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Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah, Student:
»They told her: ›This PKK bullet is too good for you!‹ and shot her in the head«

KURDWATCH, May 30, 2015—Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah, b. 2001 in al-Hasakah, was thirteen years old and a ninth-grader when she was kidnapped by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and brought to a PKK military camp in Iraqi-Kurdistan, where she was to be trained as a guerilla fighter. After a month and a half, she was able to escape. Since the PYD has assumed power in Syrian-Kurdistan, minors have frequently been kidnapped or recruited against their parents’ will and deployed to the front lines. Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah is the first victim to speak about her experiences in an interview with KurdWatch. She is currently living in hiding in Europe.


KurdWatch: What is your name and when were you born?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: My name is Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah and I was born on January 1, 2001.

KurdWatch: When did you join the PYD?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Before I had finished the ninth grade.

KurdWatch: How did you come into contact with the PYD?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Through my friends and my teachers. They went to the PYD’s meetings. So I felt the need to get to know the party.

KurdWatch: Had these teachers been hired recently or were they among the old teachers?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: They were new. They were new officials.

KurdWatch: How many teachers were PYD supporters?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: About seventy-five percent.

KurdWatch: Both male and female teachers?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Yes.

KurdWatch: How did you decide to join them? Did they approach you and tell you that you should come to their camp and receive weapons training?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: To be honest, I wanted to join them. But all I really wanted was to go to one of their meetings. Instead they put me in a car and brought me to Dêrik [al~Malikiyah].

KurdWatch: All you really wanted to do was go to a meeting and they brought you to a training camp?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Yes, they didn’t take me to the meeting, but to Mela Merzê. There is a secret military training camp there.

KurdWatch: But surely they told you that they would bring you to a training camp?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: No, at some point I realized that I was being brought to the camp. On the way there, I saw my brother from inside the vehicle. I shouted at him and pounded on the window of the car. A cadre, a woman, said [to the driver]: »Drive faster, her brother is coming.« When I continued to pound on the glass, they hit me on the back of the head with the butt of a gun. I lost consciousness and didn’t wake up until I was in the military camp.

KurdWatch: Were you the only one who wanted to go to the meeting that day or were there others with you?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: After class we wanted to go to the meeting with our teachers. They said that they were going to a meeting and I said, okay, I’ll come along. But I didn’t take part in the meeting. I was brought to Dêrik.

KurdWatch: How many students were you altogether? Were you taken there by car or by bus?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: In a regular car. I was alone. I didn’t see my friends again until I was in Dêrik. I asked them what they were doing there and they said: »We joined them.«

KurdWatch: Were they also told that they would be brought to a meeting?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: No, they had decided.

KurdWatch: How long were you in Dêrik?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Not in Dêrik, we stayed in Mela Merzê for five days.

KurdWatch: What did you do for these five days?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: We got up early at three thirty. From three thirty until seven we exercised. Breakfast was at seven. Then we had lessons. In between we had a half hour break, otherwise we had lessons until nine o’clock in the evening.

KurdWatch: What was said in the lessons?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Jumʿa, Rashid, and several others taught our lessons that week. I can’t remember exactly what they said.

KurdWatch: One lesson is reportedly about family. The parents were allegedly made to look bad so that the adolescents will not attempt to contact them. Did you have a lesson like this?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: When I arrived, I was told: »Forget your family.« If they say such things it means that they are not a good party.

KurdWatch: What did you eat?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: We were given olives in the mornings and had four minutes to eat breakfast. For lunch there was bulgur, we also had four minutes for this meal. In the evening we were given spaghetti, but had only two minutes to eat.

KurdWatch: Could you get enough to eat in two or four minutes?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Of course not, but we had to.

KurdWatch: How was the first week? Did you also have military training or was your training only political in nature?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: At first we only had political training. A person only received military training once their family stopped asking after them.

KurdWatch: What was the place like where you lived and exercised?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Women and men were separated and we exercised outside.

KurdWatch: What sort of exercise did you do?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Running, for three, four hours.

KurdWatch: How many students were at the military camp and how many were your age?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: There were about ten people my age there and about fifty people total.

KurdWatch: Were you separated from the men?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: No, we ate, exercised, and had lessons together. We only slept separately.

KurdWatch: When did you go to sleep?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: At ten o’clock at night. Of course we kept watch during the night. We alternated between one hour one day and two hours the next.

KurdWatch: That means you slept between three and four hours a night?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: I didn’t count it, but that sounds about right.

