Ahmad Dhman was born in 1968 to a poor family living in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in South Damascus. His father died when he was 12 years old, which meant he had to work from an early age at the same time as studying in a school for Palestinian refugees on the camp.
Ahmad says that the camp witnessed intense political and cultural activity due to the presence of many Palestinian forces and organizations. “On the occasion of Land Day, demonstrations condemning the occupation would take place all over the camp. Moreover, any event concerning Palestine or one of the Arab countries would reignite the national movement.”
He adds, “There was always cultural activity in the form of seminars sponsored by Palestinian organizations or active youth groups on poetry, literature and art.”
Despite having a certain specificity as a Palestinian refugee camp, all that applied to the rest of Syriaalso applied to the camp. This included arrest campaigns: “Due to activity and movement inside the camp, opposing intelligence activity by the Syrian agencies was present.”
In the 1980s, when Ahmad was in high school, he participated in cultural activities with his friends, especially those involving music, which he had loved since childhood. “I started learning music at an early age by playing the drums, then the guitar, oud and bouzouki respectively. The camp contained many remarkable musicians, and we met together in music sessions to play, compose and share experiences. We also trained the children and youth of the camp to participate in parties and artistic performances.”
In 1986, Ahmad enrolled in the Faculty of Economics at Damascus University but didn’t stop working due to the family’s difficult financial situation. He says, “I was in fourth grade when I started selling some electrical appliances on a stand in al-Itfa’iya area in Damascus. Then, I worked as a salesman in al-Hamidiyah Souq. Although I worked hard during my childhood, I made many beautiful memories with the rest of the working children. We used to play around the Umayyad Mosque, al-Amara neighborhood and Bab al-Saghir cemetery. Because of that, I grew attached to Damascus and its old neighborhoods.”
Ahmad was doing well in university but started neglecting his studies after the first year. He attributes this to the difficult living conditions his family and most Syrians were facing in the late 1980s. He says, “The country was going through complex circumstances due to lack of job opportunities and an increase in arrests, as well as shortages in services such as water and electricity.”
Ahmad stayed committed to his music during his time at the university and he met a larger group of musicians and artists outside the camp. He even spent a period of his mandatory military service as a bouzouki player in the shooting club in Damascus and taught music in some conservatories.
With the rise of home computers in the mid-1990s, Ahmad and his friends became very interested in this new field. They tried to learn some programs and operating systems, and eventually Ahmad mastered some areas in the field and started teaching computer skills in private institutes from 2000. However, this wasn’t the main job that he depended on for a living but rather a night job he had with many other jobs throughout his life.