By Michael Ashcraft and Mark Ellis
They tried living under ISIS rule in their Euphrates River-hugging city of Raqqa, but what once was paradise for them became a hell that forced them to flee the country, walking 185 miles and eluding military check points in danger of death.
Ibrahim, 48, and wife Turkiye, 45, arrived Feb. 9 at a refugee camp in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, with 10 children safely, according to an interview conducted by IBTimes UK.
Fear, death and carnage came on all sides in their native land. If they weren’t suffering under the oppressive ISIS militants who crucify critics, they were running from constant and indiscriminate bombardments conducted by Russians, Syrians and sometimes even the U.S., they said.
ISIS maintains a tight grip on the people of Raqqa, where they have set up the capital of their “caliphate,” a supposed utopia of strict Islamic law in which women must be covered from head to toe and men cannot smoke on the streets.
To pay for its war, ISIS extracts sky-rocketing taxes of the city’s residents. And they seize children to make them into soldiers.
“They would take children like this”, said a cousin Mohammed, pointing at his 13-year-old nephew, “to teach them their religion, to brainwash them according to their beliefs. If I’d had a son and had refused to send him, they would whip me.”
The price of bread has shot up from 40 to 1200 Syrian pounds, Ibrahim said. Men now must grow beards, and women cannot stand next to men in the streets, even if he is a family member. Smoking is punishable by severing the index and middle finger, he added.
Taxes on fertilizer and irrigation bankrupted the family’s farming business next to the Euphrates, Ibrahim said.
Air raids designed to destroy ISIS are also taking a heavy toll on the civilian population, Mohammed warned.
“Daesh (another name of ISIS) would come and hide among us when the regime planes would come and bomb,” he said. “There is no proper targeting. To kill one ISIS person, they will kill 30 civilians. What the Daesh would do is they would go and hide with the mothers and the children to use them as a human shield. Hundreds would die for the sake of one or two. They were all children and all elderly. They were in their 70s and 80s or younger than 10. Daesh would take over the second floor of a building while civilians hid on the first and third floors.”
Their beloved city has been reduced to rubble, Turkiye said, to “asphalt.”
Russia has denied hitting civilians in its bombing raids. Syria’s dictator, Assad, has been documented killing vast numbers of his people with every sort of weapon, including poison gas.
Given the human hell Raqqa has become, Ibrahim and Turkiye bundled up the 10 children and undertook the dangerous journey, traveling by night and paying $160 to hide in cattle-bearing trucks to cross borders. When they reached the Syrian border, they were relieved, despite the difficulties of crossing. “We weren’t worried about the border we know how to cross, especially from the Syrian side,” Turkiye said.
Had they been caught fleeing the caliphate, they would have been summarily executed, Mohammed said. “They would imprison you and kill you later on because you are just not allowed to leave,” he explained.