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.

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

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.
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
For more information visit: www.krg.org

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.


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.

Kurdish Genocide Conference

Conference organisers from the American Kurdish Council have announced that the Kurdish Genocide Conference will be broadcast live online from Tennessee State University in Nashville on Sunday afternoon, 22 May 2011.

The conference will focus on the different genocides perpetrated by the governments of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey against the Kurds. The conference will also feature a monodrama, Pakiza, performed by Kurdish actor Sarkawt Taro.


Tune in here to watch the conference. To find out what time Opening Remarks begin in your area, click here.


Conference Programme:

1.00-1.10pm Opening Remarks

American Kurdish Council

1.10-2.30pm Kurdish Genocide: Beyond the Borders

Speakers: Kirmanj Gundi, Kamal Artin, Kani Xulam and Sirwan Kajjo

2.30-3.00pm Anfal: The Exploitation of the Qur’an

Speaker: Dr. Zaid Brifkani

3.00-4.00pm lunch break

4.00-5.30pm Kurdish Genocide: Witnesses and Survivors

Speakers: Azad Hamad, Yonis Haji, Amina Mahmood Ali, Neaamat Torabian and Dilovan Parwar

5.30-6.00pm Pakiza – Monodrama

Performed by: Sarkawt Taro

“Yesterday Halabja, Today Handcuffs”

Poster in Diyarbakır

Saw this photo over at Hevallo’s blog and thought I’d repost it.

The photo, taken during last week’s wave of arrests, caused outrage among many.  Diyarbakır Bar Association President Mehmet Emin Aktar criticised the photograph showing the arrested people queued up in front of the court house, obviously being handcuffed. According to Aktar, this photograph was created to humiliate the the Kurdish politicians: ‘It is very obvious that this picture was taken to humiliate and demoralise the Kurdish politicians. We are going to file a criminal complaint against the ones who are responsible for this.’

Ramadan: ‘I am innocent’

Tariq Ramadan has been accused of being one of the pilots who attacked the Kurdish city of Halabja with chemical weapons in March 1988, killing more than 5,000.  He was detained in February 2005.  In October 2007 he vanished from custody.  Questions have arisen about whether or not he escaped from custody or was released.

Ramadan and family ended up in exile, as refugees.  He contacted the EuroKurd Human Rights (EHR) group, based in Sweden, to tell his side of the story.

Ramadan: 'I am completely innocent of any involvement in the Halabja attack.'

Ramadan: 'I am completely innocent of any involvement in the Halabja attack.'

EHR talked with him about the accusations and his detention.  I have read through the documents on the EHR website and summarised his interview below.  If you want to read the full interview, you can access it in English, Swedish, or Kurdish from the EHR website.    Here is a copy in Kurdish (Ramadan letter to EHR) of the letter Ramadan sent to EHR, in which he makes four points:  He says 1) that he was kidnapped rather than arrested, 2) he is innocent of all charges and has evidence to prove it.  The confession he gave was coerced under torture, 3) the Asayish couldn’t find anything at all against him, but he was still tortured, and 4) he didn’t escape, but was released by order of Mam Jalal (President Jalal Talabani).  The letter is signed and dated 08 April 2009.

Tariq Ramadan is a Turkomen of Arab origin.  He is a fully qualified interceptor pilot, who later became a flight instructor after sustaining severe injuries after ejecting from his aircraft in December 1984.  These injuries basically sidelined him from flying again.

In September 2004 Ramadan began working for the Parsons Corporation on the Kirkuk Airbase.  According to its website, Parsons provides technical and management solutions to federal, regional and local government agencies as well as private industries worldwide.  On 03 February 2005 Ramadan was handcuffed by two US officers at the base and handed over to the Asayish.  The Asayish is one of four units that make up the Parastin, the KRG security forces.  Asayish officers blindfolded and gagged Ramadan and shoved him into the trunk of a waiting car.  He was taken to the Asayish Gishti Prison (General Security) in Suleimaniyeh.

