Halabja-Genocide commemorated in the EU Parliament


By Roni Alasor and Lorin Sarkisian – Brussels, 27 March 2013 – The 25th anniversary of Halabja chemical attacks and Anfal Campaign against Kurds has been commemorated in the European Parliament (EP). The speakers asked for international recognition of Halabja and Anfal as Genocide.

On the occasion of the Halabja/Anfal anniversary, a three days Halabja Exibition has been opened in the EP. The event was organized in cooperation with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) as part of the KRG’s global campaign for recognition of the Kurdish Genocide. The exhibition is supported by the deputy chair of the EP Subcommittee on Human Rights, MEP Joanna Senyszy. Members of the European Parliament from different political groups attended the opening of the exhibition, among them Hans-Gert Pöttering, former EP President, Ana Gomes, Socialists and Democrats Foreign Affairs Coordinator, Struan Stevenson, Chair of the EP-Iraq Delegation, Jürgen Klute, Chair of the EP-Kurdish Friendship Group and MEP Jim Higgings. Many diplomats, representatives of European and Kurdish NGOs and political parties were also present.

The event was opened by MEP Senyszyn who welcomed the guests and shared her feelings of honour and pride to host the Kurdish exhibition.

The Head of KRG Mission to EU, Delaver Ajgeiy presented shortly the historical context of Halabja poison gas attack and Anfal campaign: “The people of Kurdistan have been victims of internationally recognized crimes committed by the former Iraqi regime and in particular by the Baath regime leaded by Saddam Hussein. Beginning of the 70s the Iraqi government carried out an ethnic cleansing programme in Kirkuk, Khaneqin and Sindjar and other areas inhabited by Kurds, Turkmen and other minorities to change the demographic structure of these areas. This annihilation programme continued until 2003. In 80s the Iraqi government was responsible for some ten thousands Feyli Kurds who disappeared without trace. To this day it is not known, but it is believed that they were executed by the Iraqi government. In 1983 the Iraqi government took some 8.000 men and boys from the Barzani tribes. 22 years after their disappearance it has been discovered that they were imprisoned in concentration camps in the south of Iraq, executed and buried in mass graves. At least one hundred eighty two thousand (182.000) people from Kurdistan were killed by the Iraqi regime in the 70s and 80s. The majority of these people were killed from 1978 to 1989 in the genocide campaign that the regime officially called Anfal. During these campaign the Iraqi government abducted and executed tens of thousands of civilians, including large number of woman and children and destroyed our 5 000 of villages”.

Mr. Ajgeiy described the tragic events on 15 March 1988: “The Iraqi military bombarded the town of Halabja with chemical weapons killing at least 5000 civilian, men, women, children, animal, including anything living. The Iraqi military bombarded with chemical weapons many other villages in Kurdistan. In conducting this genocide campaign the Iraqi government destroyed much of the civilian and infrastructure in areas inhabited by Kurds and damaged the environment of Kurdistan. However, this inhuman act has not been taken seriously by the international public opinion and it failed to prevent such acts in the world after Halabja”.

In conclusion of his speech and on behalf of Kurdistan Government, Mr. Ajgeiy urged the European Parliament to recognize formally the Genocide against the people of Iraqi Kurdistan and called the United Nations to do likewise :“We also ask our friends in the European Parliament and other international organisations to play a stronger role in the international recognition of the genocide against Kurds. Kurdistan Region needs resources, as well as help from the international community to deal with the consequences of this genocide. On behalf of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdish people I would like to thank you all to be here today and a special thanks to all those who have worked hard for this event”.

Hans-Gert Pöttering, former EP President and chairman of Konrad Adenauer Foundation, invited all the guests to remember “on the 25th anniversary of this terrible event the 5000 people who have died during the attack and many more who are now suffering from health damages due to the chemical weapons”.

Pöttering shared his positive recent experience in Kurdistan Region: “Two years ago I visited Kurdistan in Iraq and I have great respect for the Kurdish people who never gave up their principles, tolerance or religious freedom, which is difficult to defend especially in this region of the world. Persecuted Christians from the south of the country had to leave their homes and find support and peace in the Kurdish part. I went to a Roman Catholic church and there were so many people praying. I think this is a good example that Muslims and Christians, Jews and other believers live together peacefully”.

“The 25th anniversary of the horrible attacks in Halabja also reminds us, the citizens of the European Union that we, here in EU, are lucky to leave in a place of peace, freedom and security. As Europeans, we very often forget this when we think about the dept crisis or euro or what so ever. We are living here in peace and liberty and this is a great advantage many people in the world don’t have. After the European continent has experienced itself so many wars and conflicts and the humanitarian disaster of the World War II and the Holocaust, it was guided by few courageous men. Among them Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer went in the bravery to unite this war scared continent into what is known to us as the European Union”, said Pöttering.

The German politician underlined the responsibility of EU for the future developments in Iraq and in the whole region: “The EU is not only a geographical assembly of countries; it is above all a union of common values. It is our responsibility to reflect these values, human dignities, respect for human rights, peace, freedom, democracy, the rule of law, accompanied by the principles based on subsidiarity and solidarity, not only within the EU, but also in the world. In the framework of these values, we must also show solidarity with those outside the European Union who desperately need our help, especially when it comes to conflicts involving political persecution of ethnic minorities. It is EU’s responsibility to act in solidarity with these people”.

