Hale Gönültaş

In South Asian countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, every year, Islamic terror organizations perpetrate acid attacks against hundreds of women. 38-year-old Afghani nurse Nefise Ajuri suffered burns on her body and face and lost part of her nose and her right ear as well as partial vision in her left eye as a result of an acid attack in Kabul in 2014. 

Ajuri has since made her way to Turkey. While smugglers she had paid had left her in the mountains in the eastern town of Doğubayazıt after thinking she was dead, Ajuri successfully made it into the country and is now receiving treatment there. She lives with her three children in Ankara, has sustained numerous surgeries and continues to fight for her life. 

“In Afghanistan as a woman, leaving the house, working, and defending women’s rights really takes courage, and you are aware that this courage can result in death. But you still don’t think about the worst possibility. Actually, the courage that you show is a very strong outcry against the pressure you have faced that has built up over the years. On the first day of my job when I wore my nurse uniform and started to care for patients I felt that I was the strongest women in the world,” Ajuri told Duvar. 

alibBorn in 1982, Ajuri witnessed war and conflict in her country and was subjected to violence by her own family members. She decided that she would become a doctor at all costs, and resisted getting married as her sisters were 12 and 13 when they were married off. She attended high school at secret basement schools for women in order to not attract attention from the Taliban. After graduation, she wasn’t able to enter medical school but succeeded in finishing nursing school. 

During her second year of nursing school, she agreed to an arranged marriage due to the pressure of her family. Her husband was an electric technician. They had their first two children during the early years of the American invasion of Afghanistan, which reduced the effect of the Taliban’s presence in Kabul. The city became relatively more livable for women and Ajuri began to work at a private hospital. 

She was working in the dermatology wing of the hospital, and treating a man known to be a jihadist who had permanent skin conditions that required numerous surgeries. One day he told Ajuri “You are a very beautiful woman. Leave your husband, come to me and I will give you 30 kilograms of gold.” 

She didn’t take him seriously, but he repeated similar statements on subsequent visits. On one occasion, other jihadists came to visit the man in the hospital, and they told Ajuri that it was against the tenets of Islam for a female nurse to be treating a male patient, and threatened her by saying that bad things would happen if she didn’t quit her job. 

It was a Saturday when Ajuri had a day off that the attack took place.  She was walking to her mother’s house in the early afternoon with her daughter, and was wearing a burqa. She noticed someone approaching quickly her from the opposite side, and recognized at the last minute it was the jihadist she had treated in hospital. He threw liquid acid at her face and fled. 

“My face and body were searing with pain. I was screaming but I couldn’t hear my own voice, because the acid had melted my left ear. I ended up with half of my nose and my left ear in my hand. My daughter’s hand, neck, arms and left leg were burned,” Ajuri said. 

Ajuri’s daughter wasn’t seriously injured, but Afghanistan had limited healthcare resources and Ajuri was only able to receive treatment for burns. Following the recommendation of a colleague, she went to India. At that point, her husband had abandoned her, and Ajuri’s brother and his wife accompanied her to her skin transplant treatments in India. 

Upon return to Kabul, Ajuri didn’t want her children seeing her in current condition, but quickly realized she had two choices: she could either remain in her country as a woman with a burned face and vision and hearing problems shut in at home, or she could establish a new life and struggle for Afghani women’s rights. She made the second choice, and decided to head for Turkey to receive surgery. 

Ajuri sold some jewelry and received some financial help from her brother to pay smugglers to sneak her into Turkey. She knew that this would be a long journey and that she could die on the way. She was in very poor health and the other Afghan migrants treated her like she was ill and and wouldn’t look her in the face. By the time the group got to the eastern Turkish border, Ajuri’s face was bleeding and she last remembers fainting in a forested, mountain area. Shepherds found her near the town of Doğubayazıt, which is close to Turkey’s border with Iran. 

She was taken to a hospital and UN personnel based in the eastern city of Van took close interest in her case, registering her with the organization so she could receive healthcare services. She eventually traveled to Ankara and was settled in a hotel by the UN, and continued to receive surgery. To date, Ajuri has received 22 surgeries and will require at least 15 more. 

During this whole period, Ajuri was alone, but the UN helped get her three children and husband to Turkey in 2015. Her children came to live with her and they rented an apartment in Ankara together but her estranged husband chose not to stay there and does not keep in touch with her or their children. Ajuri’s children all attend school in Ankara, and they receive support from both the UN and the Turkish Red Crescent, which narrowly enables them to survive. Ajuri does not like to go out as the stares she gets from people makes her uncomfortable. 

Ajuri says that alongside all of the physical pain she has endured, the psychological pain has been just as bad and that she has been receiving psychological treatment alongside her surgeries. Due to the frequency of the procedures, she has not been able to learn Turkish. Since she is registered as a refugee with the UN, Ajuri hopes that she and her children will be resettled in Europe within a few years, and that she will return to her profession. 

“After I regain my health, I am will fight for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan,” she said.