Being woman in ISIS: The banality of evil – 4
Interviews and reporting by Fatma Koçak; translated by Evrim Şaşmaz
In this part of our interview series, two women, Samantha Sally Elhassani from United States and Zeynep Aziz from Tajikistan, who joined ISIS along with their husbands, give their accounts.
Both of them say “we had to join the jihad”. Samantha and Zeynep remark that they were drifted to Syria by the men to whom they were married but we observe that they are not bothered by the lifestyle within ISIS, they even seem to be well adapted to it.
Samantha from United States
After the interview I conducted, Samantha, along with her four children, was delivered to United States to be put on trial
Many press agencies made news on her with the headline of “ISIS bride”. Her arrival story is shady and inconsistent.
Samantha has 32 years old and her first husband was a United States soldier. She has a child from that marriage. A while after being divorced, she met Moussa Elhassani from Morocco.
She describes her second husband as having “a top model car, Western dressing style and a good job”. Samantha tells us that upon her second husband’s proposition to go to Morocco, she hesitated and did not give an answer to him for a while.
After she gave birth to her daughter, Samantha accepts her husband’s proposition. She further argues that her husband did not want to bring money directly to his country and that is why – “to transfer tax-exempted money” – they went to Hong Kong. Later, her husband convinced her to go to Turkey instead of Morocco.
Samantha tells me: “I voluntarily crossed to Syria”. However, in a later interview that she gave to CNN she tells: “He threatened me with my children, that’s how I crossed”.
Deliberately or unwillingly, if we leave aside the unverifiable parts of this story, the accounts indicate that the couple crossed to Syria through Tell Abyad (Girê Spî in Kurdish) and they went to Raqqa.
Samantha argues that her husband was an emir in ISIS and that she was “privileged” for this reason. She further explains that she was places in a nice house and that her needs were met.
She “was nice” to the Yazidi girls whom she made slaves!
When we ask her “There was a war ongoing, do you know what people have been through?”, she replies: “I don’t care much”.
Samantha gave birth to her third child in Raqqa. She tells us asking her husband help because she could not do housework while she was pregnant. She further notes that upon her demand, her husband brought two Yazidi girls (aged 15 and 17) as “concubine” to home.
According to Samantha, an American woman who got used to life in ISIS very quickly, the fact that Yazidi girls who were taken as slaves stayed with her was a luck!
“I was very nice to them, I acted like they were my sisters. They were doing my tasks and I was being nice to them. My husband did not behave badly either; I was pregnant and because I could not meet his needs, he was with them” says Samantha. When we ask her “You took them as slaves. And what you tell about you husband as ‘being with them’, isn’t it raping girls, sexual abuse?”, she does not answer for a while.
“I will not apologize”
Later, Samantha tells: “I will not apologize for bringing those girls to my house. I supported them, they supported me. I was like their mother.” She further emphasizes that her motive was to help her: “I paid half of the money I brought from U.S., I paid 10 thousand dollars to buy Soad. After a while, my husband brought another Yazidi girl, her name was Bedrine. I behaved her very nicely. My husband was together with both of them after having my allowance.”
When I repeat that, what she is calling as ‘being together’ is indeed rape, she replies, “That’s your opinion” and she instantly brushes over the discussion.
Samantha tells us that she was arrested for being an agent when she was seven-months pregnant to her fourth child and that her husband did not make any case out of her arrestation.
She explains that she was hanged although she was pregnant and that she was subjected to torture. She further informs that there was a woman among the torturers and that the woman is Fatiha Mihemmed Tahir El Heseni, the woman we interviewed in our second piece. And when we ask Fatiha, she confirms this by telling us “We knew that she was an agent, therefore we took her to interrogate”.
“I owe my life the Yazidi girl”
Samantha says that she was absolved and set free after a month of torture and that her husband died in an airstrike in those days.
A week before Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) liberated Raqqa in 17 October 2017, Samantha tried to leave the city. She tells us that when the place where she hid collapsed, she was squeezed under a wall with her newborn baby and that one of the Yazidi girls that she took as slaves helped her to live.
Samantha says, “I owe her my life, she knew Kurdish. She pulled me underneath the collapsed wall and we crossed to the SDF zone. We told them that we want to go out and they took us to the camp”.
From Tajikistan to Syria: Zeynep Aziz
Zeynep Aziz (Um Xalid) is 30 years old. She also has four children. When she came to ISIS her first child was a three-months old baby.
She starts her story by telling us that she was born in Batkin region to a poor family and that her family took her away from school when she was five.
She had an arranged marriage with a man named Hanzala and she came to Syria by the indoctrination of her husband:
“From where I cam from, woman is submissive. I never got out of the village until then. It was impossible for me to break away from him. He told me ‘I go to jihad’ and I took the road with him. It was the first time that I was in a plane. In 2014, we went to Turkey by flight. I had my child in my arms. I asked nothing. Then we passed through Jarablus. He told me ‘From now on, we will live here’.”
“Based on our traditions, I cannot break away from my husband”
We ask Zeynep how her husband met ISIS, how he made connection with it and Zeynep answers, “He had friends in Turkey; he was always talking with them”.
Zeynep tells that they moved to Tabqa and that her husband went to war and she explains the process she had experience in the system where she was both the perpetrator and the victim:
“He was getting out in the morning and coming back in the evening. Sometimes he was staying outside for many days. I always sat at home; I was getting pregnant and giving labor. I have four children. Afterwards, we went to Mayadin; there, we stayed a while and then we went to Deir ez-Zor. My husband told me ‘Don’t ask me too many questions, don’t speak a lot next to me, just breed and take care of the children. This is how I like women. Otherwise I will divorce you’. And I could not say much. And he behaved me well.”
She further tells us the rest of her story:
“My husband was captured by Syrian Army in Abu Kamal; my baby was just born. We went to the maddafeh in Baghuz. There were many women; the ones who were getting married were leaving and then the ones whose husbands died were coming back. The numbers were constantly changing. Lastly, we surrendered with a group of women. Kurdish forces came to take us”.
Finally, Zeynep says, “As long as my husband stays here, I will stay here. Based on our traditions, I cannot break away from my husband. If they set me free tomorrow and tell me to go, I have no place to go”.
Originally published in Turkish on 1 August 2019 10:50