Amna Suraka (Red Security)
by Jennifer Martin
Our visit to Amna Suraka spanned over two days, and it was my best visit during the trip. Also known as the "Red Security" museum because of its red-colored walls, Amna Suraka served as the northern headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, or Mukhabarat. Doesn't sound too bad yet? This prison operated as a facility for the imprisonment, torture, and death of thousands of Kurds under Saddam Hussein's regime.
Amna Suraka operated from 1979 until 1991, at which point the Kurdish Peshmerga (armed Kurdish fighters) attacked and won control of the prison from the Ba'ath party (Saddam's party). The prison has been preserved in its original condition - the only changes being those related to maintenance - and therefore contains no fancy displays or high-tech devices. In fact, the only additions consisted of several pictures and figurines used for explanatory purposes. Bullet holes coat the outer walls and the blankets and pillows present at the '91 uprising are still lying on the floor of the inner cells.
To enter Amna Suraka, we were guided through a memorial resembling a tunnel of mirrors. Over 5,400 small light bulbs patterned the ceiling and over 182,000 jagged glass pieces were cemented to the walls of the narrow hallway. Each individual piece of glass represents one victim killed under Saddam, and each light represents each Kurdish village destroyed under his reign. Over 182,000 Kurds dead and over 5,400 villages destroyed at the hands of Saddam.
From the Tunnel of Mirrors, we walked outside. To our left, Iraqi artillery and tanks lined the borders of a medium-sized courtyard. After a brief look at the weapons, we entered the first of two prison chambers.
We walked downstairs to a basement, or a holding cell of sorts, where on the walls hung over-sized photographs of the killings that occurred in Halabja.
Because two documentaries were being filmed at Amna Suraka, we waited until Thursday to explore the remaining parts of the prison. We arrived the following day to learn that the documentaries were still being filmed, and we could not venture into those parts. Instead of leaving, we walked into the courtyard while deciding what to do (my frustration level was a little high).
A man dressed in a Ba'ath party uniform and surrounded by a group of people yelled across the courtyard, "If you have a question, you can just ask!"
Steve, Bobby, and I looked at each other, then proceeded toward the group. It turns out that the man who yelled to us was the director and lead actor in one of the documentaries being filmed. While introducing himself, the Kurdish director explained that he had been in liberal arts & theatre school during Saddam's reign. When he was recruited to join the Ba'ath party, he fled to the mountains. He then offered to give us a tour of the second half of Amna Suraka.
During the tour, the Kurdish director clarified that he was playing the part of Chemical Ali. He also depicted how Ali would terrorize the area. Supposedly, "black" was the color of the Kurds, and if Ali saw someone wearing that color on the streets, he shot him or her immediately.
While composing this post, I stumbled across a quote that I felt accurately encompassed the sentiment at Amna Suraka: "...loathing at what humans can do to each other and pride at how humans can persevere and fight back."
You can read more by Jennifer here: http://jennifersblog85.blogspot.com/.
More by Jennifer MartinOperation: Cross the Border
Erbil - Old-School Iraq
Erbil by Day and Sulaymaniyah in the Evening
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