lost a child in the blaze,” reported a newspaper at the time. A monument to those children was placed in the spot where the cinema had been, and Ali liked to sit nearby with his oud.
“If there were even a small percentage of hope of staying there, I wouldn’t have left,” he says. But job scarcity made it too hard to stay. He moved to Damascus and saved up enough money as a taxi driver to buy a house.
After the Syrian regime and the Free Syrian Army started fighting there, he says concrete blocks in the streets made driving difficult. And then he saw the house behind him get raided by gangs. He decided to go back to Amuda, but couldn’t secure a job or a home. He doesn’t know what happened to his house in Damascus.
The only possession Ali brought to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq was his oud. He plays it every day. Even at 1 o’clock in the morning. The neighbors know he is gone when they don’t hear his music. “If I don’t play every day, I don’t feel restful,” he says.