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an opinionated Kurdish woman.

Remembering Halabja

Today is the anniversary of one of the most devastating massacres in modern history. Halabja. On 16 March 1988 at least 5000 people were gassed to death and over 7000 were injured. All in one day. And the world kept quiet. Silent.

Halabja is not a moment in history to be remembered by Kurds only.

When the four-hour attack ended, there was no condemnation from the international community. America blamed Iran. The Arab world called it a Zionist conspiracy. The world turned a blind eye while the inhabitants of Halabja, three-quarters of whom were women and children lay dead, mid pose, mid life.

Have a look at this video.

The issue only received media attention before the 2003 invasion when the allied forces cited it as genocide and a reason to topple Saddam. Sure, it was a perfectly valid reason. The largest gas attack in history. But where were these citations in 1988 or 1991?

It is easy to exploit tragedies for political, or even artistic gains. Look at the way Americans and Europe speak of the Holocaust. Hollywood pretty much guarantees an Oscar to a Holocaust movie.

But it is important to remember Halabja as not just a crime against Kurds, but as a crime against humanity. It is especially important now more than ever to remember the atrocity and pay respect to the victims as the Middle East faces a fight against long-standing autocratic regimes.

Halabja should be seen as a warning and a reminder of what these dictators are capable of. Iraqis should see it as a reason to continue to fight for democracy, to demand basic rights and to prevent any extremists from ever attaining power.

Thousands died, more were injured. The town is still suffering. Birth defects are the highest in the country, infertility, cancer, health effects continue to surface after 23 years according to the Human Rights Watch. The land, once fertile and arable, is dry of vegetation.

The Iraqi High Criminal Court made a commendable move on 1 March last year by recognising Halabja as an act of genocide, but many are still ignorant and condemnation is not as wide-spread as it should have been or should be.

The Humanitarian Dialogue Foundation is holding a memorial service on 19 March. Go and pay your respects.

7 Comments on “Remembering Halabja”

  1. Mohammed Abdullah March 16, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    Pleased about the formal recognition by the court.

  2. Azad March 22, 2011 at 2:33 am #

    Does Hollywood guarantee an Oscar to any film about the Holocaust? How did that complaint even become part of your Halabja remembrance article? Of the numerous things you could have said about genocide itself, racist pan-Arabism, hypocrisy, and dissimulation in 1988… and the equally large and significant list of things you could have said about how the world today addresses the Anfal campaign (including the West, Arabs in Iraq, Arabs outside of Iraq, and various groups of Kurds), you mysteriously choose to discuss Hollywood, the Holocaust, and who wins Oscars. How strange!

  3. Kurda Majid March 22, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    It wasn’t a complaint, it was an observation and a contrast. Halabja, a devastating tragedy in history, is still dismissed by the groups you mention.

  4. Julia March 25, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    Actually you are wrong. Helebce was used as a reason to bomb Iraq in 1991, but up until it was ignored and its actuality challenged. You really should have used this piece to explain the hypocrisy of the Arab world, the ruthlessness of Iraqis who to this day deny that Chemical Ali and the Baath really did poison over 5000 people. Instead, you do the anti-Semites dirty work. You belittle what happened to over 6 000 000 Jews in your attempt to emphasize the tragedy of Helebce. The tragedy right now is that to this day Kurds do not recognize who their real enemies are. Heyfe, zor zor heyfe.

  5. Kurda Majid March 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Kuwait was used as the reason to bomb Iraq in 1991, not Halabja. Those who deny Halabja are usually those who deny the Holocaust. There’s no point in highlighting the hypocrisy of the Arab world in a piece like this, I doubt the readers of this blog deny Halabja and the reasons behind it. Comparing the treatment of the wider communities of Halabja to the Holocaust is not belittling the Holocaust. It is the difference in the treatment that is the reason why only the Kurds seem to remember it. Who are the Kurds’ enemies? I don’t think it’s the Arabs anymore. Attitudes have changed. I think it’s “heyfe” that you still think in terms of ‘them and us’, that’s not the way to progress.

    • Sara May 1, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

      I agree with Kurda Majid.

  6. Julia March 25, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

    Nope,wrong again. America managed to kick the Iraqis out of Kuwait without having to bomb Iraq. The problem arose after Bush sr. decided not to hold up his end of the bargain and left Iraqis who had taken up to 15 provinces because he told them he would help them remove Saddam. When Iraqis were left without American help and live TV was showing hordes of Kurds fleeing the border to Iran and Turkey, the wrold wanted to help Iraqi Kurds. At the same time, to justify the creation of a no-fly zone the 1988 Halabja attack was “re-reported” to emphasize that Kurds needed protection. In 2003, Iraq was bombed because of allegations of weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq was funding terrorism.
    You should know this.

    You don’t know anything about who reads this, it must be emphasized that to this day many Arabs deny that the Anfal campaign ever happened.

    Again, you are wrong. The reason only Kurds remember Halabja is because it_happened_to_Kurds. And because the Kurds’ own countrymen denied the tragedy for so many years.
    The enemies of the Kurds are many. I do not have time to round them up for you. As a Kurd (If you indeed are one) you should not need someone else to tell you.
    Tell me which attitudes have changed? Is Iraq less sectarian since 1988? (whoopsie)
    Of course I think in the terms of “them” and “us”. However, “them” to me is Arab fascists (sectarians, racists whatever one wishes to call them) not all Arabs which you seemed to have assumed.

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