IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: Don’t forget the living


29 March 2013

It was uncomfortable. We were in Halabja
on the 25th anniversary of the gas attacks that killed thousands of
people in the city in a single day, part of Saddam Hussein’s Al’Anfal,
genocidal campaign against the Kurds. The Kurds, who endured this crime, deserved
the seats of honor at this gathering, not us, the internationals, who ignored
or even blamed others for the deaths in order to support our then-allies the
perpetrators, Saddam and his Baathist government. Yet here we sat, a few rows from
the front.

In the midst of our discomfort, we
noticed a small group of young men sitting — by a twist of fate, an act of God
or pure coincidence — on the floor next to our seats, holding rolled up signs,
and looking slightly agitated.

Public protest and demonstration in
Iraqi Kurdistan is a dangerous business. Since the Kurdish Spring of 2011,
people have feared being arrested, beaten, disappeared, or even shot in the
street by the Asaish (security forces) for “illegal protests”. They
only join permitted protests, which cannot criticize the government. The young
men sitting beside us were braver than most, so we offered our support, our
presence, our witness for the brave act they were about to undertake.


Young men from Halabja seek more than lip service from
political leaders on 25th anniversary of deadly gas attack.

photo by Matt Barr

The action was simple. After Prime Minister Barzani had given his speech,
condemning the attacks and giving lip service to the men, women and children of
Halabja, the young men stood up, walked into the middle of the aisle directly
in front of the stage, held their banners high and called out to Barzani and
the government to honor the promises they make every year. CPT stepped behind,
watched, listened and supported. The group grew, doubling in number as other
young men grabbed signs and called others to join them.

Halabja was a convenient
excuse for invading and occupying Iraq. Saddam’s human rights violations were
cited as making it a moral duty. On every anniversary the dead are honored;
politicians and diplomats make speeches promising change that has never come.

Halabja is a poor city, with
poor public services and a low standard of living. The gas attacks left many mentally
and physically disabled. The United Nations’ crippling economic sanctions and
“Oil for food” program created heavy dependencies on government

Instead of dealing with these
issues the government ignores them, opting to build memorials and hold
multi-million dollar remembrance events.

The people of Halabja and
these young protesters ask us, the world, not to forget the dead, but also not
to forget the living. As they asked their politicians to honor their promises
to the survivors of the attacks, they also ask us, the international community,
not to forget.

The protesters were not
immediately harassed. For now the action itself is its only measurable reward.
Other consequences may follow.

Ten years after the invasion,
one year after withdrawal, I fear we have forgotten those who suffer the
consequences, who survived the actions and inactions of our governments. I fear
we have forgotten the Kurds.

*     *     *

British activist and academic and past CPT Iraq and Iraqi
Kurdistan delegate Matt Barr was present for this event and
wrote two interesting and informative articles for Peace news,
for nonviolent
, about what he had witnessed and
the implications on the
wider political arena.
REPORT FROM IRAQ: Nonviolent protests by the people of
Halabja at the 25th anniversary commemorations of the
town’s gassing help
highlight the political misuse of the massacre

REPORT FROM IRAQ: Cross-border Turkish bombings continue

to claim civilian lives and disrupt livelihoods in northern Iraq.


Subscribe to the Friday Bulletin

Get Hannah’s thoughts and the entire bulletin every Friday in your inbox, and don’t miss out on news from the teams, a list of what we’re reading and information on ways to take action.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Read More Stories

“If they cannot love and resist at the same time, they probably will not survive.”

Love and resistance

The past eight months have broken us, but I know we are still here because of the radical love that holds us together.

Skip to content