Bahar ran away early on a winter morning, one-and-a-half years after her mother was murdered. She helped her younger siblings get ready for school, and then she gave them a goodbye kiss on the forehead. Her uncle and her brothers were still sleeping. Bahar tiptoed out of the apartment in her socks, walked down the stairs and out the door. And then she ran for her life.
Today Bahar is 26 and likes to wear high-heeled shoes. She has chosen a popular café in a small city as a meeting point. She is wearing a modest amount of makeup, and her black hair is pulled back into a bun. She smiles tentatively and introduces herself, using the name in her new passport, which, for her protection, cannot be used in this article.
Bahar’s family came to Germany from Iraq in 1996. They lived in the eastern city of Halle an der Saale for the first two years, in an apartment in a high-rise building with a dingy kitchen. Her father felt that most jobs were beneath him, beat his wife and “put out cigarettes on her skin,” says Bahar. The father would sometimes disappear for months at a time. Bahar suspects that he was involved in criminal activities. “Everything was always peaceful without him. We even had a picnic in the park once,” says Bahar. She took along some of the photos from that day when she ran away, but she can’t bear to look at them, she says.
During those happy times, when she was alone with her six children, Bahar’s mother came to the conclusion that she wanted to separate from her despotic husband. She went to the local town hall with Bahar to get information about German divorce law. When the father found out about it, he took a knife and locked himself in the bedroom with his wife on a summer night in 2003. Bahar holds up her hands to show us two scars: the evidence of her attempt to save her mother.
With the mother dead and the father sentenced to life in prison, an uncle took control of Bahar and her five siblings. He managed to make a caring and thoughtful impression on the youth welfare office, but it was deceptive. He used to turn up the music before he began beating the children. Bahar used makeup to hide the bruises. “I wasn’t allowed to read books, and I couldn’t even go out on the balcony anymore,” she says. “Just cook, do the laundry and clean.”