“It never crossed my mind that my beloved gorge, where I had spent my time with the tourists and got paid, and where the local pigeons used to nest, would one day become a grave for human flesh and the repository of criminals’ and homicides’ secrets. Worst of all was the fact that my next dive inside the gorge will not be for the purpose of taking photos, but rather to retrieve my brother’s body.”
Omar came to silence after this sentence, he bit his lower lip and brought his eyebrows closer together in an attempt to hold back his tears.
He stood up and said: “I'll go get the tea”.
I respected his emotions and the agony ignited by his memories.
He came back after he had washed his face, carrying the kettle and some cups and said: “The box should be unlocked so that everyone, absolutely everyone, can see what is happening to us, this is preposterous, I swear by the Ka’aba 1, this is blasphemy”.
When we were kids, our parents used to tell us terrifying stories about the gorge and the "Seloa" that lives in its depths. We used to tell many stories about the “Seloa”2, and ascertain our listeners that we have spotted the creature as it left the gorge, often swearing that it has happened.
Countless pigeons used to fly in swarms ascending from the gorge and returning back to it later. We were convinced that these pigeons were owned by the "Seloa" and that if anyone ever dared to make traps and catch any, the "Seloa" would identify them, find them later amidst the darkness of the night and swallow them in a glimpse, even with them fully clothed.
I was rebellious as many people in their teenage years are. I was 15 years old when I decided to catch some pigeons without caring about the consequences. Peer pressure only served to make me ever more determined, so I stole some ropes from my parents and headed towards the "Seloa's" den. I tied the rope around my waist on one side and to a rock on the other. As I descended into the gorge, my friends fled running back to our village. I made my way down doing my best to avoid looking below. As I got deeper and closer to the gorge's bottom, I began to feel a cool, humid breeze, at the time, I thought to myself "It must be the Seola's breath", so I closed my eyes and continued my way down until I reached the tip of the rope. Pigeons were fluttering their wings around me as my heart fluttered along. The only thing that kept me going was my determination to brag about my adventure and to impress the girls of the village.
I opened my eyes, the light was so dim that I almost couldn't see a thing, I stood on a pointed rock, amazed by the scene surrounding me, I sat down and beheld as the air current was pulling on me towards the dark bottom of the gorge. I can now see the "Seloa's" home from the inside, so wide with its broad crypts and halls, the walls of its northern and eastern sides were straight and smooth, whereas its southern and western walls were filled with pointy rocks and caves.
My wandering eyes scanned through the place over and over, and I took my time to listen to the water murmuring through the walls and to the sound of a flowing river coming from the depths of the vestibule that faced me. I don't know for how long I remained there until I eventually decided to make my way back up.
I placed a few pigeon squabs in my lap and began climbing. But sadly, the little creatures were crushed by the pressure of my body against the wall, and blood flowed down my clothes and legs.
As I approached the orifice of the gorge, I began to hear people mumbling in unrest. When I reached my destination I slowly began untying the rope as I flickered my eyes attempting to readapt to the brightness of daylight; and there they were, as far as the eye can see, the people of our village were gathered; men, women and children. Everyone kept still as I untangled the rope, none dared to take a step forward, so I began making my way towards the group; many stepped back as children ran away, but only one person ran towards me; my mother, but once she saw the blood covering my clothes she fainted, and I was deemed to bare the lashes from my father's “Agal”3 as a punishment for my reckless adventure.
My mother examined every inch of my body as soon as she regained her consciousness, and girls looked away as she stripped me of my clothes to make sure that the Seloa hadn't eaten my genitals.
The crowd walked alongside me as I listened to them discussing the ordeal that will swipe the village as a result of my invasion of the Seloa's home and attacking her precious pigeons, I swear that many families deserted their homes in fear.
That was in the summer of 1990. Omar said.
Everyone claimed me to be the first person ever to climb into the gorge, and in a matter of days my father's anger turned into pride. Later-on, people began telling stories about my adventure, stories that I had never said, of what I witnessed, and about what had occurred between the Seloa and me down there, how she looked and how her eyes were up-slanted, what her house looked like and how her bed was nothing but a pile of human bones.
There is always a first time for everything, and this saying is perfectly reflected in the concept of revolution, we have to enter the gorge; the gorge of the Syrian regime, the gorge of Da'esh or whoever resembled them. So trust me, the Seloa doesn't exist, the only real Seloa is our fear.
