Syria’s Gulag


By Farid N. Ghadry and Nir T. Boms | April 9, 2004

Close to a hundred Kurds were killed during a series of riots that started in the soccer game in the city of Qamoshli last month. Over 1,200 Kurds were arrested for treason, espionage, incitement and the disruption of the public order. This is the story of one of them, a 14 year old boy we will call Ahmed, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We received this email from Syria yesterday. It was a private message but we felt compelled to have it translated and shared with the world.  We are not in liberty to share the real names of the people who sent this email or who wrote the memory of that experience since they are very much afraid to be the next in line at the torture chamber. The irony in all of this is that Baschar al-Assad visited the Kurds in 2002 and promised them a better future. The ability of the Syrian government to bring about a better future to the Syrian people should be measured by the eyes of Ahmed and his friends. Democracy in Syria remains the only hope and the only answer.

“I saw with my own eyes what I used to see in horror and scary movies and I heard with my own ears what I used to hear in stories told to me about the various savaged ways of torture”  Yes… Yes… Here in my own country, in my own nation Syria, the one that just entered the civilization of the 21st century.

He told me this crying. “oh uncle”, –he calls me uncle since he is my nephew, and he is almost 14-years old-“when they took me from the car near a hall with stairs going down, I was met by one agent after the other, counting all five of them, beating me on my back, on my stomach, on my arm, and every inch of my body. They forced me into a basement, then into a dark room full of people with a stench smell of feet and sweat and another smell that reminded me of a butcher shop. I stretched my leg to enter the dark room but instead I hit a body lying on the floor. He emitted a crying sound, so I tried to step away from the body and then I hit another one who sounded even worse than the first and then I froze. I started crying and fear gripped my whole body. I felt like I was in hell, all I could hear were the different sounds of pain coming from the different corners of the dark room. In about half an hour, the door to the room opened and finally I could see a bit of light. Only then, I realized that the room was no bigger than our modest kitchen at home with about 30 to 40 people in it. They were of different ages but the majorities were young, like me. I even recognized two of them who lived in our quarter.

A person shouted my name and I said “Present” as if I was in school. The man said ‘you are a Kurd, right? Come with me you son of a whore’. Upon exiting the room, trying hard not to bump into any body lying on the ground, I was, once again, met with punches from all sides to all parts of my body and my face. They were swearing and punching at the same time. I lifted my arms to protect myself only to have them brought down followed by more punches and more insults. Two or three held me and asked if my name is so and so, and when I said yes, they started again beating me with their fists coming from all sides and angles. Along the way, I remember them saying my mother became a whore for having had me and that my father was a dog. That is all I remember because the punches were making me weaker and I felt my feet buckle from under me. Several strong arms held me up and the punching continued accompanied by a crescendo of swearing, especially against my mother. They used terms against my sister and mother that I cannot repeat”

“Then they covered my eyes with a black cloth and continued the beating. But this time, I could not see where the punches were coming from. Again, I felt myself weak. I remember screaming and crying for help.

They stopped and started an interrogation. ‘What is your name? Which quarter do you come from? Why did you burn and throw stones?’ Why? Why? Why? A barrage of questions that I could not answer for lack of focus. Then they asked who else was there with me. ‘Give us names, names, names’. Why were you marching?’ I told them that I was not marching. Then someone called to bring me downstairs. I started crying again, uncontrollably. While still blindfolded, one asked to strip me down. They did. Then cold water hit me and I started shivering. The beating restarted but I slipped because of the water and they continued beating me with their feet while still on the ground. Someone stepped on my stomach hard, which I did not expect. All I remember next is that someone saying, place it in his mouth. It was my own feces.  

Then they took me to another room, still naked, blindfolded and shivering. I felt them kneeling and attaching something to my toes, then to my fingers. Then, without any warning, I felt being electrocuted, yes uncle, electrocuted and I started crying again, not knowing what else to do. I was electrocuted twice while there for seven days. And each time, I cried like a baby, oh uncle, like a baby.

Each time, they asked do you confess. And each time I said I will confess. To what, I do not know. But I said yes, oh uncle, because I felt these were not humans, these people were not from our planet. While still blindfolded, they lifted my arm and placed my finger on a paper and told me that this was my confession.

They returned me to the room and took away the blindfold. I realized then all the people in that room were naked like me, naked, naked, and all crying and in pain. There were those with broken ribs; I could tell because when you bump into them, their scream is the loudest and it lifts them off the ground. Then, there were those whose blood has turned black and their bruises covered more areas of their body than their normal flesh. Some had salt sprinkled on their opened wounds and we were whispering to each other the pain they felt. One cried that they electrocuted him through his penis and testicles. He felt ashamed and could not stop crying. All young like me, oh uncle, all young like me.

Some had their finger nails removed. Another said that he was beaten with cables aimed at his penis as if it were a target. There was a young man, oh uncle, who stood all the time because he could not sit down or rest against the wall. We took turns, during these seven days, holding his head in our arms and body so that he could get some sleep. What I saw from these killers, I will never forget all my life, oh uncle; and I will never forgive them, never, ever forgive them. Never, oh uncle, Never”.

Farid Ghadry is the President of the Syrian Reform Party. Nir Boms is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Council for Democracy and Tolerance.

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