Pöttering reminded the importance of religious tolerance and peace: “When we look upon the developments in Iraq at present we realize that it is not what we had in mind for this country. We see so many people dying and unfortunately Muslim fight Muslim, it is not only the Christians, and I think we should give a good example that different religious beliefs live peacefully together and that we support the dialog of culture. However, we have to acknowledge, especially on a day like today when we commemorate the terrible attack on Halabja that we have obligations in this world. One of these obligations is to defend the identity of ethnic groups, minorities and different religious beliefs whether it will be Christians, Muslims, Jews or others. Sadly, when we shift our attention to Syria these days we are left with the realisation that there are no readymade solutions for the international community on how to act. Finally, I think it’s great that you commemorate today with this exhibition the crimes of this terrible dictator Saddam Hussein. May this Kurdish people from the exhibition be a reminded to us for our responsibility towards men, women and children outside the border of the EU and may it also be a reminded for the challenges this responsibility bring along”.

Mohammed Abdullah, Iraqi Ambassador in Brussels also expressed solidarity with the victims of Halabja: “The Kurdish people were subjected to the highest crime against the humanity committed by the Iraqi former regime. This crime was unprecedented, never before in history has a ruler killed his own people in such brutal way. Since then Halabja has become symbol for the people who are fighting for their freedom and dignity. It represented a disgrace to the dictatorial regime that never pay any respect to the human kind”.

Ambassador Abdullah referred to the efforts accomplished by the Iraqi government to remember the tragic history of Halabja: “One of the tasks of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry is to work for the prohibition of chemical weapons to commemorate the victims of Halabja and to work all together to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy in Iraq and anywhere else in the world and to bring to the justice those responsible for genocide crimes. We, the Iraqi people, have learned the lesson. Therefore we decided to build a democratic federal Iraq based on the respect of the people’s will and to adopt a democratic constitution which prevents from dictator regime”.

Ana Gomes, Socialists and Democrats Foreign Affairs Coordinator, shared her experience during the time of Halabja attack as a young diplomat in the Portuguese delegation of the Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. Ana Gomes participated in the drafting of the resolution on Iraq in 1989, one year after the poison gas attack.

MEP Gomes also shared her personal experience on the ground: “I went to Iraq, talked to Sunni and Shia, visited Erbil and Halabja. I will never forget what I’ve seen. And it is not just the mass graves, which are so impressive. It is talking to the living, who are still experiencing the trauma, the physical pain, the children with birth defects and diseases. And it was very important for me to say that we have a duty to do something about Halabja, about the people of Halabja. I found out that there have been many Halabjas, against the Kurdish people, as well as against the Shia. I feel this as our responsibility as Europeans. Therefore, today, when we had meeting of the Iraqi delegation, I said that my concern are the people of Iraq. I understand very well when it is mentioned a “federal, united and democratic Iraq”. Iraq is very diverse, it is the beauty of Iraq, the wealth of Iraq, and it is our wealth to have that diversity with all these ethnic groups”.

MEP Gomes encouraged KRG in their efforts to promote peace and stability in the region: “When I last visited KRG in 2011, there was a tremendous progress since I was first there in 2007 and I realized that KRG was somehow a different Iraq, as every component of Iraq is different. KRG has a capacity to develop and to be a heaven for those who have to flee other parts of Iraq. We need to have the interest of Iraqi people in democratic, federal and united Iraq. I know that it is not easy and there are many people who interfere. I believe that the EU Parliament has a role to play and interaction with KRG is very important. I remember discussion with some colleagues that we should not highlight KRG and I don’t think so. Iraq is very diverse and it is that diversity that makes Iraq as it is”.

Struan Stevenson, Chair of the EP-Iraq Delegation, expressed his deepest feelings on this human tragedy: “Look at this iconic image, the most famous image of the massacre in Halabja, a parent with his dying child, and the 5000 who died in Halabja, it was the culmination of the Anfal campaign, from which the estimates vary, but we reckon about 200 000 people who lost their life. There were 250 Halabjas, 250 villages attacked with gas, 4000 villages erased to the ground out of 4600 in total. Hundreds of mosques, churches, school completely destroyed by Saddam Hussein and his troops in the Anfal campaign”.

MEP Stevenson called on EU and the international organisations to follow the example of UK and to recognize Anfal as the Kurdish Genocide: “The world must recognize what happened in the Anfal campaign as Genocide. My government in UK had recognised it formally as the Kurdish Genocide and it is a lesson to the world that we all recognize the Kurdish genocide and the people who died”.

As conclusion the Chair of the EP-Iraq Delegation quoted Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani: “Recently, Nechirvan Barzani, the Prime Minister of Kurdistan, said to the Security Council that the fruit trees in Halabja which were blighted by the gas attack have started again, after 25 years, to bear fruit. I hope that this is symbol of the rebirth, of the new spring time that comes after a horrifying disaster and catastrophe of this nature. I hope the bearing of fruit by these trees will give hope to all the survivors of the Anfal campaign and to all of the people of Iraq and the whole Middle East that peace will come, that there will be a good future, once the war in fractions and the terrorists stop their bloodletting. And I hope the genocide of the Kurdish people will act as lesson in history that we must not allow that kind of situations never again to occur”.