On the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre reminds the world of the hundreds of disappeared in Syria who were kidnapped by ISIS. The families of the kidnapped are still experiencing the nightmare of not knowing the fate of their loved ones. Today, SJAC talks to Mrs. Razan, whose husband was kidnapped in 2014 while she was pregnant with their first child. Muhammad is now six years old, but he has yet to meet his father.
– Tell us about yourself and your family and how your life has changed after 2011 in Syria.
I am Razan, from Syria (Aleppo). I am 30 years old, and married to Mustafa Khayal. My husband went missing on June 7, 2014. The loss of my husband has caused destruction to our family, in the full sense of the word.
– What did your husband do?
My husband was a graduate of the Faculty of Islamic Sharia, teacher of the subject of Islam, and a mosque imam.
– When did ISIS take control of the area in which you lived?
The organization took control of our city and my family’s city in 2013. They exited our area under pressure, but their control of my family’s city continued.
– Explain to us how ISIS treated the people of the village and how they treated mosque imams?
The treatment was very bad, as if we were nonbelievers and they represented Islam, and as if we knew nothing about matters of religion despite the fact that most people in the city observed the sharia dress code. Their situation was delicate and in constant discussion and conflict with mosque imams.
– How did your husband feel about the acts of ISIS? Was he afraid of them?
In the beginning, my husband viewed them as Islamists and observant of religious practices. He used to deplore their acts of injustice and corruption, which go against the manners of Muslims. He was not afraid of them and not afraid to express himself. He even had a discussion with one of them, which was completely transparent, and he told him: Your actions have nothing to do with Islam and Muslims.
– Explain to us what happened on the day when your husband disappeared.
June 7, 2014 was a very difficult day. All the details are alive in my memory. I even hate six o’clock because of this incident, which was the beginning of my tragedy. My husband and I went to my family’s city, Aleppo (Al Bab) on a visit. We were stopped at an ISIS checkpoint on the pretext of conducting a normal check despite the fact that we regularly visited my family. They stopped us for an hour and a half because it was crowded. They asked to check my purse and my travel bag even though they know it had only clothes for me. My husband got angry and told them that I was very tired and that my health situation was bad. Their excuse was that they were afraid that weapons might be in the bag. My husband told them that there was nothing in the bag that belonged to him and that the bag was for me. They even turned on the laptop of my husband and accessed all the files. When they learned that he was a mosque imam through his video speeches, they went mad and told him that he was under arrest. They left us for an hour until a car arrived and they took my husband and his personal effects to the city of Al Bab and the court prison.
– Was there any contact with him after his abduction by ISIS?
One week after his abduction, we saw him at Al Bab court. He told me that they were angry about what he said at the checkpoint and that they accused him of not recognizing them as an Islamic state. He said there was no charge that could be proven against him. Then, I told him about my pregnancy, which I had learned about a few days after his arrest.
– When was the last time you saw your husband?
The last time I saw him was on November 16, 2014. He told us that he was in a very difficult situation in solitary confinement, and that they would bring people specialized in sharia from different nationalities to argue with him without reaching a solution with him after they asked him to pledge allegiance to them and he refused.
– How has your life changed after the abduction of your husband?
My life has been ruin, loss, and loneliness. I was pregnant with my first child and I did not know the fate of my husband when we were supposed to spend our most beautiful times with our first child. The days were very tough on us. We tasted bitterness. I spent most of my days going to the court prison to ask about my husband. When the jailer said this name was here, I was assured that they did not kill him. Very difficult days.
– What do you tell your son about his father? Does he ask about his father?
When my son became older, he started asking: Why am I without a father, while my friends have fathers? I was always keen on keeping the idea about his father alive and an example for him in manners, religion, and good treatment, and to pray for him because he was away from us. His dream of seeing him grew stronger. I used to tell him: Your father is traveling. But when he went to nursery and became more aware, he said that travelers call. Why is it that my father is not calling? There was greater pressure on me, so I had to tell him the truth. It was a big shock for him to learn about our bitter situation and our family’s division and loss. My son felt broken and disappointed. He even imagined himself as Superman who would rescue his father from the bad guys. It was difficult for a child of his age to know about injustice and wrongdoers. But with God’s grace, when ISIS sent us the personal effects of my husband, there was a letter to my son in his notebook, in which he said: To my unborn son, I ask you to care for your mother and the book of God. He said in it:
O Bakr, be patient after all this complaining
Your mother is tired by bitter patience
If you get tired in the dark for months
I am like you, captive in prison
Do you wish to be out to have a good life
While there is ruin and destruction in it
O infant, take it easy
On a loving mother who is sighing
My greetings to you, be like a roaring lion
Who safeguards succession or dies
These lines of poetry were like temporary healing to my son’s wounds to make him feel safe despite the tough words and that his father was talking to him and he was listening to the words with love and awareness despite his young age.
– What have you done to know the fate of your husband? Do you still receive news about your husband?
I have done everything to find him. We went to the Tribal Diwan of ISIS, Tadif prison, and the judge of grievances who came to the city to champion wronged people. There were many people who were wronged and many complaints. The judge was surprised to hear the name of my husband, as if he knew him. He was amazed when I told him that ISIS told us about his execution. We looked for him because one person told us that he saw him at a prison in the city of Manbij, which ISIS also controlled. This news came after news about his killing. His answer a few days later was shocking that he did not know the fate of my husband and whether he is there or not. He told us privately that he was with him in one of the prisons and that he knew about his good manners and deep knowledge and that his manners and knowledge were a treasure. He asked us to forgive him because he could not deliver an oral message of reassurance from my husband to us, saying that the circumstances did not allow him. But I do not forgive him because he could have soothed our wounds, even with some news and greeting that could heal our wound and extinguish the fire in the heart of a mother for her son, who is absent without any word about him for no reason and no guilt. The last I heard about my husband is that the Syrian Democratic Forces took control of an ISIS prison and that my husband was one of the prisoners. There was news about the prison and the difficult situation of the prisoners and the names that we received were limited. We contacted the families of persons whose names were mentioned, and the same information was repeated; namely, that their sons were in this prison. But the Syrian Democratic Forces did not provide us with any information despite asking repeatedly about the news that came from them.
– What is the importance of highlighting the issue of the kidnapped for you?
The issue of the kidnapped is very important because I, as the wife of a missing person, know the feeling of the wives, mothers, and children of the missing. The feeling of having a missing person is very difficult. It is like a drowning person who does not survive and does not drown, and continues to struggle. A lifebuoy can save him. As the saying goes, “the mother of the martyr sleeps, but the mother of a missing person does not sleep.” Indeed, we know that a martyr is with God, who is more merciful toward him than his mother and father, but when there is a missing person, it is like a raging fire that is never extinguished. As the days go by, the fire rages more with a sense of loss. I even hate any word that has to do with loss. My feeling cannot be translated or described except to someone who experienced it.
– Finally, what do you dream of in the evening when you close your eyes?
Oh… My dream is to know the fate of my husband and for my son to smile after feeling safe and to feel the support and strength that he was deprived of even before seeing daylight. I wish for the word missing to be gone from our life and for all mothers, children, and wives of the missing to enjoy peace because only God knows about our suffering. All matters of the past and future are in the hands of God.
Razan’s story is just one of countless similar ones from families across Northeast Syria. You can follow SJAC’s work on missing persons, and particularly those missing by ISIS here. If you are a family member searching for a missing loved one who was kidnapped by ISIS you can reach out at info@syiraaccountability.