In prison, he says, he was beaten and tortured.  He was blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back, punched until he lost consciousness, beaten on his toes with cables, and subjected to various forms of psychological torture.  Ramadan eventually ‘confessed.’  The courts have ruled the confession inadmissible.

In late May 2005, some four months after his detention, he was visited by an ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) representative.  This was Ramadan’s first contact with the outside world since his detention.  He was allowed to craft a short message to his family, which was delivered to them through the ICRC rep.

But Ramadan would remain in custody for many long months afterwards.  It wasn’t until 28 October 2007 (996 days after being detained) that he was released.  And herein lies the major divergence of the accounts regarding the end of his detention.

Original reports suggest he escaped from a hospital where he had been admitted after a prolonged hunger strike.  Reports now show that he was released on orders from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.  Ramadan says in his interview that he was called into the office of then Asayish Directorate General Saif al-Den Ali Ahmed who said to Ramadan, ‘Congratulations Tariq, Mam Jalal has ordered me to set you free.’  Saif al-Den requested first that Ramadan cut his hair and shave his beard.  In front of the court and the media, Saif al-Den has vehemently denied that he received orders from Talabani to release Ramadan.

While Ramadan and his family are now refugees in Sweden, he still stands accused of the attacks on Halabja.  Ramadan states emphatically that in 1988 he wasn’t flying due to his previous injuries.  Also he says that the logbooks show he wasn’t flying the weekend the Halabja attack occurred.

He said too he would love to be able to clear his name and prove both his innocence and that he was the victim of a gross and deliberate miscarriage of justice.  He says he does not know what charges against him may still be outstanding but he has heard that the Iraqi High Tribunal Court has ordered the Asayish to close the case against him.  He adds that everyone there has been betrayed and deceived by corrupt politicians, leaders and the Asayish who continue to exploit the tragedy of Halabja for their own ends.

Swedish-Kurdish journalist Gabar Çiyan and British photographer and journalist Gary Trotter interviewed Tariq Ramadan.  See the EHR website for more information and a list of documents.

US House and Senate members commemorate Halabja genocide

Members voice warnings to prevent future slaughter, call for helping victims

Washington, US (KRG.org) – The 1988 genocide of more than 5,000 Kurds in the town of Halabja by Saddam Hussein was commemorated on the floors of the US House of Representatives and Senate. Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman and Senator Joe Lieberman yesterday issued statements recalling the horrors of the chemical attacks, while also demanding help for those who survived.

Chairman Berman (D-CA) said the slaughter at Halabja was “one of modern history’s most horrific crimes.” Berman said it is imperative that the Halabja massacre and the larger genocide against the Kurds conducted in the Anfal campaign, be “documented and remembered – and internationally recognised as a crime of genocide against the Kurdish people.”

“The world must not only remember the individuals who perished but also provide help to those that continue to suffer today. That would be an appropriate way for the world to bear witness to crimes that are among the ugliest the world has seen,” Chairman Berman said.

At least 5,000 people died as an immediate result of the chemical attack on March 16, 1988. Thousands more were injured or suffered long-term illness and birth defects after being exposed to the noxious mix of nerve agents. The attack against Halabja remains the largest-scale chemical weapons assault directed against a civilian-populated area in history.

“What happened in Halabja should remind us that there is, unfortunately, such a thing as evil in the world, and that we in the United States not only protect our security but uphold our most cherished humanitarian values when we fight against it,” said Senator Lieberman (I-CT) on the Senate floor.

Lieberman said that in pausing to remember the Halabja horror, “We should also give thanks to the extraordinary progress that has been achieved since that terrible day 21 years ago – progress that has been made possible through the courage and sacrifice of Kurds, Iraqis and Americans alike.”

Original story posted on KRG website.

