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Syrian refugee Sari Alesh is a trained violinist who was once a member of the Syrian National Orchestra and a sessional player with Fairuz. He recently made headlines with his tribute to the victims of Nova Scotia’s mass shooting in April 2020. © Sari Alesh

Resettled to Canada four years ago, a Syrian refugee who fled war in Syria pays a vibrant tribute to the 22 victims of the deadliest rampage in Canadian history.

By Emmanuelle Paciullo, UNHCR Canada

“I’ve never been to Nova Scotia, which is 6000 km from where I live, in Victoria, B.C. Despite this, I felt the shock and pain of loss, as if it was an attack on my community and my country – I was overwhelmed by sadness.”

On 19 April 2020, Canada survived the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history, when 22 people were killed.

Left in a state of disbelief, Sari Alesh found it difficult to hide his emotions as he watched the news.

“I didn’t understand what was going on. I would never have imagined that such a tragedy could happen here.”

That is when Sari decided to do what he does best in life – the unbroken thread between his native Syria and his country of adoption: playing music. Sari picked up his bow and let the magic happen.

Watch Sari Alesh’s tribute in honour of Nova Scotia victims and their families


Classically
trained in Damascus, Syria, he once toured Europe and the Middle East playing the violin with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra, including for the acclaimed Lebanese singer Fairuz. Sari’s life had once overflowed with music. But war in Syria quickly put the brakes on his success, and his promising music career was cut short. In 2014, he was forced to fleeleaving behind his life and family – and sought safety in Istanbul, Turkey. In 2016, with the help of Canadian sponsors, Sari had a chance to build a new life and play music again.

For Sari, giving back to a community hit by such violence was a natural thing to do. One note at a time, he used his instrument to convey the unspeakable of this tragic story through music.

He chose to interpret a hymn that is an expression of hope that remains alive despite challenges, perfectly embodied in the pentatonic melody of “Amazing Grace.

“The feeling of powerlessness in the face of these horrible acts was terrible. Since I couldn’t change what happened, I decided to lend my support to the families and community who were most affected with something that has always brought me comfort in good times and in bad: music.”

This vibrant tribute takes the form of a musical requiem, which found an echo among thousands of strangers, music lovers, and Canadians on social media. The violin is one of the most beautiful and gratifying instruments – a comforting ally when you find yourself at a loss for words.

“The tribute I offered to the victims in Nova Scotia seems to have been heard. More than 12,000 people watched my video. I received many appreciative words and messages of encouragement. It warms my heart, because the message of solidarity and support seems to have resonated with others.”

The road to collective healing will be a long one, fraught with emotional obstacles. Until then, Sari has a new project – to come to grips with the invisible enemy that has paralyzed the country for several months: the coronavirus.

I am also thinking of the people who are now putting their lives at risk every day to care for those with COVID-19. I will dedicate my next music to them.

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.” 

Words taken from “Amazing Grace”

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