March 16, 2012

Halabja: The Symbol of the Kurdish Agony! - By Delovan Barwari

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and thank you for being with us!
Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, defines Genocide as “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group by killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions designed to bring about its destruction, preventing births within the group, or removing children from the group.”

Since the beginning of the 20th century, numerous nations have faced Genocide -- of which, I will share some with you tonight:

  • The murder of over 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1918;
  • The execution of 6 million Jews by Hitler’s Nazi Germany from 1938 to 1945;
  • The murder of over 200,000 Bosnian Muslims by the Serbs from 1992 to 1995;
  • The killings of up to 800,000 Tutsi’s by the Hutus in Rwanda in 1994;
  • And the murder of over 400,000 civilians in Darfur by the government of Sudan in 2003.

Throughout history, Kurds have experienced many atrocities. In the 20th century, the acts of Genocide began after World War One, as Kurdistan was partitioned and annexed into Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. All of the acts mentioned in the UN Convention on Genocide have been inflicted on them at some point. With that in mind, the Kurdish genocide is the longest lasting systemic genocide in the modern era as it continues to date.

Further, what makes the Kurdish genocide unique is that the occupiers of Kurdistan have also applied cultural genocide by banning the Kurdish language, cultural practices and names; renaming Kurdish towns and villages, and going as far as denying their existence by referring to them as “Mountain Turks”.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have gathered here tonight to commemorate the atrocities that were inflicted to the Kurdish population of Halabja on March 16th, 1988 by the barbaric Ba’athist regime of the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. Over five thousand innocent Kurdish children, women, and men died instantly, and thousands of survivors are suffering long-term affects today.

Halabja is one of the events of 1988 in which the government of Iraq carried out a genocidal campaign codenamed “Anfal”, aimed at destroying the existence of the Kurdish population in Iraqi-Kurdistan.  Over 4000 villages were destroyed; 250 towns and villages were bombed with chemical weapons, and more than 182,000 people were massacred.

The chemical attacks on Halabja is one of the worst and most inhumane atrocities committed against the Kurds, and it is the largest chemical attack on a civilian population in the history of mankind.  Halabja has become the symbol of the Kurdish agony in their struggle for freedom and justice.
Without a doubt, it is a universal responsibility to condemn any form of terror and crimes against humanity, regardless of political or economical interests.  However, the world remained silent while the Iraqi army viciously killed thousands of innocent Kurds. And the world is silent today, while the governments of Turkey, Iran, and Syria continue to terrorize, execute, and arrest thousands of Kurds for demanding equality and respect, and for defending their dignity.

Today, Neoliberal policies, globalizations, and technological advancements have transformed the world to what is known as a global village; mother earth has become smaller, and the world is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before; therefore, more than ever, it is fundamentally important for all nations to learn to live along-side one-another and respect each-other’s inalienable rights, regardless of cultural, religious, or linguistic differences or the color of their skin.

The international community must take measures to protect the cultural and political rights of Kurds in all parts of Kurdistan and the tragedies that have been inflicted upon them must never be repeated.

Yet, it is likely that the international community will remain silent, and the great question is: how do you get the global community to break their silence?

The answer is in your hands, my friends. It takes a collective and unified determination to fight and raise awareness about the ongoing atrocities. It starts by sharing a vision and working towards that vision. It starts by educating the vision to the Kurdish communities. It starts by taking the issue beyond your communities and exposing it to the mainstream society.
We can learn from the nations that were subject to genocide and have successfully raised their cause on the global stage. We can learn the methods that the Jewish and Armenian communities used to internationalize their case.

Keep in mind that the key to their success is unity, a shared vision, determinations, and the support from the members of their communities.
We must do the same!

Thank you!

A speech delivered at the 24th anniversary of Halabja at the Kurdish Community Center of San Diego

Delovan Barwari is the Director of the American Kurdish Council, California Chapter.


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