Halabja: Trial Begins

The Halabja trial, stemming from the case of the 1988 chemical attacks of the Kurdish citizens of Halabja, began on December 21. There are 483 plaintiffs representing relatives who died in the attacks.

For two days during the Iraq-Iran war, Iraqi military planes dropped toxic gas on the town of Halabja, leaving nearly 5,000 dead and thousands wounded. Thousands more were displaced to refugee camps in Iran and inside Iraq.

The incident, which Human Rights Watch (HRW) defined as an act of genocide, was as of 2008 the largest-scale chemical weapons attack directed against a civilian-populated area in history.

The United States, fully aware that it was Iraq that carried out the genocidal attack against the Kurds, accused Iran, Iraq’s enemy in a fierce war, of being partly responsible for the attack. The State Department instructed its diplomats to say that Iran was partly to blame. Iraq at that time was a US ally against Iran.

The trial, headed by Mohammed Khalifa al-Uraibi, charges four former top Ba’ath officials with the crimes of war and genocide, as well as crimes against humanity. Defendants include Ali Hassan Al-Majeed, also known as “Chemical Ali”; Sultan Hashem, a former defense minister; and Sabir Aziz Al-Douri and Farhan Mutlak Al-Juburi, two former intelligence officers.

Al-Majeed, a Sunni Arab who was Saddam’s cousin and a member of his inner circle, has already been sentenced to death twice, once in 2007 for his role in killing tens of thousands of Kurds in Saddam’s military ‘Anfal’ campaign. Majeed’s second death sentence came this month for his part in crushing a Shi’ite revolt after the 1991 Gulf War. He is being held in a US detention centre but is due like thousands of other detainees to be handed over to the Iraqi government under a security pact taking effect on January 1.

On the day the trial started, hundreds of Halabja citizens and a number of local and governmental officials demonstrated in support of the trial, waving banners and shouting for the execution of the Halabja case defendants.

“We ask the court to execute Chemical Ali and to heal the wounds he caused by gassing our beloved,” said Shereen Hassan, a Halabja housewife who took part in the protest.

“I will never rest until I see him hanged,” said Peshtwan Qader.

In session one of the trial, Fatima Hama Salih, a survivor of the Halabja chemical bombings, gave the first testimony.

On March 13, 1988, a battle began between Iraqi and Iranian forces outside the town. Exploding artillery was heard. Salih’s family, along with four other families, fled to an underground shelter in fear. They stayed underground until March 15, the day Iraqi forces withdrew from the town. Others who had already left Halabja also came home that day as calmness retuned. On the 16th, at 11am, fighter jets were heard raiding the town. Fatima’s family returned to the shelter until the afternoon. “We were afraid of the shelter falling down on us,” she told the court via an interpreter.

Everything then grew quiet, and the sounds of bombs disappeared. Meanwhile, Ahmed Muhammad Qadir, a neighbor, informed the people inside the shelter that the town had been bombarded with chemical weapons. The news brought the people out of the shelter. Fatima and her family decided to run. Not 70 meters from home they saw unconscious and wounded people. The scene forced Fatima and her family to go back home. Her husband told her to go up to the top floor. “Better to go to a higher place,” he said. Fatima rushed water on her daughter’s face. A white liquid was leaking from the mouth of her son. He cried: “Mother! I am burning!” At that moment, her husband asked Fatima to forgive him because he could not do more to rescue their family. She fainted.

When she opened her eyes she found herself in an Iranian hospital in Kimanshah with no children and no husband. In the coming days she was moved to Tehran where she remained for 25 days, along with many others. Fatima lost her husband their five children.

On this Christmas Day please take a moment of your time to remember the victims of this horrendous attack.

New “Chemical Ali” trial begins, Reuters UK, 21 December 2008
Halabja trial begins, Kurdish Globe, 25 December 2008
-Hiltermann, J. Halabja: America didn’t seem to mind poison gas, International Herald Tribune, 17 January 2003