Being woman in ISIS: The banality of evil – 6
Interviews and reporting by Fatma Koçak
Translated by Evrim Şaşmaz
I have difficulties in distinguishing the perpetrator from the victim in the interviews I conduct with women who joined ISIS.
On one hand, those women who took the mission of “shaping the next generations”of ISIS by joining it also became the victims of the system they entered consciously or unconsciously. On the other hand, they knew to object in their own lives but they accepted the existing circumstances without interrogation. There is a ‘consent’ produced and it is unconsciously accepted… Now Havva Mislim from Chechenia and Süreyya Mirzayeva from Uzbekistan tell us their stories…
Chechenian Havva: We came for economic reasons
Chechenian Havva Mislim is 21 years-old, her name in ISIS is Um Ali. Her family migrated to Russia for economic reasons. When she was 16, she was forced to marry to a man named Bekan, who is also her relative.
She tells us that their economic conditions were bad and that his husband got flight tickets without asking her saying, “They tell me they will give house and money if I fight in Syria. We will go to the Islamic State. I will fight there, and we can return after we save money for a couple of years”. And this is how they took the road.
First, they came to Tabqa. Havva’s husband joined the war after receiving the military training. He died two months after that.
Havva was pregnant to her second child when her husband died. The father of her husband then came to Syria to take Havve back to her country.
‘They did not allow me to stay on my own at home’
Havva explains that the katibah to which she was tied to did not allow her to go back, and she continues…
“The father of my husband started to stayed with me. During that time, they came from the Islamic State to take him to army service but he said ‘I am civilian and old, I don’t want to go’. He was 70 years-old and they forcefully took him to arm training.”
“I was alone at home. One day the katibah emir came to visit me and he sent me to a maddafeh in Manbij saying ‘you cannot stay here alone’. My daughter was born in that maddafeh. I stayed there for six months.”
“When the war got intensified, they evacuated that place and they took us to Raqqa. There was a big maddafeh next to the square of al-Qadisiyyah; all of the muhajir women were staying there. I also stayed there for a year and a half.”
Havva says that the women in charge in the maddafeh in Raqqa constantly forced her to marry. That maddafeh was also evacuated given the war conditions and Havva and other women were taken to another maddafeh in Hajin, which is affiliated to Deir ez-Zor.
Havva explains that she was forced to get married in Hajin too and she was sentenced to lashes on the ground that she ‘yielded to the devil’s temptation’. She adds that a woman named Mama Xedice who was the person in charge in that maddafeh punished similarly many women who did not want to marry.
‘I was put in dungeon five times because I refused to marry’
“They put me in a single cell in the dungeon, I don’t know how long I stayed there. My children were not with me and I missed them. One day Mama Xedice came and told me: ‘If you marry to a man who lost a limb in the war, Allah will forgive you. Otherwise, you are going to hell.’ They took me to the Sharia Qadi. They made me marry to a man without asking me. The man had lost his leg in the war. I was praying for him to die because I did not want to marry. There was nothing else I could do. The only joy I had was having my children with me again.”
I stayed with him for 11 days and afterwards two persons came to my door to say ‘your husband is a martyr, our condolences’. My prayers were accepted. I faked to be sorry next to them. After they left I laughed in joy; I cooked halva and ate with my children.”
Havva sums up the part of her life story until she got off from Baghuz:
“I had to be morning for four months. The katibah emir came again and warned me that I should go back to the maddafeh. Because the war was getting intensified I told them ‘Send some sisters and I can live here with them, I don’t want to go there’. They accepted my proposition and they sent three sisters along with their children.”
“After a while, when the conditions were getting worse, we crossed to Baghuz and we started to live in a tent. I was pregnant from the man to whom I was married for 11 days. I gave birth to my daughter in that tent in Baghuz. My daughter could survive only a couple of days, she dies because of unbearable conditions. In March, I surrendered to Kurdish forces together with my two children.”
‘I will never wear that black burka again’
“We started our journey with my husband to migrate to the lands where the rules of Allah are applied and to have a good life. But what I went through is so heavy for me. I did not foresee that I would live through such a darkness. I was not aware of what was going on when I first started my journey but after all I have seen, I realized that I did wrong by imprisoning myself in the darkness.”
