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Voice from Makhachkala | ‘Mum, we are not in Turkey, but in Syria’

13 February 2018
Amatulla Kurbanova (Aida Mirmaksumova /OC Media)

On 21 October, a special flight from Syria landed in Grozny with 21 children on board. The passengers included three women and six children from Daghestan.

[Read on OC Media: Wives and children of Islamic State militants return home]

The instant after touching down, the three Daghestani women were arrested and taken to Makhachkala. The trial of 33-year-old Zagidat Abakarova for ‘participating in an illegal armed formation’ began at the end of December. Naida Shaikhakhmedova was sentenced on 16 january to four and a half years ‘restriction of liberty’ (restrictions to her movement), to be carried out when her children reach 14 years old.

Twenty-five-year-old Muslimat Kurbanova’s case has still not gone to trial, and she is now entering her fourth month in detention. Her daughter Aliya is seven months old, and is being looked after by her grandmother Amatulla Kurbanova. Her story is below.

‘She was dead to me’

‘Her first child died out there; the boy was stillborn. Then she bore a child, an exact copy of Muslimat!’

‘I’m 54. Nobody knew my age before, but when my daughter left I immediately grew old and thin, and fell ill.’

‘Muslimat left home in 2014. Back then she was working in a supermarket and distance learning at the Law Academy; there were three months left before graduation. And then — she fell in love. She told us she did not want to marry our relative.’

‘It’s a tradition here — marrying our own. Our villagers don’t even want to marry their daughter to or take brides from other villages. They take only their cousins once or twice removed. But she refused. She did not want to marry my cousin’s son.’

‘I don’t know where she met the guy. He’s Russian, came from Moscow. I remember he approached me on the street, I didn’t even get a clear look at him. He said he wanted to marry her, and will convert to Islam. I didn’t even talk to him: “we don’t need anything. Go back where you came from”, I said.’

‘One evening we were waiting for Muslimat to come home from work, to talk about marriage, we wanted to convince her to marry our relative. But she did not come, only sent us a text message: “You didn’t want to give me to him, but I love him. I’m sorry, Dad and Mum. I am leaving”.’

‘Her father was furious. He screamed: “I will not forgive her! She’s dead to me! And he didn’t talk to her for many years.’

‘I had a nervous breakdown, I immediately fell ill. Our relatives came to console me: “how could she do this? She knew you would get sick!” they said. Taking pills helped me a little. My husband took me to a psychologist; I entered his office and discussed something with him for a long time. After this visit, my husband started taking me to places where I could scream: to a waterfall, a forest. I was starting to feel relieved. But he did not want to see our daughter: she did not exist and that was that.’

Connected by phone

‘Almost immediately after Muslimat left home, she wrote to me that she was in Turkey with her husband; she was in contact every day. I was worried for her, but didn’t even suspect that they gone to Syria, they did not tell us.

We often had video-calls. This guy even said to me: “If only you did not refuse us, we would have never come here. We would have lived there in peace”. I even asked myself why he would say such a thing? Is it really so bad there?’

‘The police visited us all the time. In the span of these three years, they came to us every one or two months. The first time they came a few months after they went to Turkey.’

‘They informed us that the two-month limit for staying in Turkey had elapsed. “Why is she not returning? Does she contact you? Maybe she’s not in Turkey?” They were suggesting, but did not say directly, that she was in Syria. Yes, she contacted me every single day! She knew that I was worried about her.’

A spiritual connection

‘Even from a distance, I could feel that something was wrong with Muslimat. For example, I would start crying out of nowhere, and then Muslimat would tell me that at approximately the same time, she was either in some pain or was crying.’

‘I often saw the same dream: I was here, at home, and someone is knocking on the door. I open up; two police officers and Muslimat are standing there. “This is your daughter”, they would say. And I would wake up at this moment.’

