The speeches were followed by songs, drama and poetry, performed by Kurdish artists. Photo: Ava Homa
TORONTO, Canada – Kurdish-Canadian organizations united Sunday to mark the 26th anniversary of the poison-gas attack on Halabja by Saddam Hussein, which killed an estimated 5,000 Kurds on March 16, 1988.
The Kurdish League against Genocide, Kurdish Community Center and Kurdish House together held an event at Toronto’s North York Civic Center with the theme, "We will not Forget! Never Again!"
In the closing weeks of the eight-year war with Iran, Saddam ordered an aerial bombardment of mustard gas and nerve agents on the Kurdish town of Halabja, to punish rebels accused of siding with Iran. Saddam’s so-called “Anfal Campaign,” targeting mainly Iraq’s Kurds during the 1980s, killed an estimated 180,000 people and is being internationally recognized as genocide.
Dilan Batgi and Dara Faraj hosted the Toronto event in Kurdish and English. Edris Mustafa from the Kurdish League against Genocide spoke in honor of Halabja, his talk followed by Sartip Kakaee, president of Kurdish House, who reminded the audience of the importance of their gathering on such an important day.
A movie about Halabja showed images of dead bodies with blistered faces on the ground huddled everywhere, in the streets or sheltering against walls. In a video message Dr. Aran Ahmed, Minister of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs in the Kurdistan Regional Government, called on the audience not to forget Kurdistan and reminded them of the work still to be done.
Canadian members of parliament, university professors and student representatives also spoke at the event, reiterating that this atrocity against the Kurds must be told generation to generation, to ensure it does not happen again.
Dr. Reza Moridi, a former MP and currently serving as Ontario’s Minister of Research and Innovation, recounted the story of one of Saddam’s followers, who was later a witness at the dictator’s trial.
The witness recounted that he was forced to shoot a baby boy whose parents had been killed in the Anfal genocide, because “he was a boy and would become a Peshmarga in future.” When the soldier put his gun in the baby’s mouth, the infant started sucking on the weapon, because he was hungry. After a few minutes, the child’s brains were splashed against the wall. The soldier, who had always blindly followed Saddam’s orders, testified that was when he realized, “We committed a crime!”
The speeches were followed by songs, drama and poetry, performed by Kurdish artists like Hemin Rauf, Jabbar, Assad Ahmadzadeh and others.
So far, only Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom recognize Anfal as genocide, but more European countries are considering following suit.
The United States provided $500-million in agricultural and manufacturing credits to Iraq, as Saddam was destroying thousands of Kurdish villages and gassing Kurds, writes Samantha Power in “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” which won the Pulitzer.
Britain and France, among other Western countries, are suspected to have manufactured the weapons and sold them to Saddam. Immediately after the attack, the US administration at the time downplayed the atrocity, and the world turned a blind eye until years later when the US invaded Iraq in 2003.
Besides the thousands killed, the sufferings of Halabja continue to show up in birth defects and other serious illnesses.
“The chemical weapons used on Halabja are well known for their effects on nucleic acids in the human body -- specifically DNA, which carries the genetic blueprint not only for the current generation but for future ones as well,” says writer and editor Steve Plata.