Kurdistance: Echoes of Violence, Identity and the New Year

What makes a people, a people? What defines a group: a common voice, a common history, culture, a blogging engine? Just as the Iranians, the Kurds celebrate New Year or Newroz every March. Among the celebrations and the well wishes given, there is an underlying sadness and strength that defines the Kurdish people during this holiday. Some say that it is the legend of Kawa that unites them while others believe that the history of violence against the Kurds is the backbone of their identity. March is the month of many anniversaries for the Kurds, violence in Syria, violence in Iran, but most notably the horror that occurred in the village of Halapja in 1988….and Halapja was the center of a new resurgance of violence this year.

Halapja burned once more this March, but not for the reasons you would think.

Let's first cover the issue of the importance of Halapja if you are unfamilar. As part of Saddam's Anfal Campaign in March of 1988, a mixture of various chemical weapons/gases were dropped on the village of Halapja, resulting in the deaths of over 5000 Kurds in a few short days. Images of this are truly heartbreaking, with the environmental and social impacts still being felt to this day.

This year, on the 18th Anniversary of the tragedy, students used the commemoration as an opportunity to protest the Kurdistan Regionals Government's corruption and lack of social services. The students were blocked at the gates, one demostrator was shot. The Halapja memorial became a symbol of the corruption, a place to take national guests but a place denied to those it honors…more violence erupted and the monument was burned to the ground. For Americans who are looking for an equivlent, imagine the Holocaust museum being destroyed in Washington DC. Some good has come from this, the KRG has apologized for the death and being the cause of the event; one can only hope that perhaps in destroying such a symbol that the government will learn to take the people's demands seriously.

Reactions to the burning of the monument are mixed, as a blogger myself I am still at a loss to define how I feel about this. The overwhelming sentiment is divided into two: those who are appalled that a monument (viewed to the level of sacred) could be and was so easily destroyed by the very people that it honors, or those who regret what happened but are grateful for the protest victory that has been hard won in this situation. Was this a needed sacrifice? I'll leave the decision of that to you.


  • Is it true that there’s controversy surrounding the issue of whether Iran was behind the ‘Halapja’ campaign and not Saddam and Iraq? Did the official ‘U.S.’ version of that story change after it became clear that we had to get Saddam out of there, because of the ‘WMD?’ issue?

  • Are there any other minorities in Iran too?

  • Winston, I am sure that there are other minorities in Iran, I however deal only with the Middle Eastern ethnic minority of the Kurdish peoples. My purpose is not to bash Iran, Iraq, Turkey or Syria or any other country that has a Kurdish population, I only report on what the Kurdish people are saying.

    Metin, my friend, oh the theories abound as to whether it was Iraq or Iran at fault for Halapja. Both versions have some credibility, however as I understand it the official UN and US line is that Saddam’s regime was at fault. I don’t believe that the Iran theory/version of the story has been or ever was fully accepted by any government or governmental entity.

  • Metin, you ought to watch the real footage of the Iraqi air raid on Halabja which shows Iraqi AF aircrafts dropping CW on innocent people!

    Deborah, there are other minorities in Iran that SHOULD be heard as well and GVO doesn’t cover them very well!

  • The Azeris are a pretty massive minority in Iran. Percentage-wise they are larger than the Kurds in Iraq

  • Winston: I wonder why Saddam dropped bombs on innocent people? Is it the same reason the Turks committed ‘genocide’ on Armenian civilians? Was it also innocent people that were killed ‘innocently’ when the Turkish military campaign to fight the ‘terror’ generated by some Kurdish factions or when Kurdish ‘insurgents’ kill innocent people of Turkish descent. If they (the ones killed) are Kurds but Turkish citizens, do they qualify as innocent Turks or Kurds? What makes people innocent? Is it because they are civilian? And are they only ‘innocent’ if they are a ‘minority?’ Of course, these are rhetorical questions.

  • Civilians are always INNOCENT in a military campaign!

    They have no guilt to get punished for or killed for, therefore they are innocent and shouldn’t be targeted for military purposes.

    Bombing civilians is not only immoral, it’s ineffective.

    I draw your attention to Geneva Convention regarding the definition of Innocent/civilian in a military campaign.

    Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War


  • Winston: Why would you think I would not know about the Geneva Conference. What makes you think I would condone such a thing.

    However, I think we need to review the real deep meaning of war, and the scars it causes on all civilians, military or otherwise, as well as the ‘book smarts vs. street smarts’ approaches taken by warring societies, irregardless of any convention. What constitutes a ‘war?’ Can wars be fought only by nations or peoples?

    Are wars fought strictly by a military action. Can they also be caused by economic and psychological weapons of mass frustration?

    I think you missed the point!

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