“Bawh al- Dahaya” (“The Disclosures of Victims”) is not available in English to the best of my knowledge, though its subject matter ranks at the top of human rights violations in war zones. Thus any contribution from historians, research analysts, or journalists on the victims of war are telling about the crimes committed by the Syrian regime against its people. One should not exclude the various attempts to address these stories, whether through films, press interviews, or coverage by other mediums. These stories could enrich the documentation of these crimes regardless of the religious and cultural taboos surrounding them.
After years in the dark, the harrowing stories of mothers of the disappeared and women victims who survived their prison sentences are painting the harsh realities of life outside of the Syrian regime’s prisons and within its walls. The political conditions in Syria forced families of the detainees to play a waiting game for missing family members, of which they were practically doomed to lose, while prisoners suffered torture and abuse. For many, death became a luxury and freedom unreachable even outside the prison, the ghosts of pain coming to haunt them even after returning to the arms of their families, who rejected and shunned them if they were raped.
One cannot avert their eyes from the accounts shared in the recent book “Bawh al- Dahaya” (The Disclosures of Victims),” published in northern Syria by Huda Srouji who documented the experiences and artist Rami Abdel-Haq who illustrated the stories, edited by Firas Al-Rahim. The book tells the stories of 11 women — some the mothers of detainees, waiting for news of their imprisoned children, and others who lived and survived through the horrors of Sednaya prison and other detention centers.
“There are two types of people who will hear these stories,” wrote Musa al-Zaim who reviewed the book in Al Quds al Arabi (this article draws largely from al-Zaim’s review of the book). “The first are those who share these experiences and do not need descriptions of the suffering that has never left them, and the second are those who, had they cared enough, their positions would have stopped the slaughtering machine.”
“The Disclosures of Victims” does not shy away from brutal imagery of emaciation, violence, or rape that occurred within prison walls. One woman described her observations of torture surrounding her: “They arrested one mother for the second time while she was pregnant. She gave birth to twins in prison, and the jailor strangled them in front of her eyes,” she recounted. Other stories recalled the screams of naked detainees trying to resist their rapists. Many wished for death, because “the grave is a larger, safer, and more merciful space,” but their prayers remained unanswered. “Death is mean when thousands ask for it and it refuses to attend, even though everything around us suggests the conditions are fitting and appropriate for it...We wished the revolutionaries would bomb and kill us inside the prison, so we would get rid of this torment."
Outside the prisons, families waited — some for months, and others, years — with sparse hope for news of missing or detained loved ones. “Everyone asks me to be a patient mother waiting for the return of two children who passed through a slaughterhouse,” said one mother. Conditions were bleak wherever one looked, even beyond the prison walls; another mother described the endless violence in a written will to her son: “In the first year, your first friend was martyred, and in the second, your second friend was martyred. In the third, the children of Khan Sheikhoun were killed by chemical weapons.” She left the will in her house before fleeing, with the hopes he would find it when he returned. Such dreams were shattered when she found him among the victims of the leaked Caesar photographs, a 86-page report detailing the systematic killings of Syrian detainees, published in 2014.
Women who managed to escape returned to an equally merciless society. Some were met with family members demanding, “Did they rape you or not?” One woman was told by her close relatives, “I would have preferred your death in detention over having you raped.” For these survivors, their traumatic experiences followed them into freedom, casting a shadow over their futures. Though some women successfully reintegrated into society and worked towards higher education, their stories are far and few.
Thousands who entered the prisons did not make it out to tell their own stories. “The Disclosures of Victims” gives voice to those who could not as well as those who survived in a chilling collection of accounts that, although difficult to listen to, must not be overlooked.
The publication of "Disclosures of Victims" comes at an ironic time. Although film documentaries and journalistic accounts covering this topic have been available for some time, this new book, regardless of its limited scope, emerges at a time when many Arab countries who previously imposed sanctions against the Assad regime are now rushing to normalize diplomatic and economic relations. One can only hope that the latest bizarre election show — which the international community has called a sham – has not been a factor in rehabilitating this regime, especially when Syria is in the middle of an economic crisis, “with its currency trading on the black market at 4,000 Syrian pounds to the dollar, and nearly 90 percent of Syrians in dire poverty, unable to afford even basic groceries.” We also need not forget that some 6 million people have fled abroad, out of a pre-war population of 22 million, and another 7 million are internally displaced, wrote the Week on June 4th.
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