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Syrian Starlet

Nasmi (R) in Aleppo on February 24, 2013.
Nasmi (R) in Aleppo on February 24, 2013.

In Aleppo, as in other, less troubled cities, stars are born on YouTube. That is how ten-year-old Nasmi found fame in her war-shattered hometown. Three months ago, she was singing a song for the Syrian revolution in a packed Aleppo marketplace when a Syrian government mortar fell just meters away. The entire scene was caught on video, posted online, and has since gone viral.

“I started singing songs for the opposition because people in Syria are starving and dying,” Nasmi says. “Big crowds of people came to watch me sing, and they all cheered for me. Then someone asked me to sing for the camera, and that’s when the shells started falling.”

The video shows just how terrifying and unpredictable life in Aleppo has become for the children living in the opposition-held areas. They have already endured months of shelling, and last week three scud missiles fell, indiscriminately destroying residential areas, flattening dozens of houses at a time and trapping their inhabitants underneath the rubble.

In narrow streets where every house bears the scars of war, crumpled shutters, and caved-in roofs, toddlers peek out from tattered sheets that their parents have hung up over blown out windows. On a rubbish-strewn roundabout I meet nine-year-old Ahmad. His father is fighting with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), so he supports his mother by begging for money on the street. There are many others in his position.

This is a painful decline from the prosperous Aleppo of old, and the scenes here stand in shocking contrast to images from the regime-held area, just a few kilometers away. There are no piles of rotting rubbish there, the buildings are untouched, and the children play in the streets without fear.

But Nasmi tells me that her experience in that marketplace has not scared her, and that it will not stop her from singing at more demonstrations in the future. In fact, Nasmi has just come back from the city’s front line. She has become a mascot for the FSA in Aleppo, and now she sings for the troops, as well as for the people.

“They tell me I have a good voice,” says Nasmi. “Yesterday, I went with them as they attacked the regime army. I wasn’t scared: I was happy. If I ever meet Bashar I will kill him myself, like he kills the children and the people.”

But despite her newfound stardom and her obvious talent, Nasmi does not want to be a singer when she grows up. “I want to be a doctor,” she says. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do, to be a doctor and help people.”

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Hannah Lucinda Smith
Hannah Lucinda Smith is a freelance journalist and photographer covering conflict and humanitarian issues in the Middle East. She has been reporting from Syria and investigating its impact on the wider region since early 2013, and has previously worked on investigations in Kosovo, Brazil and the UK. She lives in Istanbul.

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