The uprisings eventually proved too much for musician Khalil Ghadri.
The Syrian-born, Dubai-based qanun virtuoso has been keeping a lid on his growing anguish at his homeland's devastation through a steady stream of solo and group performances in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
"About a year ago, my relatives would call me from Aleppo and tell me a bullet went through my uncle's house and I would freak out," he recalls. "Not long ago, something similar happened to another relative and all I felt was 'well, at least he is OK, life goes on'. It's all normal now; all this violence has destroyed everything. It's all part of life now in Syria."
But the events of May 25, 2012 were a turning point for Ghadri.
The Houla massacre, which occurred in the flashpoint city of Homs in western Syria, forced the soft-spoken musician to come to terms with his grief.
After an afternoon spent following the news coverage of the carnage, Ghadri called a band meeting a few hours before their Dubai gig at The Fridge.
"I said forget about tonight's programme," he recalls. "I told them I am going to write something new and the guys should be at the venue about two hours early so we can rehearse the new songs."
Grabbing his qanun, Ghadri fleshed out what eventually became known as his Syrian Tears concert, later released as a free live album through his company KG Productions.
Ghadri's debut album is as much an expression of grief as a showpiece for his innovative approach with the instrument. Recorded with his Acoustic Fusion Band - an international collective featuring Ghadri's brother Khaled on violin, the Iranian guitarist Amir Mafakher, India's Balakrishnan and Hari Thekkili on the tabla and flute respectively, and Syrian Husam Maulawi on the Arabic percussion - Syrian Tears breaks with conventions and styles associated with the 1,100-year-old instrument.
This instrumental album offers rare examples of how the qanun, heavily steeped in Arabic folklore, can seemingly coexist with a wide array of international styles such as in the flamenco-tinged cut Major and the tabla-led opener Hanin - Nostalgia.
The album's centrepiece is the title track, a brooding piece about the events at Houla. The track is built around the tender interplay between Ghadri's rippling notes and Thekkili's yearning flute.
"In that piece, the qanun is the sound of the children's spirits entering the next world where they meet the angels, which is the flute," he says.
"The angels are happy to see the children, but when they find out the circumstances that brought them there, they become very sad."
For someone whose work has been associated with Arabic chart toppers - as a backing session musician for the likes of Arab pop stars Katham Al Sahir and the UAE's Hussein Al Jasimi - Ghadri describes Syrian Tears as his most satisfying work.
It is also a distillation of a musical journey beginning as child in Aleppo. Born in 1977 to an upper-class family, Ghadri - the middle of three boys - began his ascendancy to qanun virtuoso in secret.
It was his mother, an amateur singer who regularly performed at family gatherings, who instilled in her sons a love of music.
Ghadri explains that his mother's determination stemmed from her own artistic frustrations.
"She had a beautiful voice, similar to [famed Egyptian songbird] Asmahan," he says.
"But at that time, in Syria in the 1950s, women could not perform live. It was a big shame and no doubt the family would have killed her if she played outside. So she made sure we had a chance to achieve what she couldn't."
Beginning on the piano, Ghadri eventually ditched the instrument after hearing the qanun for the first time as an eight-year-old at a government-run music academy.
"It was really something that I never heard before," he recalls. "This deep but very emotional sound, almost like the human voice."
Ghadri's excitement at his new favourite instrument was tempered by his father's disdain for any musical ambitions his sons harboured.
Many of the Ghadri clan in Syria are distinguished academics, writers and poets, so his father wouldn't allow his children to sully the family name by pursuing music full time.
"He had this fear of me forgetting about my studies and ending up playing in some cabaret bar behind belly dancers," Ghadri recalls. "He didn't appreciate the idea that if I focused, studied and worked hard at the instrument it could be a good career. He told us that he didn't want the music to be our focus and if he heard us playing any instrument inside the home he would simply break it."
His father was true to his word. Ghadri's first qanun was unceremoniously thrown out after his father made a surprise appearance in his son's bedroom while he was practising.
The relationship thawed in Ghadri's teenage years when his father heard of his son's prodigious talent from some of the country's cultural elite.
Ghadri's acceptance to the illustrious Damascus Conservatory of Music in 1995 - after completing high school - to study qanun composition convinced his father that music was a worthwhile pursuit.
Ghadri, who arrived in Dubai in 2000 after graduating in Damascus, still has mixed feelings regarding his now-deceased father's attitude.
"In a way he was right," he says. "He made me realise that I had to work hard and focus on my studies. But you know, he never saw me perform on stage. I never heard him say he liked my music."
In addition to Ghadri's growing international acclaim - with solo and group performances in world music festivals in Europe, Africa and the Middle East - Syrian Tears also earned him the ire of pro-government supporters in his homeland who began attacking him on Facebook last year after Ghadri posted snippets of the live performance on YouTube.
"They attack me for being outside the country and for not keeping my mouth shut," he says.
"But my music is not just about the war, it is about the children who are also dying around the world for no reason. It is a small universal message about what we are losing."
It is Ghadri's dream to deliver this message in person with a full performance of Syrian Tears in the Damascus Opera House once the situation improves.
"If that happens, then I know we are free from all the violence" he says. "That would be a step towards the future, to rebuild and understand."
For a free copy of Syrian Tears by Khalil Ghadri please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Saeed Saeed is a features writer for The National.