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Feature: Syrians soothe in music as remedy for war scars

Xinhua, March 6, 2017 Adjust font size:

Despite killings and conflicts, Syrian music lovers choose to play their tunes to purge the theater from darkness at the Roman theater of the ancient city of Palmyra, as remedy for war scars.

Holding their instruments, four girls entered the rubble-strewn Palmyra Theater in central Syria, and sat on rocks fallen from the facade of the theater after a recent explosion by the IS militants in the area.

"We came here to bring joy back to this area, because music brings life back to the dead places, including this one, where there is no life," Farah Yonnes, a kanoon instrument player, told Xinhua, as she was warming up to perform with her bandmates at the theater.

In January, the IS militants blew up part of the theater as well as the tetrapylon, a cubic Roman building in Palmyra, the latest in a series of systematic bombings of important monuments in Palmyra which was overran by the IS militants twice, in 2015 and late 2016 respectively.

In its previous invasion, the IS destroyed the Temple of Bel, the Triumphal Arch and other cultural sites in Palmyra.

The facade of the theater was devastated during their second invasion, before the Syrian army recaptured the city again last Thursday with the help of the Russian air forces and Shiite fighters, including those from the Lebanese Hezbollah group.

After the army recaptured Palmyra for the first time in early 2016, several orchestras, including Russian ones, came to the theater with the ambition of reviving the tradition of holding lively concerts at the site.

Colors lit the facade of the theater, with hundreds of people cheering and waving the Syrian flags around for the performers.

At that time, it may have never occurred to the crowd or performers that the very same area would be overrun by the IS again.

The concert was also a tribute to the Syrian soldiers savagely killed by the IS in the theater.

In 2005, the IS released a video shot at the theater, showing 25 Syrian soldiers lined up on their knees on the stage of the theater, where child executioners were being forced to brutally slaughter them.

In the second invasion, the IS seemed to blow up the theater in retaliation, leaving people in sorrow for further destruction of historic sites in Palmyra.

Now, rubbles greet people at the entrance, with huge rocks from the facade lying horribly on the ground, as a witness to the IS atrocities.

The stage where bands used to play is littered with rocks of the fallen facade, but the bands, sitting at the eastern and western parts of the theater among the rubble, continued playing to release their lively tunes into the air, lending the stage a sense of soft and affectionate atmosphere.

Sali Badr, a 17-year-old student who plays rhythm guitar in the girl band formed last year, said she came here to instill joy into the area.

"Art exists everywhere, even in destroyed places like this. We can deliver our music everywhere and here is no exception," she said.

On the other side of the theater, a boy band started playing traditional tunes, with encouraging lyrics to urge people to build and protect their country.

However, a man holding Oud drew people's attention.

When asked what he was going to play, he unexpectedly told the truth.

"I want to be frank with you, I am not even a player, I know the band and begged them to put my name as one of their player to come to Palmyra and visit this city. I love Palmyra so much I have many memories here, I feel like my spirit is here in this place," he said.

He said the destruction he saw in the city ached his heart.

"I can't imagine why would they (IS) do such a thing. These monuments and relics are harmless. This is our heritage. Why would they do that? Why would they try to smudge our history?" he lamented.

With the concert going on, fire was spotted from a distance, as the army was said to have been bombing the IS positions, just five kilometers east of Palmyra.

Army officials said they were ordered to hunt down IS militants around Palmyra to wrest control over key gas fields in the countryside of the city.

Russian choppers were hovering just overhead to comb the area as important Russian and Syrian figures were visiting the millennia-old city, where 2,000-year-old monuments and relics had been well preserved ahead of the IS invasions.

A Syrian brigadier general was also at the theater.

"I am very proud my ancestors built this city," he told Xinhua.

"IS took control over the city for the first time and we liberated it, and once again they got the city back, and we returned to liberate it because this is our heritage we cannot leave it in the hands of killers and blood shedders," he said.

The officer said the next move for the army is to liberate wherever terrorism is located.

"We will go to them wherever they are in the north, in the east, wherever they are we will go to them because in Syria there is no place for terrorists. Syria is a place for civilization, for light, for sun and we will not leave any one of them. They should understand that they will have no opportunity here in our country, in Syria," he said. Endit