I Will Not Forget Helebce

It was 1988.

In 1988 we; my parents, my two sisters and I, were living in a city filled with ultra-nationalist MHP supporters in Turkey. We “were Persian” while living there as to avoid being harassed due to our Kurdish identities.

‘Kurd’ was still a swear word then and I learnt early on to protect my identity, from being exposed and expressed, but also from being exterminated and extinct.

I was 5.  I was trying not to speak when out of the house. Police were everywhere. I was told that they could hear me speak Kurdish and send us back to Iran so I kept shut and watched the police. There were so many of them everywhere.

It was still a few more months before we would come to Sweden and start a new life for ourselves.

It was a Wednesday and people were going on about their business as they would any other day except this day was the day many of them would not live to see any other days.

It was March 16th 1988, any other day everywhere else, in any other place except this was Helebce; “the Kurdish Hiroshima”, “The Kurdish wound”, “the day I lost my whole family”, “the day my body survived but my soul died”, “the day Omer Xaweri tried to protect his baby with his body but failed”.

So many names and descriptions for one city, yet not all of them. Only a few from the few that survived.

It was the day which resulted in the deaths of more than 5000 people. From one city. Of less than 80 000 people. That is 6% of the population killed painfully, slowly and coldheartedly.  I choose not to write inhumanely as who else than humans would do this to one and another, yet choose to label everything executed unsympathetically as inhumane?

I was 5, living in Turkey, being called “Persian”, having just left Iraq, waiting to go to Sweden, just witnessing one of the many tragedies experienced by the Kurdish people.

Today I am 30. Living in Sweden.

The Turkish president came to visit this past week. I was out to demonstrate against his visit. I was carrying the Kurdish colours and shouting slogans in Kurdish. I was not calling myself Persian. Police were guarding us. There were more policemen than protesters. I am used to this situation.

The Turkish president on a visit to Sweden. Sweden, which  just a few months ago announced that they recognise the Helebce genocide as genocide. People applauded. Many were happy and thankful.

Should we be? Should we forget that Sweden was one of the countries that had a direct hand in distributing the weapons used by Saddam Hussein in the attack in the first place?

Should we also forget about the use of chemical weapons by Turkey against the Kurdish guerrillas?  And the visit of the president of that country to Sweden?

Should we overlook that the Swedish MP Carl Bildt is protecting the country that is giving us the sequel to Helebce but in another region of Kurdistan?

It has been 25 years since Omer Xaweri’s baby boy died in his father’s arms. 25 years since I was hiding behind my parents trying to find an alley free from Turkish police to be able to walk home. 25 years since the pomegranate trees in Helebce stopped producing the fruit of life but the fruit of death. 25 years since the black dust and destruction silenced children singing in the alleys of Helebce.

25 years yet we are “honoured” with the label of genocide now. As that will bring them back, put the responsible behind bars, stop the use of chemical weapons used against us by others such as Turkey, stop the sale of dreadful weapons to dreadful states.

I am not ungrateful but please remind me again what I should be thankful for?

While bombs produced in the west are sold to the east and mines produced in Sweden harm children on the streets of Kurdistan, while plants growing kill animals feeding on them in Helebce.

Remind me again why I should applaud?

While police are hindering me from expressing my contempt against a state that arrests, imprisons, kills, tortures, rapes, executes and uses chemical weapons as easy as diplomatic politeness.

Remind me again why I should be happy?

Omer Xaweri with the infant he was trying to protect.

Do not forget Helebce is the reoccurring slogan this week.

I will not forget Helebce; by always fighting against use of chemical weapons, by never allowing another Helebce to occur anywhere in Kurdistan, ever again, by promising myself to shout louder next time I protest against Abdulla Gul, by promising to taste a pomegranate from Helebce at least once more before I lay my head next to Omer Xaweri for my last sleep.

