Hell and Back

A firsthand account of Syrian atrocities.

By Nir T. Boms & Farid N. Ghadry

According to estimates, almost 100 Kurds were killed in the riots that followed a soccer match in the city of Qamoshli, Syria last month. Over 1,300 Kurds are believed to have been arrested for treason, espionage, incitement, and disrupting the public order in the cities of Qamoshli, Ifrin, Dar-a Zhur, Aleppo, and Damascus.

We received an e-mail from one of them earlier this month, which is translated below, but are not revealing names to save our sources from the torture chambers of the Syrian Mokabbarat. This particular account is that of a 14-year-old prisoner we will call Ahmed – a boy whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ahmed was released following a week in the hands of the Syrian intelligence. For some reason, his investigation cleared him from any pending charges. Other Kurds are not that lucky; according to Kurdish sources, a month following the “riots,” 300 remain behind bars. “Most of those who stay imprisoned have not yet reached the age of 18,” another activist from the Syrian city of Aleppo yesterday. “The hideous story of Ahmed,” he added sadly, “is hardly the only one.”

* * *

When they took me from the car, I was met by one agent after another – five of them, all counted. They beat me on my back, on my stomach, on my arms, and over every inch of my body. They forced me into a basement, then into a crowded, dark room that reeked of dirty feet and sweat, and was dank with the stench of a butcher’s shop. I stretched out my leg cautiously, trying to make my way into the shadowy room, but instead I tripped over a body lying on the floor. It cried, so I tried to step away, only to stumble over another body – this one’s anguish even worse-sounding than the first’s.

Then I froze. I started crying, and fear gripped my entire body. I felt like I was in hell; all I could hear were the different sounds of agony punctuating the darkness. After about 30 minutes, the door to the room opened and I could finally see a bit of light.

Only then did I realize that the room was no bigger than our modest kitchen at home – except our kitchen would never see 30 or 40 people jammed into it. They were of different ages, but most were young, like me. I even recognized two who lived in our quarter.

Someone shouted my name, and I responded, “Present!,” as if I were in school. The man inquired, “You are a Kurd, right? Come with me, you son of a whore.” Upon exiting the room – while trying hard not to bump into anybody lying on the ground – I was once again beaten from all sides, all over my body. My tormentors cursed as they punched me. I raised my arms to protect myself, only to have them struck down, and only to invite more blows and insults. Two or three men pinned me and asked if my name was Ahmed, and when I said yes, their savage abuse resumed. Interspersed with the punches, I remember them saying that my mother was a whore for having had me, and that my father was a dog. I don’t remember much else: The thrashing was making me weaker, and I felt my knees buckle under me. Several strong arms held me up so that the battering might continue, intensified by vile cursing that culminated in unmentionable obscenities uttered against my sister and mother.

My eyes were then covered with a black cloth. The beating continued, as ever, but now I could not see where the punches were coming from. Again, I felt myself weak. I remember screaming and crying for help.

They finally stopped and began their interrogation. “What is your name? Which quarter do you come from? Why did you burn and throw stones? Why? Why? Why?” It was a barrage of questions that I could not answer, because I could not 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 I was still blindfolded, one of them asked to strip me down. They did. Then cold water hit me and I started shivering. The beating resumed, but I slipped because of the water, and they began kicking me as I lay on the ground. I was startled as someone stomped on my stomach, hard. All I remember next was a voice saying, “Place it in his mouth.” “It” was my own feces.

Then they took me to another room. I was still naked, blindfolded, and shivering. I felt them kneeling and attaching something to my toes and fingers. Suddenly, without any warning, I felt myself being electrocuted – and I began to cry again, not knowing what else to do. I was electrocuted twice on each of the seven days I was there. And each time, I could only cry like a baby.

Each time, they demanded, “Do you confess?” And each time, I replied, “I will confess” – though to what, I did and do not know. While I was still blindfolded, they lifted my arm and placed my finger on a paper – and told me that that was my confession.

Eventually they returned me to the room and removed the blindfold. I realized then that everyone there was naked like me – naked, naked, and all writhing and crying in pain. There were some with broken ribs: I could tell because when I bumped into them, their screams were the loudest, and it lifted them off the ground. Then there were those whose blood had turned black, and whose bodies were covered more by purplish bruises than normal-colored flesh. Some had had salt sprinkled into their open wounds; they could only whisper to one another of their pain. Someone cried that they had electrocuted him through his penis and testicles; he felt ashamed and could not stop sobbing. All were young, like me.

Some had their fingernails removed. Another said that he was whipped with cables, his penis having been a special target. There was a young man who stood the entire time because he was not allowed to sit down or rest against the wall. We took turns, during those seven days, holding his head in our arms so that he could get some sleep.

I will never forget the absolute horror unleashed by those brutal killers – not for the rest of my life. And I will never forgive them for it. Never.

* * *

Cruelly ironic is the fact that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad visited the Kurds in 2002 with promises of a better future. But Syria’s ability to bring that better future to its people must be measured by Ahmed and his friends; clearly, there is a long way to go. For them, a truly democratic Syria remains the only hope, and the only answer.

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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