Nothing glamorous really; Caroline and I followed a group of boisterous school children on a class fieldtrip through the natural history museum (which is one of exactly four destinations listed under tourism for the Sulaymaniyah entry in Wikipedia). Lots of old clay pots and metal tools in glass display cases…old, old stuff. Which was pretty cool…
After that we went down the street to find this other museum that we had both heard about: The Amna Suraka Museum, which translates into Kurdish as the "Red Intelligence Museum.” This is how Wikipedia describes it (also one of the four tourist destinations in Sulaymaniyah by the way):
“…Located in a former Ba'ath intelligence headquarters and prison. This museum showcases the horrific terror of the Ba'ath regime upon the local Kurdish population. Visitors are guided through the prisons and interrogation rooms...”
When we arrived, we were told it was closed. Damn. Big disappointment actually considering that we had managed to find the place (and crossed six lanes of highway to get there). But then, this guy came out and asked us our names; you see, one of the other girls in the group had visited a few days before and met the artist who had made the sculptures that were scattered around the museum depicting different prisoners who were known to have died there. He had been waiting for us it seemed, and offered to make us a cup of tea and then give us a private, guided tour of the facility. How often does that happen!?!
It was haunting to say the least. The first room he showed us was where the children were imprisoned. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to be one of up to 30 children locked in this dark room. Alone.
The prison was like a maze by design to prevent it’s historic prisoners from being able to keep their bearings while being moved, blindfolded, from room to room. It was disorienting. And cold. Very cold.
We walked through the facility, looking at different cells and then I was startled when I looked through a door and saw a white figure standing, taller than me and looking out the tiny, barred window near the ceiling. It was one of the sculptures (made by our tour guide) of a known prisoner; an apparition in a way.
Many of the dark cells had ragged blankets thrown in their corners which somehow heightened the sense of solitude and despair that must have been present between these walls.
The whole thing was so unsettling…
I knew very little about the details of this particular genocide, and to be honest, I still don’t. Granted, I know more now…but it seems to be “just” another tale of a disenfranchised people and the violence they suffered at the hands of the “other”…and I have no doubt that somewhere in the world today, people are still suffering in the same way.
What do we do?