Words From Behind The Bars
Compiled by Mahmood Hamadi
Under the direction of Monika Borgmann and Lokman Slim
© UMAM D&R, 2012
Arabic with an English abstract


"This is none of your business. Get the tire." As Abu Iyad tried to understand the situation, the warrant officer chastised him. "You know the mistakes and infractions you’ve made better than I do." Abu Iyad insisted he had done nothing wrong, even swore to the fact, but the warrant officer seemed unimpressed. "Perhaps it wasn’t you. We’ll see… Get back to your dormitory. In the meantime, I’ll investigate the issue with the boss. If you aren’t the one who broke the rules, you’ll be spared the tire. Otherwise, we’ll make it a double for you."

After returning dejectedly to his dormitory, Abu Iyad sat on the ground among his fellow cellmates. An hour or so later, everything became clear to him. According to a little bird, "The issue is very simple. There was some confusion about the translated meaning of the word bath, specifically the difference between the real sense of the word and its metaphoric meaning. Where prison language is concerned, having a bath means being tortured with a tire, which includes all of the imaginable—and unthinkable—insults and maltreatment that accompany the procedure. Thus, when the prison director told the warrant officer to give Abu Iyad a bath, Iyad instantly applied the word’s prison meaning."

Such was how the little bird described the incident to Faraj Bayrakdar and his roommates, a situation that could easily have ended with Abu Iyad being punished brutally. We must acknowledge the astuteness and intellect of this bird, which attributed the incident to something as mundane as translation confusion between the words bath and tire. Indeed, the bird clarified that the circumstances did not involve any misunderstanding or misperception, but was instead a mistranslation. Translation becomes necessary when people either cannot or choose not to understand each other because of the uniqueness that exists between two languages or between the two individuals actually speaking.

After reviewing countless hours of testimony provided by former detainees in Syrian prisons and studying available, associated documentation, UMAM D&R undertook the production of a glossary of prison jargon. The preponderance of the entries in this glossary derive from literature related to unique (and uniquely disturbing) experiences to which former detainees and torture survivors were subjected in Syria's infamous Tadmor Prison.

This publication was made possible by funding from the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa).