‘They broke her body’: Mother grieves for murdered Kurdish politician Havrin Khalaf
DERIK, Syria – Suad Muhammed, 62, stands out among the crowd of mourners in her black dress, her eyes sharp despite many sleepless nights. Her daughter, Havrin Khalaf, was summarily executed by Turkish-backed Syrian militias on October 12.
It’s a bright and sunny day in Derik (al-Malikiyah) in northeastern Syria, but the beautiful weather does nothing to cheer the people walking the streets. The district came under repeated Turkish attack during Ankara’s military incursion. Shells fell on the town and surrounding villages, killing several people and damaging infrastructure.
On Tuesday, people were anxiously counting the hours before the end of a US-brokered pause in operations, which was due to end that evening.
More than a dozen relatives of people killed in the conflict gathered in front of the Council for Martyrs, grieving for their lost loved ones, afraid of what would happen next.
“Havrin was the last of my six children. She was 34 years old. She was single and was a leading figure in Syria who dedicated her time to the enhancing of other people’s lives,” Suad said.
Havrin was secretary general of the Future Syria Party, which campaigns for social cohesion among all components of Syrian society. She was recognized by many as a figure who could have played a major role in the reconciliation process after the war in Syria.
“As soon as she finished her studies, she started helping people by fighting inequality. Before being a member of Syria’s Future Party, she had been a key member of the Ministry of Energy of the autonomous region [of North-Eastern Syria] and passed some bills that allowed every household at least 10 amperes of electricity despite all the power cuts,” Suad said of her daughter.
“She then joined the Ministry of Economy and worked on developing agrarian reforms to ensure food sustainability in Northern Syria. After these basic reforms, she dedicated her life to bringing communities together,” a task which was especially important to the late-politician.
Suad says Havrin’s dedication to the cause of reconciliation was at the center of her work, even when it endangered her life.
“She wasn’t influenced that much by Abdullah Ocalan (leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK); rather, she had a genuine desire to see her country recover from the disaster it had gone through in the last nine years. Social cohesion and harmony between the communities was an obsession for her. That’s why she was targeted,” Suad said.
When she mentions Havrin’s death, her eyes suddenly sharpen, her voice rises, and her hands become animated.
“I was with her the morning she was killed. She was in Derik to meet her driver’s family as his father had died of natural causes. That morning, she told me how good I smelt. I told her to stay, or that I should come with her as she had meetings around Raqqa and Tabqa. But she said everything would be fine.”
“I told her to take a Quran to protect herself, but she said she didn’t need it, that she had one in her heart already.”
“The criminals who murdered her broke the Quran that was in her. They say they are Muslims, but they are no such thing. Even non-believers don’t behave like that.”
Havrin’s car was targeted with heavy weapons in an intentional, targeted attack. Videos clearly show her body was mutilated. “There is no doubt about this,” Suad said.
She reserves the greatest share of her rage for the Turkish president.
“I accuse Erdogan of using chemical weapons against civilians, of killing children and committing war crimes. I accuse him of murdering my daughter. If there is any justice in this world, why is the international community staying so silent?”
“If they had wanted to eliminate her, why didn’t they just put a bullet in her head or in her heart?”
“No, instead, they tortured her. They broke her body, tore her nails and hair off… is this democracy, is this justice? No, it’s not. I’ll keep shouting till justice comes.”
She falls silent a moment, her face riven with grief.
“What have we done? Nothing! We haven’t thrown a single stone against their walls. But they come into our houses to kill us. What have we done? No matter what happens, we’ll defend ourselves. It’s the most legitimate right we have,” she said.
Suad steps inside the Martyrs Council office to collect the meager pension given to all families who have lost loved ones in the conflict – $40 per month.
Her daughter’s name has been officially recorded by the council as a hero who defended the people against terrorism and oppression.
"Everything that has ever happened to us is there to make us stronger."