“Black burka is the symbol of this darkness to me. I did not lose faith in Allah but I promised myself that I will never wear that black burka again.”
Bloody bread fight of Süreyya from Uzbekistan
Havva is from a nearby geographical region. Süreyya Mirzayeva from Uzbekistan tells a different story.
44 years-old Süreyya starts talking by saying “They told me they needed nurses, that I will make a lot of money; hence, I came”.
Süreyya also promised not to wear black burka ever again. She was born in Samarkand and married at the age of 16. Her two children still live in Uzbekistan.
After getting divorced from her husband, Süreyya worked in Russia for 9 years to take care of their children. She received nursing education and she worked on older patient care and cleaning jobs for long years.
“How did youcome across ISIS”, we ask her. Süreyya tells us that she was striving for bread:
“My family was Muslim but we were not performing its requirements that much. There was state oppression. When I was working in Moskow, I started to go to a small mosque near Prospekt Mira in my off-days. I was performing salah and socializing with sisters. One day, a sister told me that there was a job on older patient care in Turkey and that I would make money over there. They also bought my flight ticket. I went to Istanbul. Then I started to take care of an old woman in Pendik, Esenyalı.”
“Back in Russia, the sister who found me that job also gave me a contact address saying ‘if you need something go here’. In my off-days, I started to go to the small mosque in Kaynarca, the one that sister gave me the address. There were sisters too, I was talking with them and I was learning how to read Qoran.
“In one of the conversations, a sister named Hatice told me ‘There is job in Syria, you can go there to practice patient care and nobody would mess with your hijab. They give home, they give money’.”
“Sister Hatice planned my journey, bought my flight ticket and I went to Antep. Someone whom she mentioned came to take me and I crossed to al-Bab toward the end of 2014.”
The imperative of marriage in order to work
When Süreyya told them that she was a nurse and she wanted to work, she got the same answer given to other women: “You cannot work without getting married, without being under a man’s patronage and without taking his allowance.”
Until finding an appropriate husband, Süreyya stayed in a maddafeh in Raqqa. Afterwards, she was made to marry to someone who joined ISIS from Uzbekistan.
“He allowed me to work. I was going to homes, helping women to give birth, giving their injections and curing their sickness”, says Süreyya who stayed married for two years. However, her husband got married to another woman from Kazakhstan, on the ground that Süreyya “did not breed”.
“After he got a child from that woman, I could not tolerate it and I wanted to get divorced. He did not accept.” She further says that he accepted her proposition to live in separate homes and therefore, she continued to practice nursing care.
“I did not identify with them but I am also not regretting’”
On one hand, Süreyya says, “I did not identify with them that much, I just worked.” On the other hand she declares “I am not regretting to have come, sisters were treating me well”. Let’s listen to what she says afterwards:
“I stayed at home, I was taking care of the wounded, I was delivering babies. The katibah was paying me salary and that’s how I managed to live.”
“I did not identify that much with the Islamic State. My concern was to survive; apart from that, I was not interested in what was happening. I always worked, I am not regretting that I came.”
“I was having conversations with sisters, I was always at home. I was helping sisters and they were helping me. I did not mess with anyone.”
“For me, it was not so different than being in Russia, Turkey or Uzbekistan. Life is tough around here. I got hit in airstrikes two time, I got wounded. I am not a person who expects a lot from life.”
“When I was getting out of Baghuz, I took with me a two and a half years old orphan girl with me. She did not anyone, I don’t have anyone. I take care of her.”
“My own daughter does not accept me. I tried to talk with her, she is not picking up my calls. I spoke to my son. They consider me as a bad person but I did not do any evil. Life drifted me from here to there; maybe I should have fought back, I don’t know.”
“What I have been drfited into, I call it faith. I never adopted what the Islamic State did, I also did not see it.”
Originally published in Turkish on 3 August 2019 08:00
(Thanks to Siliva Şex Dawid for the translation support)