AFRIN, SYRIA/WASHINGTON - When Ciwan Husen lost his left hand and eye at age 21 in the Kurdish fight against the Islamic State (IS) in northwest Syria, he knew his life would never be the same.
In the months leading to his recovery, his efforts to overcome his physical disability and the psychological trauma of war led him to develop a talent he never knew he had: playing drums and cymbals.
'I thought life was over'
Living in displacement in the Shahba district of northern Aleppo Governorate, Husen has developed a love for music and plays drums even without prosthetics.
“At the beginning, when I had just lost one of my hands and one of my eye(s), I thought life was over and I couldn’t do anything,” Husen told VOA, speaking of his impairment after being hit by an IS explosive in 2016.
“But people around me continued to encourage me and told me to trust in God and my will. Their encouragement overtime built this confidence in me,” he added.
Husen is originally from the predominantly Kurdish city of Afrin, in northwest Syria. He fled with his family in early 2018 following a Turkish attack to seize the city from Kurdish fighters.
Finding his talent
While living in Shahba, he bought a drum kit and started practicing, and found he had a talent. His goal, he says, is to become a popular musician.
“Here in Shahba, I bought the instruments. I started practicing and improved myself gradually. ... I want to establish my own place as an artist. I try to go to dance parties and weddings where I can play,” he said.
Unable to afford prosthetics, Husen uses bandages and armbands to tie drumsticks to his left forearm to play. His mother, Fidan Xelil, says the resilience he has shown after his injuries has gained him respect among residents in the district.
“What happened didn’t cause him to give up. He sustained a high moral and became stronger. He fulfills whatever goal he has in mind. What he is doing makes us happy and proud,” Xelil told VOA.
Member of the YPG
Husen was a member of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) during the war against IS in 2016. He participated in the battle to remove IS from the town of Tal Rifaat and the nearby Menagh airbase.
The YPG captured the area in February 2016 and unilaterally declared it Shahba Canton of Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.
Shahba region remains under Kurdish control despite Turkey seizing nearby Afrin in March 2018. When Turkey began its operation on Afrin in January 2018, thousands of people, including Husen and his family, fled their homes and resettled in Shahba.