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25th Anniversary Commemoration of the Halabja Genocide (Washington, DC)

cuakrglogo
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The Kurdistan Regional Government Representation to the U.S. and the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law cordially invite you to the 25th Anniversary Commemoration of the Halabja Genocide
On 16 and 17 March 1988, Iraqi government airplanes, under the command of Saddam Hussein, dropped chemical weapons on the town of Halabja. Approximately 5,000 civilians, including women and children, were killed.  The horrific tragedy of Halabja was part of the genocidal Anfal campaign against Kurdistan’s civilians, which included mass summary executions and disappearances and widespread use of chemical weapons. The Anfal campaign also saw the  destruction of some 2,000 villages and of the rural economy and infrastructure. An estimated 180,000 Iraqi Kurds were killed in the campaign between 1987-1989.
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Save the date!
The morning of Friday, March 15th, 2013
  
Event to include panel discussion with genocide expert and survivors
  
At Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law,
Washington, DC
  
3600 John McCormack Road, N.E.Washington, D.C. 20017
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For more information visit: www.krg.org
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Campaigners in UK win a Parliamentary debate on the Kurdish genocide in Iraq

Campaigners win a Parliamentary debate on the Kurdish genocide in Iraq, following more than 27,000 signatures on Government e-petition

kurdishgenocide13th February 2013: It has been announced today that the British Parliament will debate a motion calling for formal recognition of the mass murder of Kurdish people in Iraq as genocide. The news follows a tireless campaign for recognition, supported by more than 27,500 British citizens, who have all signed an e-petition demanding justice for the murdered Kurds.

The debate will take place in the main chamber at 1:30pm on the 28th February. It will be based on a votable motion, the successful end result of which is that Parliament will have recognised the genocide.

The debate itself represents a significant victory for the campaign e-petition, sponsored by Nadhim Zahawi MP, which was launched in March last year in a bid to urge the British Government to debate the mass killings and recognize the truth. The campaign has since been supported throughout the year by the Kurdish community, the Kurdistan Regional Government UK Representation, and British MPs from all political parties, especially those who are members of the highly supportive All Party Parliamentary Group for Kurdistan including Robert Halfon MP, and Meg Munn MP. Together, they recently made a successful presentation to the Business Committee which allocates time for debates in Parliament.

During the presentation, Nadhim Zahawi MP told the Committee that his father was forced to flee Iraq simply because he was Kurdish and he was not willing to join the Baath party. He said that Britain has been heavily involved with the Kurdish people going back to Sykes-Picot, but more recently with Sir John Major who saved the Kurdish people with the no-fly zone and Tony Blair who is seen as the liberator of the Kurds.

Robert Halfon MP said that unless the genocide is recognised internationally, people cannot be brought to justice. Meanwhile, Meg Munn MP said that the debate would have a wider resonance given events in Syria, and Fabian Hamilton MP cited good cross-party support for a debate. Jason McCartney MP, who served as a Royal Air Force officer in the no-fly zone in Zakho, said it would be a fitting tribute to have the debate on the 25th anniversary of the chemical weapons attack on Halabja.

The Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK, Ms. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman said:
“The genocide brought unimaginable suffering to our people: families were torn apart, sons and fathers killed en masse or simply buried alive, women and children bombed with poison gas. We believe that this suffering needs to be acknowledged, not just by us Kurds and Iraqis, but by our friends too, so that the victims’ families and the survivors can reach closure and a message is sent out to any other regime oppressing its people or considering using chemical weapons. Imagine how heartened the survivors who are now British citizens would feel to be in the chamber, listening to such a debate.”

Ms. Rahman also told the committee how the Swedish and Norwegian parliaments recently debated the genocide and the Kurdish community is wondering why Britain had not yet done the same.

In January, the British Government issued a response to the e-petition which acknowledged that no group suffered more than the Iraqi Kurds. However, the Government response went on to say that It remains the Governments view that it is not for governments to decide whether a genocide has been committed in this case, as this is a complex legal question.

The debate on the 28th February may encourage the Government to change its position.

