A Chilling Iraqi Memorial: The ‘Red Prison’ Of Suleymaniyah

By Janet Ekstract
SULEYMANIYAH (TURKISH JOURNAL) – The Iraqi city of Suleymaniyah holds the legacy of the Kurdish people but one nondescript gray, cement complex will forever remain as a reminder of the horrific era of the Saddam Hussain regime.

The ‘House of Horrors’ aka ‘Red Prison’ also known as Amna Suraka is a place that is as difficult to describe as it is horrifically chilling.

‘Red Prison’ holds such deep,  painful memories within its rooms and walls, that speaking about them can never be as poignant as experiencing them walking through this former notorious house of death.

Very few people know about ‘Red Prison’ which represents the silent aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s regime of torture, electrocution and rape of innocent Kurdish, Iraqi and Syrian people in the 1970s that stands today as an eternal remnant of the former regime’s crimes against humanity.

‘Red Prison’ served as the northern headquarters for the Ba’ath regime’s infamous Iraqi Intelligence Service – the Mukahabarat.  This drab cement building complex with mazes of prison bars and steel doors, leaves a violent legacy of death,  despair and hopelessness that was the hallmark of Saddam’s brutal regime where Iraq ‘s ethnic minorities as well as those suspected of insurgency were arbitrarily detained and eventually murdered.

Few, outside of Suleymaniyah are aware of this complex where for almost 30 years, brutal torture against women,  children and men was carried out within the cold, hard cement walls of ‘Red Prison.’

It was only in 1991, during the Gulf War that Kurdish peshmerge were joined by brave citizens of Suleymaniyah who liberated the prison, killing the regime officers responsible for thousands of murdered innocents.
After its liberation, the prison complex remained as it was for almost 13 years. Empty – still containing the remnants of its murdered prisoners’ belongings. 

In 2003, the government of Suleymaniyah, decided to open the complex as a ‘museum’ that would serve as a reminder of a former brutality that few in the outside world had witnessed.

‘Red Prison’ is not an ordinary museum because it’s very obviousy not beautiful. 

The decision was made to.leave the prison exactly the way it had been 27 years ago, to serve as a memorial of a brutal legacy no one should ever forget.

Nothing was changed. 

Multiple bullet holes still riddle the outside of the prison’s cement structure.
To further remember those whose lives were destroyed and cut short,  a memorial.tribute was created by artists in a government project called The Hall of Mirrors.

The Hall of Mirrors was created to symbolise the 5,000 villages around Suleymaniyah that Hussein’s regime destroyed. It also serves as a memorial to the 182,000 people who were victims of Hussein’s ‘death camp.’
The former prison’s heavy, gray steel doors open up to a wonderland of glass and light.

Each handcrafted inlaid piece of glass on numerous mirrors represents each one of the souls of the murdered. Each tiny golden light traversing the ceilings like mini-constellations – represent one of each of the 5,000 villages, decimated by Hussein’s reign of terror.

Each piece of glass upon a myriad of mirrors and each one of the tiny lights illuminate and evoke a memory of each soul – each village. Each piece of glass reminds those who visit and those whose relatives were victims that this atrocity must never be forgotten. 

So extraordinary was the courageousness of the people of Suleymaniyah that they never wavered in their absolute determination to make sure that Saddam ‘s reign of terror in ‘Red Prison’ ended by liberating all prisoners from that devastation.

That’s precisely why everything at this former prison remains just as it was when it was liberated.  To serve as a stark reminder for future generations that no one should forget the reality of hate and abuse that made victims of innocents and marred Iraqi history.

It is especially apropos that in the year 2019, with hate crimes alarmingly on the rise worldwide that ‘Red Prison’ serve as a reminder that what happened within those cement walls was real. 

Just as the reality of the Holocaust continues to haunt global history – the  ‘Red Prison’  of  Suleymaniyah stands today as a brutal reminder of just how fragile freedom and human dignity truly are.

Hakim – his parents were detained in ‘Red Prison’ in Suleymaniyah, Iraq. (Photo by Janet Ekstract, Turkish Journal)
Tiny lights in Hall of Mirrors representing 5,000 villages destroyed in ‘Red Prison’ in Suleymaniyah, Iraq. (Photo by Janet Ekstract, Turkish Journal)

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