KurdWatch: Did they wake you every morning at three thirty?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Yes, the cadre woman came and shouted »good morning«. Anyone who didn’t get up was punished

KurdWatch: What was the punishment?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: You weren’t allowed to talk to anyone or you had to do physical labor. Or you didn’t get any food or had to wash the dishes. Those were the punishments.

KurdWatch: How long weren’t you allowed to eat?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: One, two, but no more than three days.

KurdWatch: What did they tell the children who missed their parents and wanted to go back?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: I was one of them. I just wanted to speak to my family. I wanted to know how they were doing. They wouldn’t allow this and sent me to Dêrik for two days. And then they took us across the river to Iraqi-Kurdistan, to Haftanin Mountain, and that’s where we stayed.

KurdWatch: What did they teach you in the lessons after the first week?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Normally they talk about the leader, the people, and society. They didn’t do that at all here. They only talked about the history of women.

KurdWatch: Did you have to swear an oath or anything like that?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Yes, we swore three times that we would fight for the freedom of our leader, for the freedom of Kurdistan, etc.

KurdWatch: How did you eat?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: There was actually a long table where we stood to eat. But sometimes the food was on the floor and even then we had to stand to eat.

KurdWatch: That means you always had to bend down to eat?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Yes.

KurdWatch: Why did they do that?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: So that we were trained according to their politics.

KurdWatch: How was the situation in Iraqi-Kurdistan? How many of you were there?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: We were approximately one hundred forty boys and fifty girls.

KurdWatch: Was everyone who was with you in the camp in Syria taken to Iraqi-Kurdistan?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: No. [Everyone who was taken to Iraqi-Kurdistan] met at the big river. There were about sixty people who were roughly my age and about forty who were even younger than I am. We crossed the river to Iraqi-Kurdistan together.

KurdWatch: I can imagine that for many of the children, it was very hard to be suddenly separated from their parents. Did they say that they missed their parents?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: We didn’t have many opportunities to talk to one another. Because of all of the lessons and the training. But some of them said that they were forced to come along. They missed their parents and wanted to go back.

KurdWatch: Couldn’t you talk to each other at night? How many of you were in a room?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: For the first week, we were sixteen to a room. Talking was forbidden. When we slept, there was a guard in the room so that we did not talk to one another.

KurdWatch: Did the group that crossed the river together remain together in Iraqi-Kurdistan or was it later split up?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: We traveled together to southern Kurdistan and went to Chiyaye Sipi. A third remained there. Some went to Matin, others to Haftanin, and still others to Ararat.

KurdWatch: Were there no peshmerga there when you crossed the river?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: We crossed illegally. There were no peshmerga.

KurdWatch: Did you cross the river together or separately?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: We crossed the river six at a time in a boat.

KurdWatch: Did you cross the river during the day or at night?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: At night, before the call to morning prayer.

KurdWatch: Did they tell you that you would be taken to Iraqi-Kurdistan?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: No. I knew that the PKK does the opposite of what you want. [When I was still in Mela Merzê], I told them that I wanted to go to Qandil. I wanted to stay where we were [Mela Merzê], because from there I could have fled to my family.

KurdWatch: How did you live in the camp in Iraqi-Kurdistan?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Nothing changed. On the contrary, they oppressed us even more.

KurdWatch: What do you mean by oppressed?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Why should a girl my age carry sacks of potatoes and water canisters? We had to walk far into the mountains to get water and carry the heavy canisters of water on our backs.

KurdWatch: Was that a punishment?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: No. We had to get water for our camp. The water was far away. Every day someone had to get the water.

KurdWatch: Wasn’t there water at the camp?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: No, at first our camp was at a spring. When I told two friends that we should escape, one of them betrayed us. Then they separated me from the others. They brought the other friend and me to another camp. And this camp was far away from the spring.

KurdWatch: How many were at the camp?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: There are fourteen outposts in the Gümlê mountain chain. At each outpost there were around one hundred forty people and more.

KurdWatch: Who prepared the food?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Each day two of us were given that job. Always a woman and a man.

KurdWatch: Did you know how to cook?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Not at all. But we ate everything that we got.

KurdWatch: What did you eat?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: In the mountains, we ate olives in the mornings. Here too, we were given four minutes.

KurdWatch: Olives with bread?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Without bread.

KurdWatch: Only olives?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Yes.

KurdWatch: But you couldn’t have gotten enough to eat.
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Of course not. And when there were no olives, we ate raw potatoes.

KurdWatch: What did you get for lunch?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Every day we had bulgur.

KurdWatch: Only bulgur, no sides?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Nothing else.

