The name Halabja, like Auschwitz and Srebrenica, is etched in the mind, yet it is hard to picture the place until one goes there. The photos one sees of the 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish population by Saddam Hussein’s evil regime show closeups of bodies lying in narrow streets or on doorsteps. Gwynne Roberts’ films of the Anfal campaign of genocide against the Kurds feature smoke plumes rising from hillsides. So it was disconcerting yesterday, when I was a member of a large international solidarity delegation visiting Halabja yesterday for the 25th anniversary commemoration, to be taken to a nondescript place clearly in the plain and dominated by a museum-monument to the tragedy. Inside were lifesize maquettes mimicking the photos that I know so well, as well as lists of names of the 5,000 dead. Nearby a vast marquee had been erected, in which various dignitaries gave speeches. When the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, spoke there was a silent but effective demonstration by a dozen or so young locals, who held up small xeroxed signs with slogans calling for a distinct Halabja Governate and better opportunities for the areas youth. To his credit, Mr Barzani took the protesters head-on, saying that only the national government of Iraq in Baghdad can decide on creating new governates or provinces. But obviously the grievances of some locals are real in their eyes. And even if some visitors might have felt that it was inappropriate to take such action during an event of solemn commemoration, under the gaze of numerous TV cameras, there is a valid argument that we should not be so concerned with the horrors of the past that we ignore the needs of the present.
Posts Tagged ‘Halabja’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th March, 2013
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 14th March, 2013
This year sees the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, which has naturally provoked a lot of media comment in the UK. But perhaps even more deserving of attention is the 25th anniversary of the Halabja massacre, when Saddam Hussein’s army wiped out around 5,000 Kurds in a chemical weapons attack. Most of the victims in the town were women and children. In fact that massacre was the climax of a horrendous campaign of persecution and slaughter against Iraq’s Kurds that had been going on for several years, largely ignored by the outside world, and with a probable total death-toll of around 182,000, most of whose remains have never been located. This week, international solidarity delegations are in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) to mark the anniversary and to continue the campaign to get recognition of what happened as genocide. The UK Parliament just the other day voted accordingly. But at a day-long conference at the Saad Abdulla Conference Centre in Erbil today the graphic horror and inhumanity of the so-called Anfal was brought home by eye-witnesses to the Halabja attack in March 1988 including the celebrated Iranian and Turkish photographers Ahmad Nateghi and Ramazan Oxturk whose images of dead children in their dead mothers’ arms became iconic. There was also interesting testimony at the conference from Senator Peter Galbraith from Vermont who had witnessed the destruction of Kurdish villages in northern Iraq in 1987 and drafted a Prevention of Genocide Act that was passed by the Senate but pooh-poohed by Presidents Reagan and later George Bush Snr, mainly because they hoped that Saddam Hussein would be the next Anwar Sadat, i.e. move Iraq out of the Soviet sphere of influence into the West’s, as Sadat had done with Egypt. The British filmmaker Gwynne Roberts showed and talked about his film “The Winds of Death” and there was a meaty speech of welcome from the President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, who declared that “We must not forget the past but it should not lead to hatred and revenge.”
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th January, 2013
2013 is a year of remarkable anniversaries so far as Kurds in Iraq are concerned: the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War (opposed by many, including me, in Britain, but viewed bythe Iraqi Kurds as a Liberation), the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal genocide operation and the 30th anniversary of the régime’s killings of men from the Barzani tribe. But those are only milestones — however gross and tragic — in a long journey of suffering that has been the Calvary of Iraq’s Kurds. No wonder they have an ancient saying that their only friends are the mountains. But even the mountains could not protect Kurdish villagers when Saddam’s airforce dropped a cocktail of chemical weapons on them in 1987-1988. First-hand testimony of the effects of those assaults (delivered at an International Conference on the Kurdish genocide, held at Church House in Westminster today) came from Dr Zryan Abdel Yones, who was a medic in the region at the time and had to deal with hundreds of victims dying in front of him, including preganant women whose bodies expelled their foetuses in a pool of blood. Saddam Hussein was indeed a monster — and a megalomaniac, as I had cause to remember when I spent two days in his palace in Baghdad last month. But the Iraqi Kurds do not yet have closure on their suffering; they want the international community to recognise that what was done to them amounted to genocide, as the Norwegian and Swedish parliaments have already done. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of casualties — many of whom simply disappeared without trace — in one of the most sustained and horrific crimes against humanity in modern times. It was really only after the Rwanda genocide of 1994 that the international community began to realise that there was a international moral reponsibility to protect which over-ruled the usual priunciple of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. But it is not too late and a petition to 10 Downing Street has already attracted many thousands of signatures. To sign yourself click on the following link: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd March, 2012
London Kurds and their friends in Parliament gathered in the Jubilee Room of the House of Commons this lunchtime to celebrate the spring-time festival of Newroz. The event was hosted by Jeremy Corbyn MP, a stalwart supporter of minority rights, as well as a representative of one of the areas of north London with the highest concentration of Kurdish and Turkish inhabitants. His colleagues David Lammy and Andy Love also spoke, as well as Lord Rea and London Assembly member Jeanette Arnold and the women’s rights campaigner and lawyer Margaret Owen. In my short presentation I recalled my experiences as a writer and broadcaster covering Kurdish issues for the BBC and other outlets ever since the Halabja massacre in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I have twice monitored Turkish national elections in the Diyabakir region and have sat in as an observer (for PEN) on trials of writers, publishers and others who have fallen foul of Turkey’s byzantine laws relating to the Kurdish issue. This is a matter that is constantly being taken up by the European Parliament, as it reviews Turkey’s progress towards possible EU membership, as Sarah Ludford MEP outlined in a written statement she sent to today’s gathering. There have been some genuinely positive steps in the granting of some cultural rights to Kurds in Turkey in recentyears, for example with regard to language, but much more still needs to be done. And although Newroz is a time for celebration, many of the speakers today were sombre in the wake of hundreds of detentions of Kurdish inside Turkey and curbs on Kurdish Newroz celebrations there.