My visits to the gorge with tourists continued, and were only periodically interrupted by my studies and later on by my mandatory military service. The gorge became a source of earning a living through the services that I offered to tourists.
I never thought that all this beauty was going to turn into a cemetery, and that pigeons would eventually eat human flesh, can you believe that pigeons would eat Human flesh!?
The first to dump dead bodies into the gorge was "Faisal Al-Ballou", the commander "Emir" of "Al-Nusra Front" in Slouk4. That happened on 09/18/2012 (Nowadays he is part of Da'esh, after they detained him for months under the accusation of theft; he is currently the commander of the tribal branch of Da'esh). I clearly remember that day; we couldn't believe what had happened, 12 bodies belonging to militants in the regime's army (SAA) who had been killed at the Beer Ashec checkpoint east of the city of Tal Abyad.
After "Faisal" and his gang left, I along with 3 other men, went down the gorge. We only found 2 bodies lying on the inside edges of the gorge's orifice where rocks must have caught their fall, the first body was about 10 meters deep, the other 15 meters deep. As night fell, we retrieved the 2 bodies and buried them discretely.
Da'esh took control over Tal Abyad by the beginning of July of 2013 right after it kidnapped the members of the city's local committee, that's when it began throwing dead bodies as well as those alive down the gorge. During this period, one of my brothers joined the Islamic state (Da'esh). Omar said that while pointing to the room's corner; where a very thin, skeleton-like man sat, his eyes were sunken, his hair completely white and his legs looked like those of a starved child.
I still remember that date, Omar said, it was July 14th of 2013. My brother had been appointed as a member of Hisbah 5 at Slouk, which was Da'esh's first Hisbah in Syria. My brother became close to "Abu Yasser Al-Iraqi", the most prominent security leader in Da'esh in Tal Abyad, he maintained this position from mid-April of 2013 up until he was transferred to Al-Raqqa late this year.
"Abu Yasser" was responsible for kidnapping and assassinating activists, members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), merchants and anyone who he personally believed was against Da'esh. His favorite place to dump the bodies of the dead, as well as those alive, was the gorge. He pointed to the man in the corner, and said: “This man is what remains of the gorge's memory, but he has lost his own memory as you can see, and I'll tell you his story in a bit".
Could you believe it.. more than 3000 Syrian bodies belonging to Alawites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds and Yazidis, people who hailed from different parts of Syria like Salamieh, Ifreen and Al-Suwaida, some of them fought with the FSA, others with the SAA and others were part of Da'esh's little brother; Al-Nusra Front. They were Syrians, they were all Syrians and they were all thrown into the house of the Seloa.
The true Seloa is Da'esh.
Once, around the end of July of 2013, "Abu Yasser Al-Iraqi" arrived at our house to pick up my brother, he was accompanied by armed militants sitting in the back of a pick-up truck, and they held captive 4 men who fought with the "Ahfad Al-Rasoul" brigade of the FSA. All 4 of them were blind-folded and hand-cuffed.
Shortly after my brother's return, he began to tell us what had happened: "we took them to the gorge, but we stopped the car about 20 meters before reaching it as ordered by "Abu Anas Al-Iraqi" and "Khalaf Al-Thiab aka Abu Musa'ab", the latter was the commander "Emir" of Da'esh in Tal Abyad at the time.
They led the detained men to the gorge as they were still blindfolded, they then improvised an announcement stating that "Al-Baghdadi" himself had forgiven them, they then told them to run as fast as they could, and to only remove the blind-folds after counting to a hundred. The captivates believed the announcement and ran, only to fall deep into the Seloa's house amidst the laughter of Da'esh militants.
A few days later, 8 Kurds from Tal Abyad were captured and led by a group of Da'esh personnel, including; "Abu Yasser Al-Iraqi", "Mostafa Al-Omar aka The Alligator" who was the commander "Emir" of border security, "Abdul Aziz Al-Omar aka Abu Sleiman", the "emir" of Al-Sherkrak and "Khalaf Al-Thiab aka Abu Musa'ab". 5 of the Kurds were dead and 3 alive, all of which were thrown into the gorge.
The accusations that these Kurds faced were a just few of the prepackaged collection of accusations that Da'esh always uses, such as; apostasy, opposing the state, adultery, atheism, blasphemy, corrupting the land, treason, being an Activist, being part of "The Awakenings", FSA, PKK, being "descendants of Satan" or even being a reporter, yes, simply for being a "reporter".
