Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Monday, March 17, 2003

The story of a Kurd from Halabja.

This is the story of a 56-year-old man whom I met on Sunday afternoon, sitting by a grave in a cemetery in the city. He had two sick young women with him, and most of his family are dead. But it is the story of a second chance. It is unusual, and about as happy a story as there is in Halabja.

MARCH 16, 1988: THERE WERE more than 150 Kurds jammed together in Faiq Arif’s capacious cellar in the Kani Ashqan quarter of Halabja. A rich man, Arif and his extended family, friends and neighbours had all sought shelter in his basement just after the first Iraqi airstrikes began at 11.15am. Among them was Mahmoud Fatah, a bulldozer driver and former guerrilla fighter. With him were his mother Rana, sister Shamsa, wife Galawezh, and his children; sons Shivan, 5, and Kurdawan, 4; and daughters Mardin, 7, and two-year old Azhin.

Since the previous year the Kurds had suffered heavily in Saddam Hussein’s infamous al-anfal operations against Kurdish peshmerga guerrillas. Thousands were already dead or missing as the Iraqi Army ravaged its way through separatist Kurdish villages in northern Iraq. Most Kurds hated the Baathist forces, and many had actively colluded with the Iranians in the eight years of the Iran-Iraq conflict. However, in Halabja there was little time for “liberation” celebrations; the late-morning airstrikes of March 16 sent people scurrying for cover. “We must have been in the cellar for about six hours,” Mahmoud recalls. “The bombardment outside was very heavy. Then, just after 5.30pm, some people in the cellar began to notice a strange smell. I couldn’t smell anything, but I took my daughter Azhin in my arms and went out to see what was its cause, telling the others to remain.”

In the streets Mahmoud saw hundreds of people running, others staggering and falling. There was total panic, and shouts to evacuate above the cacophany of screaming. Parts of the city were on fire, and flames licked high into the fading light of dusk. Mahmoud saw one of his brothers among the scrum, handed little Azhin to him and ran back to the cellar for the rest of his family.

He had been outside for little more than 15 minutes, but as he walked down the cellar steps he noticed that the darkness was completely silent. There was not a murmur. A breeze had blown a bank of gas down the cellar steps. “The smell of gas was thick in the dark,” he says. “All 150 people were silent, many already dead, though some were moving. I was scrambling over bodies trying to find my family.”

Lighting a match, he found his mother. “She was unconscious, and there was saliva pouring from her mouth. I started to panic. I was trying to find my wife and children but my vision began to fail. Water started coming out of my nose, and my throat was closing.” Mahmoud fled alone, blundering up the steps and collapsing unconscious in a street. Waking hours later to the sense of a cool breeze, he realised that he was totally blind. He staggered around the empty streets for a while, tripping over bodies, before meeting a child who could still see.

The boy led him by the hand to the hills, from where he was evacuated by Iranian troops to a hospital inside Iran. It was 43 days before Mahmoud’s vision returned. Weeks later he heard that Azhin was still alive. She was still in Iraq, living with his brother near the town of Darband-i-Khan, 38 miles (60 kilometres) southeast of Sulaimaniyah. But the rest of his family — mother, sister, wife, daughter and sons — were missing, apparently dead.

Mahmoud spent the next four years in a constant search through Kurdish refugee camps in Iran hoping to discover them. He found no trace.

There is a lot more there. Go read it and remember. When Susan Sarandon asks what has Saddam done to us. And Mike Farell tells us that inspections are working. When the Dixie Chicks tell us how ashamed they are of the President being from the same state. When Chrissy Hynde says she hopes we lose this war. When Jacques Chirac says inspections are working. Their under their plan the beast that ordered these attacks and worse is free to continue to bring this 'peace' to his people.

< email | 3/17/2003 07:37:00 PM | link

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