Nian Abdulla Ahmed

Human Resources, Asiacell

Location: Slemani Kurdistan Region, Iraq

"Our fate was not clear, and we always heard the cries of others being tortured. We were all waiting to be called for interrogation."

It was March 21st, 1982. My eldest son was 8 months old. I left him with my mother-in-law and told her that I would be back in a few hours. 500 citizens had gathered to protest against the Bath Party in Slemani. I went to join them with my husband. The crowd was electric and the demonstration was filled with passion. We saw government security forces coming toward us, but at first we just ignored them and carried on.

The security forces began shooting in the air to disperse the protesters. One woman fell—she was injured and when we saw her, we ran for cover. We ran towards the surrounding houses for shelter, suddenly fearful for ourselves. The families in the houses welcomed us in, but the security forces had noticed. They checked all the houses, and if they found anyone who was involved in the protest they immediately arrested them. This is how I got arrested.

They took me to a prison. I do not know exactly where it was, because they covered my eyes with a blindfold the moment they arrested me. There were about 15 to 20 women with me. They gave us no food, except for a piece of bread in the morning and in the evening. It was a very cold place.

Our fate was not clear, and we always heard the cries of others being tortured. We were all waiting to be called for interrogation. The first thing I did was throw my wedding ring in the toilet to avoid questions about my husband and other family members. I didn't reveal my true name and whereabouts, because my family was known to support the freedom movement of Kurds. The torture room was somewhere I cannot recall. When they took us there, they hit us with belts and used other methods to break the silence, which they could not.

They hit me to make me admit things about the protest. I told them I was just an engineer and had nothing to do with that. In fact, I knew many people they were looking for, but I decided not to reveal any names so that no one else would be captured or killed by the regime. Then, they switched me to another room. I asked if anyone was there but no one responded. Then I understood that I was alone in the room, where they left me for hours. The security guards were always shouting that someone had died. This was just to make us all nervous and put fear into our hearts.

I was in jail for three days, but in the end I was released with the group. Since I had been captured, I was transferred from my job at the sugar factory because the management was scared that Bath party members were keeping an eye on me and could cause problems for them too. But I didn't waste time. I was determined to work and to improve my skills. After a while, I decided to start a career in telecommunications. Iraq was still an underdeveloped nation, and no one thought much about cell phones at the time. But I knew there was a good future there, so I started working once again.

I was one of the only woman working in the field, and it was hard to build a career for myself. Every day I had to go home to cook lunch for my family, and then I returned to the office. I often stayed at work until 10 PM, despite the fact that it was frowned upon for a woman to stay out after working hours. Many people believed women should be at home taking care of their husband and kids. But I wanted to work to improve myself and my country. It was exciting for me to overcome these barriers and I kept doing it, no matter what anyone said.

Many years have passed by since my stay in the prison and since I took on the new job. Now, I am not just on the first pages of my career — I am deep into the chapters of my life. I have faced many challenges in my life and I still do . But I am resilient and I am leaning in.