The vast majority of the victims thrown into the gorge were from the men of Al-Raqqa, many of whose names were never known and kept secret by Da'esh as the dumping ceremony was exclusively attended by the "Alligators" Brigade, led by "Abu Yasser Al-Iraqi".
As time passed by, dead bodies began to pile up in the gorge and an unbearable smell began to spread and it reached miles away. So Da'esh brought 14 crude oil tankers over from Deir Ezzor, along with 2 dumping trucks carrying over 300 bodies. The latter trucks dumped the bodies into the gorge as if they were disposing of garbage, then they spilled the crude oil into the gorge and set it on fire. The fire went on for days with its smoke rising and filling the atmosphere with the smell of oil and burnt flesh that you could smell miles away.
My brother's strong relationship with "Abu Yasser" and his brigade soon came to an end, as my brother discovered that the boxes they were assigning him to deliver to whom they claimed to be "Military Experts" at the Turkish border, were nothing but boxes filled with stolen antiquities and artifacts, and those "Military Experts" were in fact Archaeological looters and traffickers. Those antiquities were later sold to businessmen. My brother also came to realize that the "Immigrant Jihadists" who were living on hill-tops were actually digging after our country's antiquities to trade it in cultural trafficking.
My brother shared his concern with some of his comrades in Da'esh, and together they decided to file a complaint with "The Commander of the Believers; Al-Baghdadi", but the news found its way to "Abu Yasser" beforehand. Subsequently, he led a detention campaign that spared no one, including my brother, who when they came to arrest him whispered in his wife's ears:" They're going to throw us into the gorge!".
It was 10 AM on 07/12/2014, I headed to a home, located near the gorge, which belonged to Bedouins, and I began to monitor. Shortly after, as I expected, 3 cars appeared from afar making their way to the gorge, the ever-thirsty grave. Those cars were led by "Abu Yasser Al-Iraqi's" car, which I knew very well. The cars pulled up at the gorge for no longer than 30 minutes, and then they took off. As soon as they were no longer in distance I made my way to the gorge. When I arrived I stood there and tried to listen carefully hoping to hear someone moaning or simply making a sound, but the whistling wind prohibited anything from being heard.
I drove my car in a hurry back to Slouk, grabbed a few rope reels, flashlights and a thick cloth called a "Joub", which is a piece of double-felt usually used by carriers of wheat and barley sacs to protect their backs.
I made my way back to the gorge, tied the rope to my car's bumper, wore the "Joub" on my back then I held a flashlight in one hand and bit onto another, while keeping a third one in my pocket, and I descended. A hushed moaning led me to the first person who was lying at 30 meters deep, as I estimated. He was facing down as a stream of blood gushed from his head, I reached out my hand to turn his head up and try to identify his face, but he suddenly slipped deep into the pit and landed in the bottom.
A few meters down, there was another man who I recognized by his clothes, he was my brother. I went further down and reached him, tied him to the "Joub" on my back and began to climb upwards, he felt as light as a sac of feathers, not as if I was carrying a 70 Kg man on my back. I kept climbing up, I believe that I climbed more than 40 meters. Once I made it to the surface, I placed my brother’s body on the ground, I had a feeling that he was alive as a brainstorm challenged me; where am I going to take him?
Unconsciously, I placed him in the trunk of my car and headed for the Turkish borders making my way through side-roads. I reached the borders at sunset. A smuggler helped me cross the border, where I headed to the nearest hospital.
17 days later, they told me that he was going to live. But he had been paralyzed from the waist down, lost his memory and had become mute. There he is, as you can see, being a part of Da'esh didn't grant him any special protection.
It is forbidden to look down the dark hollow den of the Seloa, but if you happen to look; you'll end up just like that, pointing to his brother. Omar Said.
- 1. The Kaa’ba is the wholly black stone around which Muslims perform Hajj, or pilgrimage.
- 2. The Seloa: is an imaginary feminine creature that eats Humans flesh.
- 3. Agal; a black roped cord, worn as a head accessory by Arab men to keep their headpiece in place.
- 4. Slouk is a district in Al-Raqqa governorate in northeastern Syria.
- 5. Hisbah; an Islamic system that monitors people for any behaviors considered forbidden.