—Ends—

For further information, please contact Stephanie Blott or Helen Ayres at KRG@luther.co.uk or call 0207 618 9193.
The Government response to the e-petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014
The e-petition can be found here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014
Campaign website: http://www.justice4genocide.com/index.php

The motion to be debated is as follows:
The 25th anniversary of the Kurdish genocide and its contemporary relevance

That this House formally recognises the Genocide against the people of
Iraqi Kurdistan and encourages governments, the EU and UN to do
likewise; believes that this will enable Kurdish people, many in the
UK, to achieve justice for their considerable loss; further believes
that it would also enable Britain, the home of democracy and freedom,
to send out a message of support for international conventions and
human rights, which is made even more pressing by the slaughter in
Syria and the possible use of chemical arsenals.

Some key facts about the genocide
· The genocide of Kurdish people in Iraq began in the 1960s and continued until the late 1980s.
· In 2006, the International  Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) estimated there being 270 mass graves in Iraq containing between 10 and 10,000 bodies in each grave.
· An estimated 180,000 Kurdish people were killed between 1987 and 1988 alone during Saddam Hussein’s genocidal campaign called Anfal. The true scale of the killing from the 1960s to 1990 is not yet known.
· In the 1980s, the Kurdish population was also attacked with chemical weapons. During the most vicious assault, Saddam Hussein dropped bombs containing chemical weapons on the Kurdish city of Halabja gassing as many as 5,000 men, women and children to death indiscriminately and leaving tens of thousands of people injured. They died slowly, in unimaginable pain from chemical burns. Of those who survived, many still live with painful injuries and many children are born with birth defects.
· In 1983, 8,000 men and boys of ‘battle age’ from the Kurdish Barzani tribe were rounded up on trucks and vanished. The bodies are now being discovered in mass graves. From then on, men and boys as young as 13 were targeted , driven far away from their homes in trucks and executed en masse. Many victims were tied together, made to stand on the lip of pre-dug graves and shot in the back so they would fall forward into them. Others were made to lie down in pairs, sardine-style, next to mounds of fresh corpses before being killed.  Some, who didn’t die from gun shots were then buried alive.
· Of the total Kurdish victims, an estimated 70% were men, according to Human Rights Watch
· 90% of Kurdish villages and more than 20 small towns and cities were completely destroyed during the campaign to wipe out the Kurdish population in Iraq.
· In 1993, US-based Human Rights Watch launched an extensive investigation into the attack on the Kurds by Saddam Hussein’s regime and concluded that it was genocide.
· In 2005, the court in the Hague established that the chemical bombing in Kurdistan constituted genocide in a landmark case in 2005 – the Frans Van Anraat Trial. During the Appeal, it was later referred to as ‘war crimes’.
· The Iraqi High Tribunal found Sultan Hashim Ahmad, Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, and Ali Hassan al-Majid (known as Chemical Ali) guilty of genocide in 2007.
· The research institute Swiss Peace recognized the genocide in 2008.
· In 2008 the Iraqi Presidential Council approved Resolution 26 ratifying a parliamentary resolution condemning the crimes of Saddam Hussein’s regime against the Kurds as acts of genocide. This resolution affirmed the previous parliamentary resolution that declared all acts committed against the Kurds in Iraqi-Kurdistan by the former regime were to be considered genocide.
· In March 2010, the Iraqi Supreme Court ruled that the 1988 attacks on the Kurdish population were indeed genocide.

I exist, said the Kurdish dragon

I exist, said the Kurdish dragon
Submitted by Naila Bozo

There was a dead town in Syria. The tombstone read ”Qamişlo” and on the grave lay red, yellow and green plastic roses. My knees are still hurting because I often kneeled down by the grave and begged the town to come back to life. Sometimes I threw myself on it to prevent the dazed youth from joining their parents in the soil. They merely looked at me pitiyingly and pushed me away. They had good reason to do so because what human is alive if he does not exist?

 A Fatal Census

Kime ez? asked Cegerxwîn (1903 -1984), a celebrated Kurdish poet. Who am I? Nobody, the Syrian government answered, you do not exist.

