Thursday, October 25, 2012

Amna Sur (warning: this includes graphic photos)

Even when you've been there, it's hard to imagine the reality of some places. A reality lived rather than visited.  This was my experience in the Amna Sur Museum.

outside of one of the prison buildings
The Amna Sur Museum used to be one of Saddam Hussein's prisons, where overcrowded cells, stench, filth, darkness, rape, and torture were the status quo. Located in Suleimani,Iraqi Kurdistan, the prison housed (though housed seems too benign a word) mostly Kurds.  In 1991 the Kurdish Peshmerga attacked and liberated the prison.  Today, the buildings stand as a museum with blankets and bowls of prisoners on some prison cell floors, graffiti and nail holes still on/in the walls, statues depicting forms of torture that took place there, and photographs of Kurdish flight and the effects of a chemical attack on the city of Halabja.  The museum is a stark reminder of what Iraqi Kurds have lived, and died, through.  

one of the few small
entries of light
For me, the museum called to mind visiting the Dachau concentration camp, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, the sites of the killings of the six Jesuits and two women and of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador.  How is it that even with these memorials, these reminders of what can happen when we relinquish some of our humanity, people continue to destroy? I don't have an answer.  

My hope is that not  forgetting, not hiding, not looking away will help us not to repeat.  My hope is that seeing these places doesn't send us to a place of vengeful anger, but rather merciful and transformative compassion, to a place where the words "Never again" occupy not just our minds, but our souls. 

And so I share with you some of my photos, with the ardent desire that you will find hope springing from sorrow, life emerging from death, and a love for humanity and all creation that is stronger than the hate for what we do to each other.

one of the first sculptures seen when entering the prison building; the lack of
focus seemed appropriate, given the jarring nature of the scene

one of the women's cells  

Watching him standing, unmoving, hand on the shoulder, as if he could feel the warmth emanating from a body and see a soul through the eyes.  He stood a long time and I nearly as long observing him.  When the boy moved, his hand remained on the man (clearly this was more than a statue for the boy) until he was too far to touch him.  What was the boy thinking?  Who was this man for him?

Photos of the aftermath of the chemical bombing of the city of Halabja

family that took refuge in a cave and survived the Halabja attack
Hall of Mirrors: each fragment represents someone who died;
each light represents a village destroyed

To learn more about the Amna Sur Museum, click here.

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