December 30, 2010
Did not get much sleep. There is construction going on right outside the hotel and it went through the night. This morning I woke up to the sounds of birds singing just outside our window. It was about 6am, but I was ready to go. Preston was still sleeping, so I decided to take a shower. No water. Again. I haven’t showered since the hotel in Mardin. Preston got up and we headed out. The square that was so deserted last night was once again crammed with people and the area right outside our hotel was now a book market.
Wanting something different than a sandwich for breakfast, we stopped by one of the street carts for honeycomb and yoghurt. Delicious. We were walking towards Amna Suraka and also half-looking for a new hotel. We were only paying about 20 USD per night per room, but thought maybe we would find something a bit more upscale, but gave it up after stopping into just one hotel. It was full and we decided not to waste our time. Our room was basic and small, but clean and in a good location and we had places we wanted to visit.
Amna Suraka was the Northern headquarter of Iraqi Intelligence Service under Saddam Husseins’ regime. The buildings have been left exactly as they were following the uprising and liberation by the Peshmergas in 1991.The windows are busted out and the entire facade is riddled with countless bullet holes. Before the liberation, thousands of people, mostly Kurds, were imprisoned and tortured and killed there. It is now the country’s first museum of war crimes. Rusted barbed wired and deserted watchtowers give the place an ominous feeling.
Upon entering the compound, we were first escorted to the Hall of Mirrors which is a 50 meter long room with walls covered in shards of mirror. 182,000 shards, one for each Kurdish person killed by Saddam’s regime. On the ceiling are 5000 small, white lights, each one representing a Kurdish village that was destroyed.
We walked out and into the courtyard which houses old and rusted military vehicles. We walked past them and into the first of the actual prison buildings. There was quite a bit of debris. Pieces of rock and broken tiles from the walls were scattered on the floor. We walked from cell to cell. There were drawing and carvings in some of the walls, not sure if they are from vandals or prisoners. There was such heavy sadness in the air and as I stood inside one of the cells and looked out at the nice, middle-class houses just across the street, I wondered what must have gone on in those rooms and what the people who lived just across the street thought about it. The view from the roof also struck me. It was surprising to suddenly walk onto the sun-drenched roof after experiencing the sadness and depression inside. The view of the gorgeous mountains and a deep blue sky from the roof of this place of torture and murder seemed out of place and almost inappropriate. But now, thinking about it a bit later, perhaps that is what hope is, the vision or promise of something beautiful while in the midst of something terrible and unimaginable.
We went to the next building and on one floor, there are walls covered in hand prints in red paint. There is nothing or anyone to explain what they mean, but it is pretty easy to come up with your own interpretations. To me, they represented the blood of people who had died there, many of which are perhaps no longer remembered by anyone, their memories exist only in those hand prints.
Preston and I didn’t speak much to each other while we walked around, each of us in our own thoughts. We knew where we were going, but I think we were both a somewhat overwhelmed by the impact of it all. We stayed there for just over an hour before deciding it was time to leave and head to Halabja, about 60 kilometers of so away.