Amna Suraka

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As Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

Amna Suraka As Sulaymaniyah Reviews

maykal maykal
85 reviews
Amna Suraka - The Red Security Museum Jan 17, 2014
The "highlight" of any trip to Slemani ought to be this museum, housed in one of Saddam's old torture facilities known as Amna Suraka (Red Security). Since the Peshmerga (the Kurdish army) liberated the prison in the 1990s, not much has changed...the buildings are empty shells with bullet holes everywhere.

A soldier gives you a quick body search, then you are allowed in to wander around the ruins. Climb the steps inside the semi-ruined main building, and you'll see bleak empty corridors with even bleaker prison cells, some with red handprints painted on the walls. I've seen descriptions of artwork and sculptures on display in many of the cells, but I think that must have been a temporary exhibition...a shame, as a place with a terrible past such as this needs some sort of thought-provoking display, otherwise it is just a ruin.

After exploring the ruins, head down to the basement (if there are no other visitors, ask someone in charge for some electricity!). Here, at least something is on display, albeit not really to do with the prison itself. Two or three red lighbulbs give you just enough light to watch your step, while on the walls, horrific photos of the aftermath of the Halabja chemical attacks of 1988, made all the more shocking by the red colouring. Dead children lie open-mouthed, bodies filling the streets, survivors looking on in horror. Not a pleasant experience, but then I wasn't expecting it to be...but it does need some sort of explanation, as had I not already visited Halabja and seen the same photos there, I wouldn't have known the story behind them.

The next attraction is the Hall of Mirrors. There was no electricity the first time I visited, so I made a return trip a few days later just to see this...and it would be moving if someone had bothered to say what it represented. I found out later that the broken pieces of mirror on the walls represent the 182,000 victims of the Anfal campaign (which included the attacks on Halabja), while the 5000 lights were for the Kurdish villages wiped off the map. Without the explanation, it doesn't have the same power. Oddly for a museum all about torture and persecution, the hall of mirrors leads to a room showing the inside of a typical Kurdish home. interesting, but what is it doing here?

This could be a fantastically shocking museum of the horrors of torture, with exhibits leaving a huge impression on visitors. Where were the explanations of what the building used to be? Who were the prisoners, what happened to them and why? What is the significance of the broken mirrors and the twinkling lights? The staff, friendly enough, seemed more interested in tending to the flower beds than showing visitors around. If I hadn't have previously read up about the Anfal campaign and what went on in the Kurdish areas during the reign of Saddam, I would have left the museum none the wiser.

In 2014, I went back to the museum in the hope that I was unlucky with my timing on the last visit and the museum would have actually had something in it. Unfortunately, the guard on the door explained that the buildings were closed, but I was free to have a look round the grounds. A couple of rusting tanks and some well tended flower beds surrounded the empty buildings, and that was about it. Unlucky a second time? Probably...and there probably won't be a third time.

All photos from 2010.
Hall of Mirrors, Amna Suraka
Amna Suraka
Halabja photo exhibition in the ba…
Halabja photo exhibition in the ba…
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As Sulaymaniyah
photo by: maykal