In August 1962 the Syrian government ordered a census in the province of Hasakeh which was carried out in October 1962. The province is situated in the northern parts of Syria and mostly inhabited by Kurds seeing as this area is the western part of Kurdistan that was divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria as a consequence of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923.

The census was fatal for the Kurds as it resulted in 120.000 Kurds loosing their Syrian citizenship and thus their rights. The number of stateless Kurds has according to Human Rights Watch since then only continued to grow to a number of 300.000 because children of the stateless, born and raised in Syria, have not been given citizenship either.

In April 2011 the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad said he would grant the Kurds citizenship. This did not cause much joy for two reasons. First, only registered Kurds would be given official identity papers while non-registered would remain stateless. Second, it was a poor way to keep the Kurds, who consitute 10 -15 % of the Syrian population, from joining the anti-regime protests that had begun only weeks earlier.

You Deserved To Be Gassed!

They say the uprising started in Damascus, March 2011. No, it started in Qamişlo, March 2004. A report from KurdWatch that gathers information about violation of human rights against Kurds within the Syrian borders closely describes what happened on March 12, 2004.

A football match was to be played at the stadium in Qamişlo. The team al-Futuwah was an Arabic team from Deir ez Zor and the other team, al-Jihad, was from Qamişlo. According to the Danish Refugee Council quoted in the report, an eyewitness said that the supporters of al-Futuwah had not been checked by security before entering the stadium and that they brought weapon in the form of knives, sticks and stones with them.

A journalist sitting in the press box observed that the supporters of al-Futuwah prior to the game had kept shouting: “Fallujah, Fallujah!” after which they started attacking the other team’s supporters with the sticks and stones they had brought with them. According to the report, “Fallujah” was a way for the supporters of al-Futuwah to show their support to Saddam Hussein, one of the worst oppressors in the history of Kurds, who in 1988 ordered the gassing of the Kurdish town Halabja which killed more than 5.000 people and injured more than 10.000.

While the attack took place, three young men came to the press box and asked another journalist, who was to comment on the match on radio, if he would announce that three children had been killed during the attack. The news spread and people from the nearest towns came to the stadium in such large numbers that the journalist described the stadium as being besieged. But the death of the three children soon proved wrong and people both inside and outside the stadium grew calm.

The peace did not last long as people soon began to throw with rocks and the police, military and intelligence service arrived to the stadium.

The report remarks that the security made a mistake by shooting into the air and thus frightening people; they should have instead tried dissolving the growing angry crowd with other measures. The first mentioned journalist said according to the report that supporters of al-Futuwah called out to the Kurds: “Saddam Hussein treated you they way you deserve to be treated!”

At this point the security people stepped in and split up the two groups. The Kurds were told to leave while al-Futuwah supporters remained inside the stadium.

According to eyewitnesses the security consisting of the police, military and intelligence shot and even killed Kurds who protested al- Futuwahs discriminating heckling by saying “Long live Kurdistan.” A witness said that security was being untruthful when it later claimed that the Kurds were shooting back: “Even the government have not stated this.”

9 people died on the 12th of March 2004. The Kurdish parties made an agreement with the government; if they were allowed to bury their murdered Kurds without the involvement of the police, they would make sure to keep the funeral procession under control. A journalist described the procession joined by tens of thousands of people as being quiet. Kurds waved the Kurdish flag, a few cried out in anger at Bashar al-Assad and others threw rocks at a statue of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, a man so feared and infamous that before one did not even dare point their fingers at pictures of him. But other Kurds stopped them from throwing stones and the mourners continued walking towards the city hall.

At some point during the march one could hear shots from a military base nearby. Nothing happened and the procession continued. The journalist who had walked with the mourners left them to visit a lawyer whose office had a view over the square where the march had passed through. He was standing near the window when a car drove by. The car was open in the back and 7-8 men were sitting facing the square with their machine guns. They drove up to the few mourners at the back of the funeral procession and shot them. That day 23 people died.

