Disgracing her family by leaving an abusive husband while with child, Fellah* was meant to die. After her brother mistakenly thought she was dead, dropping her body in a field, fate would have it she would escape the Southern Syrian village alive.
Fellah speaks softly, afraid to share her story too loudly, but needing it to be heard. Although Fellah has relocated and changed her name, she still fears that her family will find her. She doesn’t leave her home alone and her four daughters are watched over with a protective eye. Ten years earlier, when Fellah was seventeen and with child, she was the victim of a would-be honor killing.
Fellah grew up in a small village in Southern Syria. Her family harvested fruits and vegetables to sustain themselves and raised goats and sheep to support their financial needs. Although her father was traditional in his beliefs, he took great pride in having a home with modern comforts like hot water and an indoor bathroom and shower. Fellah and her five sisters were not allowed to enjoy these conveniences, but their brother was. If their father was the king of their home, the brother was prince. Despite cruelty both men were prone to dole out; they were adored by Fellah and her sisters.
When Fellah was sixteen years old, her father told her she was to be married in an arranged marriage with the son of a farmer in a nearby village. Secretly her heart belonged to a merchant at the market, but she knew there would be no say from her. She hoped her new husband would not have the same temper and cold demeanor; hoped that the marriage would be a means of escape. She met Amir at their wedding, a short ceremony held in her village. She wore a new dress without shoes. It was rare for women in her village to wear shoes. Apprehensive about her new role as wife, after a few short moments, she was now bound to a stranger.
Never really feeling comfortable around him, Fellah kept her head down and obeyed his demands. Their marriage was one of duty, not of love, as was the case for most girls from this region. Soon Fellah discovered she was with child. Amir felt much pride; certain Fellah would give him a son. The news of her pregnancy softened Amir, and soon they stopped treating one another as strangers, but as family. Fellah was becoming very hopeful that she had escaped the same sentence her mother had been given at the hands of a cruel and temperamental man, but soon learned she had not. Whispers in the village led Amir to believe that Fellah was having an affair, despite the fact that she was always at the home they shared. This unfounded gossip led to him beating her so bad that she thought she was going to lose her child.
She left Amir, shaming her family by returning home. Her father demanded that she go back to her husband’s home, but she refused. She was determined to keep her child safe and she could not do that being married to Amir. During a late night conversation, Fellah had confided in her sister, Roya, she had intentions on getting a divorce and raising the baby on her own. Their conversation was overheard by their brother’s wife, who quickly reported the confession to him.
The next day, her mother and sisters were instructed to go out into the far fields and to pick from the fig trees. It wasn’t at all strange she wasn’t forced to join them, considering her state with child and what she had just been through. She was on the terrace, looking out over the garden when she felt a violent tug at her hair, dragging her a few feet, her lying on her back.
“You disgrace this family!” her brother screamed at her, taking a cord from his trousers, tying it around her wrists, then around a beam. He took off his belt, thick and dark, and began beating Fellah with it. She tried to fight back the best she could, but she was nearly immobile on her back eight months pregnant. The belt was slicing her skin, creating a constant pain. He began alternating beatings with the belt with beatings with his fist, until finally the pain was too much to bear and Fellah passed out. When she awoke, she was out in a field, her clothes covered with blood, her wounds opened wide. She looked around, trying to guess her location, not sure what to do next. She made her way to a dirt road, looking over her shoulder, wondering if her brother was waiting to torture her more before finally putting her to death. She began to walk, towards nothing in particular, holding her stomach, praying that her baby would be OK.
She saw lights approach on the dark, desolate road. She looked around for a place to hide, but was surrounded by flat land. Panic began to rise in her chest as the vehicle approached. She kept her head down, knowing that if anyone were to see her looking up without being accompanied by her husband, she would be accused of illegitimate acts.
“Miss, are you OK?” a female voice asked in broken Arabic.
Uncertain if she should respond, Fellah remained silent. The female exited her vehicle and ushered Fellah into the passenger side. Still remaining, Fellah continued to look down as the woman, a German medical volunteer, drove her to the hospital. After several hours of being stitched up and insuring the welfare of her child, the German woman, Monica, was finally told what had happened. Monica encouraged her to go forward to the police, not understanding that the police would have done nothing but return her to her family. Under Penal Code in Syria at the time of Fellah’s attack, Article 548 read: He who catches his wife, one of his ascendants, decedents, or sister committing adultery or illegitimate sexual acts with another and he killed or injured one or both of them benefits from an exemption of penalty.
With the amount of honor killings increasing in Syria, on July of 2009, under Legislative Decree 37, Syrian President Bashar al – Assad abolished Article 548 original wording changing it to: He who catches his wife, sister, mother, or daughter by surprise engaging in an illegitimate sexual act and kills or injures them unintentionally must serve a minimum of two years in prison. At first this seems like a victory until one discovers that Article 212 of the Penal Code, still in place, allows a judge to reduce the punishment of men and women in cases in which a murder is committed in rage and motivated by an illegal act by the victim. Adultery is an illegal act in Syria. Article 192 of the Penal Code offers more protection, allowing options for reduced sentencing and detention by the judge if the killing was based on honorable intent.
Monica arranged for Fellah to leave the country. She wears shirts with long sleeves and speaks with her hand masking part of her face, trying to hide the marks that the brutality against her left behind. Emotionally, she has yet to recover, having lost part of her memory and working through her attack in therapy. She has relocated several times and finally found refuge in a country many miles away. She still remains fearful that her brother will discover she was not dead when he dumped her body after she passed out and will come and finish killing her in the name of honor.
*Fellah's name was changed to protect her safety.