Unlike most of the 31,000 Syrian refugees arriving to Canada over the last year, Sari Alesh, 31, did not bring a trade. Instead, among his few possessions, he brought his music.
“I just followed my heart,” he says. “It always told me: ‘You are a musician and you can’t do anything else’.”
The young violinist arrived alone on the rainy archipelago of Canada’s west coast in February, 2016 – on his birthday – as one of the 400 Syrian refugees resettled to Victoria.
Before his arrival, Sari’s life had overflowed with music. Classically trained in Damascus, Syria, he toured Europe and the Middle East with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra, once playing for the acclaimed Lebanese singer Fairuz. But war in Syria quickly put the brakes on his success, displacing him along with more than 11 million other Syrians. In 2014, he fled the Syrian capital and sought safety in Istanbul, Turkey, leaving behind family and his once-promising musical career.
Once in Victoria, Sari quickly discovered that the musical landscape of his new home was as bewildering as the towering red cedar trees of Vancouver Island. Expecting sonatas and arias of classical European pedigree, he instead found that fiddle music was most popular.
Early on, he found artistic refuge with Faraidoun Akhavan and Paulina Eguiguren, two of his sponsors. With Sari on his violin and Faraidoun on his barbat, a Persian lute, the pair played Middle Eastern music late into the evenings.
“We came here and we were both helped,” says Paulina, who arrived in Canada with her husband as a refugee more than 20 years ago. “For us, at least particularly for me, I feel a connection spiritually to others when I am able to help in some way.”
Paulina, an artist, quickly bonded with Sari. “There was something about him that was a bit different,” she says. “I think I identified the art in him – the compassion that people can only get when you have gone through suffering.”
“They touched my heart quickly,” says Sari. “After we met for five minutes, they became family.”
Sari’s new, quieter, safer life in Victoria was the first sign that his life and career, slowly dismantled by conflict, might return.
Excerpt from an article posted by the UNHCR (The UN refugee Agency, 19 December, 2016. Click here to read full article.