Birth Date: 25 Feb 1912
Death Date: 14 Sep 1944
Country: Syrian Arab Republic
Asmahan (Arabic: أسمهان; birth name: Amal al-Atrash) (1917-1944) was a famous Syrian singer and actor who lived in Egypt and sang most of her songs in Egyptian Arabic. She was the sister of Farid al-Atrash, a famous singer in his own right, and a member of the famous Atrash family known for its role in the resistance against the French mandate in the 1920s.
Asmahan started her career in Syria and Lebanon, then traveled to Cairo, Egypt, where she worked with many famous composers such as Riyadh el-Sonbati and Muhammad Al-Qassabji. Her films include intisar echabab and garam wentikam.
She was killed at the age of 26 when the car she was riding in crashed into the River Nile. Many rumors and much controversy, comparable to that of Lady Diana, have surrounded her death. One of the most widely-accepted theories claims that she was murdered because of her role as a British spy.
- Asmahan's father is Fahd al-Atrash, a member of the famous Druze family of al-Atrash. He became an alcoholic and didn't give much time to his children.
- Her mother 'Aleya Menzer is a Lebanese Druze. She was a singer and an oud player. She was known to be the source of inspiration for her children.
- Her brother Farid was a musician, singer and a virtuoso oud player; he composed many of her songs.
- She also had a brother Fouad, and a sister and another brother who died very young.
Her father was governor of the district of Demirci in Turkey, during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. When Syria fell to the allies in 1918 he feared revenge, and on October 24, 1918 he fled the country with his two sons and pregnant wife. They took the boat from İzmir to Beirut, and Asmahan was born on that boat. She was named "Amal" (Arabic: آمال), meaning "hopes". She was also called "Emily", but always preferred the name "Amal".
Her parents separated in her early childhood. Her father returned to his hometown in Sweida, while the rest of the family emigrated to Egypt (around 1923). Her mother 'Aleya Menzer started singing at private parties to support herself and her children. Everyone in the family could sing (the mother and Farid could also play oud), but success was only to crown the efforts of the two most gifted: Farid and Asmahan.
Asmahan returned to Syria to marry her cousin, Prince Hassan al-Atrash, in 1933, and gave birth to a daughter, Camellia. She lived in Sweida, her home town, where people dubbed her "The Princess of the Mountain" (of Jabal el Druze mountain).
Her marriage ended in divorce four years later. After that she returned to Cairo and resumed her singing career, where she married the director Ahmed Baderkhan, but they were soon divorced. In 1941 she went back to Syria and re-married her cousin Hassan for a short time. Finally, she married the director Ahmed Salem.
Role in World War II
In 1941, at the height of World War II, she came back to Syria on a secret mission: to convince her people in Jabal el-Druze to allow the British and Free French forces to enter Syria through their territory without a fight (Syria was under the Vichy France rule back then). The British and Free French promised the independence of Syria in return, and the Druze agreed. After the allies secured Syria, General De Gaulle visited Sweida (the capital of Jabal el-Druze) where he met Asmahan, his successful messenger.
Her house in Syria is located in the French Quarter of Sweida. Years after her death, that house was seized by the Syrian government, and became – like much of the French Quarter – a property of the Syrian Army. It took the government sixty-two years to give in to the demands to turn the house into a museum for Asmahan and Farid.
The Ministry of Tourism acquired the house in September 2006, but work on it has yet to start.