Ana SayfaÇeviriBeing woman in ISIS: The banality of evil – 3

Being woman in ISIS: The banality of evil – 3


Interviews and reporting by Fatma Koçak; translated by Evrim Şaşmaz


For ISIS, women are the elementary factor in their system. After the declaration of caliphate in 2014, ISIS published a life guide for women to sustain its system and made a call for women to “hegira to the caliphate”.

While everybody watched the gory scenes of execution and genocide, thousands of women from all over the world followed the call and came to Syria to join ISIS.

After ISIS was wiped out, these women were placed into camps. Most of them still commit themselves to their ideology that enslaved women. And very few of them say that they repent. Defne Bayrak is one of them…

How did the propagandist convert to counter-propagandist?

Defne Bayrak… With her name in the organization: Um Leyla…

The public knows her as the “Turkish propagandist of ISIS”. Defne from Turkey, has an interesting journey. Her story bears similarities to Fatiha’s.

Born in İzmit, 40-years-old Defne was graduated from journalism in Istanbul University and she was married to Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi from Jordan, spending her seven years over there.

Defne Bayrak’s name is mentioned in encrypted correspondances between CIA and United States’ (U.S.) Embassy in Ankara, in 2010: “We suggest that the first individual named in this  report be included in the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) no fly security directive for release to U.S. and foreign air carriers as the individual may pose a threat to civil aviation in the U.S. or abroad”.

Her husband is al-Qaeda’s suicide bomber

Two weeks before the encrypted report, on 30 December 2009, Defne Bayrak’s Jordanian husband Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi said that he had important information regarding Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of al-Qaeda’s  leaders to enter in a U.S. base in Afghanistan. There, he committed a suicide attack to one Jordian and seven CIA agents.

Before her husband’s suicide attack, Defne came back to Turkey with two daughters. She worked in several press organizations such as Hürriyet, Vakit, TimeTürk, İnkaNews, Küresel Haber in addition to ISIS’ press branches.

She was one of the vigorous advocates of ISIS

During the time ISIS got separated from is al-Qaeda, Defne was one of the vigorous advocates in ISIS related press organizations. In April 2015, she announced joining ISIS with her two daughters in her Twitter account.

Defne Bayrak explains why she joined ISIS: “Being convinced that an Islamic state was being established, I decided to migrate to the lands of Islam. I was already connected to the organization when I was working as a journalist”.

First shock: You cannot do anything without a man

Defne stayed in maddafehs in Tabqa and Mayadin. She says that she tried to enroll her children to school because she wanted them to be educated but she adds that she was not allowed to do so because she was not married.

She further explains how she married to an Egyptian upon the advice of the maddafeh responsible: “You were not allowed to do things unless you are married, unless you have a man controlling you”.

Describing the situation, “This was not my individual experience, this was a shared experience among all women”, Defne continues her account: “Women adviced and I made a choice but it was a disappointment. The Egyptian one showed violence to me and to my children; he was always threatening us. When we wanted to escape, he informed the governor; he threatened us by death. I stayed married to him for a year and three months; he was threatening me saying ‘If you go to the court, I will make you a liar, I will disgrace you’. It was too hard but I could get divorced.

“Wise woman makes pickles!”

“When I was married to my Egyptian husband, I told him many times that I wanted to work; he strictly rejected. And one day, when I told him again that I wanted to work, do you know what he told me? He told me ‘Wise woman makes pickles at home’. Do you understand? That was their approach to women…”

“When he married to me, he was not married to another woman. However, he married to a sixteen-year-old Syrian girl on the pretext that I was not breeding”.

Defne says that she went to Tabqa after she got divorced and things were again hard. She explains that she had to be married again, this time to a man from Kilis because she was left with no other option.

After she got divorced from that man too, Defne decided to run with her two daughters. She tells us “We started the journey from Raqqa. However, People’s Protection Units (YPG) caught us when we were crossing Euphrates river. After staying in prison for two months, we went into the camp with my children. I gave birth to my child from my Kilisian husband in Al-Hasakah”.

“Women were abused a lot”

Saying that ISIS abused women, Defne gives her testimony accounts:

“There were multiple marriages and this affected women a lot. Women are emotional creatures; they went through one shock after another. When men knew that there was a pretty woman in the maddafeh, they were divorcing their wives with false pretexts.”

“They wer not seeing but they were hearing and they were always speaking about women. I remember one; the man was comparing her wife to his neighbor’s wife. Why? Because the neighbor woman’s husband always told him about his wife. The woman who was always compared to the neighbor’s wife finally told his husband ‘Tell him, if he dies, he legate his wife to you’”.

“As far as I could see people coming and going there (referring to the ones joining ISIS), did women anything they could not do in their own country. I have seen that in the thief and in the shameless.”

“Most of them were low educated. An illiterate society was on the make and women were extremely abused. There were also women with those tendencies. But it was more frequent among men. Some men did not remember how many women they were married to. They were frequently marrying, then divorcing them with false pretexts.”

“Maddafehs were like brothels”

“Everywhere was like woman and man market. Women were advising husbands even before the morning was over. A woman was coming to say, before his husband was dead, ‘If my husband dies, I want to marry to a Russian’. Things were so out of control that even a child was telling her mother to marry to an Egyptian when his father dies. Immorality was naturalized.”

“Out of morality, one cannot express those things. Men would not stop of course. When a woman’s husband was dead, a man would definitely search her before her mourning is over, asking ‘there is a woman to marry at your place’.”

“In Maddafehs where widow women were present they were functioning as brothels. It was shameful. They would not feel the value Allah hives to the marriage and they were using it as a toy.”

“ISIS system exaggerated woman’s bowing to man so much that woman was considered as slave to man. There were no other ways offered to woman apart from limitless submission and servitude to man. Questioning this was seen like questioning a divine power.”

“Ninety percent of the women came because they followed their husbands”

“There was a huge lack of awareness in women joining ISIS. Ninety percent of the women came because they followed their husbands. Most of the women came without knowing anyway. I was one of them too. However, ten percent of the women came there deliberately, to marry to more husbands. In the camp, I witnessed a woman being joked for being married to only one man.”

“They were deceiving the muhajir women by saying ‘I marry to you for Allah’s wish’. Because ISIS was giving money to the married men to take care of their wives. Since the money was given to men, men were abusing this. They were putting the money on their pocket and then they were divorcing the women for false pretexts.”

“The men who were married to Syrian women had to give some amount of the money as bridewealth since her family was around. The muhajir women were emotionally abused, since they were thought of as not having any interest in money or in property. Although the material situation differed, the immaterial situation was not so different. All the women got kicked by men one way or the other.”

“What we lived through is hard to tell. It was as if everybody came to that system to satisfy their lust.”


Originally published in Turkish on 31 July 2019 12:43


Being a woman in ISIS: The banality of evil – 1

Being woman in ISIS: The banality of evil – 2

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