Violinist of Mosul returns to play amid ruins of his city

The Secret Violinist of Mosul plays in public for the first time The Secret Violinist of Mosul plays in public for the first time
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For what may be the first time since Iraqi troops liberated large parts of Mosul from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant control, the sound of a lone violin could be heard among the gunfire and explosions.

Musician Ameen Mokdad, 28, gave his first public performance in the city on Wednesday since it was taken over by the militant group almost three years ago. 

All music was banned while Mosul was under Isil rule, in addition to cigarettes, mobile phones, satellite dishes and even keeping birds. Anyone who broke the rules risked torture or public execution.

Watched by a group of around 20 spectators who filmed him on their phones, Mr Mokdad played at a historical site sacred to both Muslims and Christians -- the alleged tomb of the prophet Jonah, otherwise known as Younus in the Koran. 

Credit: Ameen Mokdad 

The archaeological site, one of the most ancient relics of Assyrian civilisation, was partly destroyed by Isil in 2014.

The concert’s reported organiser, a local “independent historian” who runs the popular Mosul Eye blog, wrote in a post that the concert was meant “to tell the the world that Mosul is free although half of it is still under fire, it’s looking for books and music to be born again.”

The blogger also describes how they asked Mr Mokdad to play in the ruined city on a whim: “All of it was a dream, and now, it [became] reality.” The performance was publicised on social media.

Mr Mokdad’s defiant performance clearly carried a huge personal significance. Before he left Mosul in January, the self-taught musician was forced to play in secret before his instruments and CDs were seized by Isil.

Credit: Reuters

The last time he played in public was on 10 June 2014, the day Isis militants overran the city. “I will never forget June 10,” he said in a previous interview with the Telegraph. “It was the day music died.” 

After playing his cello on the roof of his house, Mr Mokdad hid his precious instruments in his basement, worried that they would be destroyed by fighters. 

He then fled to Baghdad with his family before returning a few months later in an attempt to smuggle them out of the city, now under Isis control.

This time, the fighters would not let him leave. From then on, music became a lifeline for Mr Mokdad. 

He would secretly play music in the innermost part of his house for hours on end, posting videos of his compositions on YouTube where they attracted messages of support from viewers outside Mosul.

The Secret Violinist of Mosul The Secret Violinist of Mosul
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“I felt by doing this I was, in my own way, fighting Daesh’s ideology,” he said. “They could take away my freedom but not my self-expression.”

Mr Mokdad was forced into hiding when Isis morality police finally confiscated his instruments, but even then he did not give up playing.

"It was amazing to be back in my city playing, I can't explain the feeling,@ he told the Telegraph on Thursday.

“People always liked music but were afraid to acknowledge this because of them [Islamic State]. We opposed them and we risked death,” he said.

“I want to take the opportunity to send a message to the world … that music is a beautiful thing.”