The word about the killings spread and soon hell broke loose. People in the Kurdish towns set public buildings on fire while large demonstrations were held abroad in solidarity with the Kurds and support of the much anticipated uprising against al-Assad.

According to the report sources say that the Kurdish TV-channel ROJ TV, broadcasting from Denmark, was an important factor in mobilising the Kurds and gathering them at demonstrations in dimensions never seen before in West Kurdistan. The government’s crack down on the protests was brutal, and the Kurdish voice was once again brought to silence.

A Kurdish Dragon

Ketin xewê, ketin xewê, ketin xewa zilm û zorê, ketin xewa bindestiyê. They have been lulled into a deep sleep by the oppressor, Cegerxwîn said about the Kurds.

In the time after the uprising no one dared say a word about al-Assad. Many families had either lost a son to death or to the security service who usually came early in the morning and took the young Kurdish men away. My friend, who had only been out to buy bread on March 12, was brought home to his mom alive after one month in a jail in Damascus, tortured and with his teeth missing.

The grief of Kurds was deeper than the wells in their garden, it was a grief that paralysed the town and rest of West Kurdistan. Qamişlo was dead because its sons were dead. The Kurdish mothers tore their hair and ripped their clothes apart, the Kurdish fathers rocked back and forth with tears dripping down on the palms of their hands and the Kurdish sisters and brothers sat side by side, numb and with their heads falling first against their chest, then the wall.

The windows of Qamişlo are barred. The bars are shaped as flowers, fountains and sunrises but it does not change the fact that the town is a prison. The question is how can dead people tear off the window bars and demand freedom?

I was sitting in a livingroom in Qamişlo in January 2011, only weeks before the uprising in Syria began, and watching the people in Tunis overthrow Ben Ali. I once again asked the elder Kurds what this meant to them and what they would do. Nothing, they answered, never will we rise against al-Assad. I asked the young Kurds what they would do. They did not answer but I could see a fire in them I had never seen before.

Belê em in ejdehayê, ji xewa dili, siyar bûn niha, Cegerxwîn writes. The sleep of the Kurds will not last forever; the Kurdish people is a dragon that will awaken, ready to fight all injustice done to it.

The dragon is my generation, the dragon are the young men and women. Their sleep is not as deep as the sleep of their parents.

They are alive. They are Kurdistan.

New Book: The Margins of Empire

The Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone
Janet Klein, Associate Professor of History at The University of Akron

Stanford University Press, 2011 (forthcoming)

About the book

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Ottoman state identified multiple threats in its eastern regions. In an attempt to control remote Kurdish populations, Ottoman authorities organized them into a tribal militia and gave them the task of subduing a perceived Armenian threat. Following the story of this militia, Klein explores the contradictory logic of how states incorporate groups they ultimately aim to suppress and how groups who seek autonomy from the state often attempt to do so through state channels.

In the end, Armenian revolutionaries were not suppressed and Kurdish leaders, whose authority the state sought to diminish, were empowered. The tribal militia left a lasting impact on the region and on state-society and Kurdish-Turkish relations. Putting a human face on Ottoman-Kurdish histories while also addressing issues of state-building, local power dynamics, violence, and dispossession, this book engages vividly in the study of the paradoxes inherent in modern statecraft.

Reviews

‘Klein sheds light on some of the most important and complicated relations and negotiations the Ottoman officials were engaged in as their empire crumbled around them. She never loses sight of the broader implications of her work in this original, highly valuable look at a significant period in the history of the Middle East.’—Resat Kasaba, University of Washington

‘This is a most welcome and very significant contribution to Kurdish history and to the history of the eastern provinces during the late Ottoman period. The rich documentation of the saga of the Kurds as they undergo a very difficult transformation will generate healthy scholarly debate. An excellent book.’—Fatma Müge Göçek, University of Michigan

See Table of Contents here.

Read an excerpt from the Introduction here.

Order book here.