‘Once dreamt that I lost her. I had a feeling that I should find her, and was opening all the doors in a panic, I was looking for her. The rooms were dark, and she was nowhere to be found. At this time she had not contacted me for several days, and this dream, I was very worried for her. Then she called and said that she had miscarried…’

‘Muslimat is my eldest daughter, a long-wished for child. She was born after seven months, she was so small, weak, without eyebrows, and with no eyelashes. I would wrap her up in a feather shawl, and wrapped her feet in cotton wool to help blood circulation. My mother watched me and said, “do you really think that this child will survive?” But if Allah gives life, no one can take it away.’

‘They were tricked’

Muslimat Kurbanova

‘She went there through stupidity. A boy and a girl fell in love with each other, and to avoid being caught by their parents, they left to live in Turkey. And what happened next, I don’t know. I think they were tricked, lured with money, maybe someone said they could make good money in Syria. Some guy, a Daghestani, deceived them. Who it was, I don’t even know. Muslimat didn’t tell me anything.’

‘I go to her for visits, but I’m afraid to ask anything. I’m even afraid to ask her about her husband. She doesn’t know if he is alive or not. Probably, if he was, he would contact her somehow, but he hasn’t…’

‘Last year she started writing that she wanted to come back. “Mum, we will probably come back. Mum, I really want to come home”. Her father didn’t want to see her, and I wrote that I would probably go there myself. And then she told me: “Mum, you will not be able to come to us. We are not in Turkey, but in Syria”.’

‘You can’t imagine how scared I got when I read that. I went immediately to the district precinct officer! I said that my daughter says she is in Syria, how can you help us? And he said: “We knew it long ago, that she was in Syria!” ’

Muslimat goes home

One day, at about 6am, my nephew came to my house. “I have news” he said. I became scared, worried that something had happened. And he said, “Muslimat is coming home” and showed me a video on Kadyrov’s Instagram. There they showed my girl fainting, she was sprinkled with water, and her baby is being held by Ziyad Sabsabi [Chechnya’s representative in the Middle East]. We immediately wrote to Kadyrov on Instagram, asking if it was true, that they were transporting women and children and whether Muslimat Kurbanova was among them. We were told that the flight was scheduled to arrive on 21 October at 3pm.’

‘When my husband found out that Muslimat was returning from Syria, he forgave her stupid actions. He was afraid she would be killed there, and came to the airport to meet her.’

‘We didn’t sleep the whole night before going to Grozny. Only there, in the airport, I recognised that there was a whole group of mothers of others who had gone to Syria, that they keep in touch, and understand each other’s sorrow, support each other. I felt so sorry that I didn’t know about this and had to live through it on my own.’

‘Second part of our suffering’

‘After landing, the children were given birth certificates, and the women wrote voluntary surrender notes and they were let go to meet their relatives. We were together for only an hour.’

‘As soon as we exited the arrivals hall into the airport’s main hall, a young man approached us. He introduced himself as Magomed, and said that he was from the Centre for Countering Extremism and informed us that the children could be taken away, but the women would be taken to the ‘sixth department’ [Department for Combating organised Crime]. Since then, the second part of our suffering begun.’

‘On 24 October the court ruled to put her under arrest for two months.’

‘Every day we were taking her infant for her to feed. We had long sought for her to be placed together with her mother, but we succeeded only a few weeks later. By that time, Muslimat had already lost her milk, and the girl had completely switched to artificial feeding.’

‘On the same flight that was carrying Muslimat, was Zagidat Abakarova. Her case is already in court and the verdict will be announced soon, but my daughter’s case is still not in court. No one will explain why, and no one says when this will happen.’

‘For a fourth month, Muslimat has been held in a detention centre. A few weeks ago I had to take away her child — there was a flu epidemic in the detention centre. Now I care for the child. Recently two of her teeth came through.  Her mum has not seen this yet.’

‘Because I sit with the child day and night, I had to quit my job. Our financial situation has deteriorated.’

‘I would like very much for Muslimat to marry as soon as possible and also find a job. She once finished courses in cosmetology. We’ll find a way out of this mess. The most important thing is that we are all alive and healthy.’

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