A survivor of torture and detention under the Turkish occupation of Syria, Ms. Zainab Ahmed, age 63, is bravely coming forward to discuss the explicit details of sexual assault, torture, murder, and other atrocities that she has witnessed. The stories of abuse she tells are difficult to hear.
Ahmed has testified that she witnessed many people who were tortured to death, including women who were sexually assaulted in addition to torture. She witnessed men who were trampled to death. She witnessed women who were raped on a nightly basis, and others who tried to kill themselves to escape their fates. She asks that the United States and international community do something to stop these human rights abuses.
Ahmed had recently been released from two years of detention, torture, and human rights abuses under the Turkish occupation. An elderly Kurdish woman from the Sherron District of Afrin, she spent two years as one of 41 detainees illegally held at Al Rai Prison, a prison administered by Turkish-backed militia members who are paid, equipped, and given authority by the Turkish government. Kidnapped from Afrin, Syria, seemingly for no reason, she was illegally brought to Kilis, Turkey, during her detention.
Unlike many other survivors, who often remain silent due to fear and humiliation, Ahmed is coming forward to tell her story to the public and human rights organizations. Below is a script of her testimony, speaking through an interpreter during a panel discussion hosted by the US Mission of the Syrian Democratic Council on Tuesday, April 6, 2021.
CONTENT WARNING: Explicit details of sexual assault, torture, murder, and other atrocities
Ms. Zeinab Ahmed, speaking from the region of North and East Syria:
“Hello everybody, thank you so much for inviting me. I’m so happy to be with you today. May the lord be with you and blessings in everything.
My name is Zeinab Ahmed. I am 63 years old. I am from Afrin, Sharon District. We used to live in Afrin. Then, all of a sudden, Turkey attacked massively. They took our homes, they took our land, they took our women, they took everything. After occupying the city of Afrin for about a month and half, Ahrar al-Sham faction came and took me as a prisoner and they drove me to Turkey to Sultan Murad faction there.
I was surprised to see that there were a lot of women, hundreds of women, in the prison. I got down to a prison, I think it was in Turkey, and it was almost six levels down. I witnessed many civilians were in the prison, and the prison was full of civilians there — women, nurses, children, elderly people, and especially women.
The people who took me from Afrin as a prisoner, they were Turks. They were Turkish people. Those who put me in jail also were Turkish people. And those who brought me to court and talked to me also were Turkish people. So from the beginning until the end, I was at the hands of Turkish people.
They brought me to Kilis, and Kilis is known as a Turkish city. And I wanted to tell you about the woman who had two daughters and her son’s wife together. They were in a house. One of the factions, they came to the house. They put the three young ladies in a room, and the elderly women in another room. And in front of her, the faction members were going to rape the three young ladies, the two daughters and her son’s wife, in front of her. She couldn’t endure that, she couldn’t stand that horrible scene, so went to the kitchen, and she brought a knife, and she tried to kill herself by stabbing her chest, her stomach, everywhere. And when the faction members saw that, they took her with her wounds, with her bleeding wounds, and took her to the prison.
A woman called Medyat from [Shehoutka village], one of the villages in Afrin, one of the faction members took her and they also undressed her, and took her in a truck, and that is obvious to everybody. The truck is open in the back. So they were undressing her. And the woman was crying and asking, “What are you doing to me? What are you going to do to me?” And the faction members said, “What do you think we are going to do to you? We are going to rape you. We are going to have fun with you.”
I witnessed a woman who was captured along with her ten-year-old daughter. They took the mother, and tortured her with many different forms, and the ten-year-old daughter could hear her mother, how they tortured her. She couldn’t stand that scene, and she couldn’t hear that, so she tried to hang herself using a belt from her jeans. All of a sudden, everyone in the prison noticed that the ten-year-old girl is trying to hang herself by the belt of her jeans. So we tried and rushed to help her. We screamed and cried to ask for help for the ten-year-old daughter. When they heard us screaming, they brought her mother, and she was also in a horrible situation. And they just ran to each other, the mother and the girl, and they cried. And we all wailed and cried.
There were two faction members called Khaled and Ahmed. They used to take women after 1 AM in the morning, and they used to take the women with them and keep them with them until the morning. And when the women used to come back to the prison rooms, we couldn’t look at them, because they were so frustrated, they were so sad. You couldn’t look at them, you couldn’t ask them any questions, but we know that they were getting raped every day, after midnight at 1 AM, until the morning.
I witnessed the appearance of three women from [Kasad Doun village]. These three women were tortured to death. Due to the heavy torture and the way that they tortured them, all their organs inside were manipulated and she couldn’t even step and walk, because of torture.
They also took men and tortured them to death. When they brought them into the ceiling room, we could see that they are still bleeding, and blood is covering all of their bodies. And what can we say? Women and men were tortured very badly.
There was also a woman from [Katima village]. All of a sudden, one of the faction members stole their vehicle, and they wanted to know where the vehicle went. They asked for the right to know where their car was. But instead of that, they captured them, and brought them to the prison where I was. And they also tortured them to death.
In the prison where I was, there was a woman called [Breetan]. She was from [Jinderes]. She was a civilian woman. That woman was tortured to death. I witnessed many times that they undressed her, and tried to slaughter her to death. She was tortured from 2 AM after midnight until the morning. We could hear screaming, and she lost her voice due to the huge scream that she made because of the torture. After that, they always used to bring a bowl of cold water and threw it on her to make her awake again and torture her again and again.
There were also injustices there. Hunger was there. We were hungry. They used to give us one meal from 10 AM until 10 AM the next day. The meal was mainly a piece of bread and some boiled potatoes.
They also kept two siblings in the prison where I was, brother and sister from [Halilanka village] a brother called Hamza. They killed him in front of his sister. They tortured him and killed him. They ran over him by walking over his dead body again and again in front of his sister. When they killed Hamza, the brother, they brought his picture to the sister, and asked, “Is this your brother?” But because the sister was so frightened, she said, “I deny that this is my brother.”
I am an elderly woman. It’s been 30 years since my husband passed away. I used to live alone. I am a civilian and I used to be in Afrin, in my town. I did nothing, and they took me as a prisoner. And I don’t know what to say, but all I want to do is take Turkey out of Afrin.
All I want from you, ladies and gentlemen who are listening to me, all I want is justice — to make things right. To open your eyes to the crimes that are done to civilians in Afrin. It is enough now. We have had enough of everything. So I am asking everyone, why are you turning a blind eye to what is going on here with us?
Thank you so much and I’m sorry if I got emotional, because I am so angry at what is going on here, and what is happening to my people. And I also plead to America, and I also have a request to America itself, to see and open your eyes to what is going on here with us. We have nothing left. We are now civilians with nothing, with no land. All we think of is to go back to our land. Please help us. And America can help, and can make our voice listened to, to what is going on with us.”