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.