KurdWatch: Was it like that in Dêrik, too?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Yes, in Dêrik, too.

KurdWatch: Did you get water with the food?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: No, you had to walk a kilometer to the spring to get a glass of water.

KurdWatch: What did you get in the evenings?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Spaghetti.

KurdWatch: What was on the spaghetti?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Nothing.

KurdWatch: Spaghetti with salt?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: There wasn’t any salt either.

KurdWatch: Was there bread?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: We baked bread once a month and that had to be enough. We ate bread without anything. On the mornings when there were no olives, we were given only bread.

KurdWatch: Were you tortured?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: On the night when I tried to run away with my friends for the first time, we were caught. We were taken to prison. I was only in prison for two days, but my friend was there for four days. When she was released she had wounds on her body. She had been beaten. She was beaten with belts and cables.

KurdWatch: How old was your friend?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: The same age as I am, thirteen.

KurdWatch: Did you also receive military training?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: At first our weapons training was theoretical. Later we also trained with actual weapons.

KurdWatch: Did you receive military training every day?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: For the first fifteen days we had no military training. After that we had military training from after breakfast until eleven o’clock. Then we had lunch.

KurdWatch: In the time that you spent with the PYD, were there others who tried to escape?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Two days before we escaped, my friend and I helped seven people escape. They had guard duty and after that it would have been our turn. We told them that they could escape now and we would keep watch. They escaped and later others took over for us. It wasn’t until the early morning that it became clear that they were missing. We weren’t told that they had escaped. They claimed that they had been transferred to another outpost.

KurdWatch: Did many people attempt to escape? And were people captured?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: When I came to the mountains, a girl had tried to escape seven times already and the eighth time she was caught again. We were all gathered together. There was a meeting that lasted the entire evening. She was put on a stage and they told her that a PKK bullet was too good for her and she was shot and thrown in the river.

KurdWatch: How old was she?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Eighteen or nineteen.

KurdWatch: How long were you in the mountains?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: I arrived on November 5, 2014 and I ran away on December 24.

KurdWatch: How did you escape?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: To be honest, I didn’t have the courage to escape. My friend helped me. The first time we were caught and were put in prison. I was in prison for two days without anything to eat or drink. The second time we asked a boy if he wanted to escape with us, since we girls couldn’t do it alone. But he betrayed us. My friend was supposed to be transferred. But the next night, my friend had guard duty and she woke me up. Prior to this she had distracted the boys who were supposed to have guard duty after her. We then headed down the mountain in the middle of the night. We walked about ten kilometers until we reached a village. There were only two houses that were inhabited. We went into a house where an old woman was living. She took us in until early morning and then we were turned over to the KDP.

KurdWatch: How were you received by the KDP?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: They were very nice and as long as we live, we will be grateful to them.

KurdWatch: Did they interrogate you?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: They questioned us and wanted to know everything.

KurdWatch: You said that a girl was killed. Where was she from?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: From ʿAfrin. Her party name was Beritan Tolhildan.

KurdWatch: Do you know her real name?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: No.

KurdWatch: She was shot before your eyes? How many people were forced to watch?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Our whole group. We were about one hundred forty people. They only held the meeting so that they could shoot her.

KurdWatch: Who shot her?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: A cadre, a woman and the highest female commander on Haftanin Mountain. She was called Berfin Agiri, a northern Kurd from Botan.

KurdWatch: Had she been part of the PKK for a long time?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: For about thirty years.

KurdWatch: Did the girl say anything before she was killed?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: No, she didn’t say anything. They told her: »This PKK bullet is too good for you!« and shot her in the head. She was a very quiet girl. She didn’t have enough confidence in herself and that’s why she was caught each time she tried to escape. The eighth time they killed her. We wanted to give the body to her parents, but they refused. My friend and I said that we would tell her parents that she was killed in battle. But she [Berfin Agiri] just glared at us and said: »That is none of your business.«

KurdWatch: Otherwise no one said anything?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: No one dared to say anything. Once someone swore and complained. She [Berfin Agiri] held a gun to his head and said she would do the same to him.

KurdWatch: What were the names of the people who trained you?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Comrade Berfin and Comrade Akif were responsible for us. Rezan, Sozan, and Berfin were responsible for all of Haftanin.

KurdWatch: How many children were in your group?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: Our group was comprised of one hundred forty people, sixteen of whom were children. In other groups there were around forty children.

KurdWatch: Where those who received training happy?
Nurman Ibrahim Khalifah: To be honest, no one was happy. They only laughed so that no one would discover that they were unhappy.

March 5, 2015

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