London, United Kingdom (uk.gov.krd) The Kurdistan Regional Government United Kingdom Representation marked the 33rd anniversary of Halabja and Anfal with a commemorative virtual event, dedicated to the remembrance of victims of Halabja and Anfal. The panel debated issues surrounding genocide recognition and accountability for heinous crimes committed against the Kurdish nation.
The themes of the panel were explored by distinguished speakers, sharing exclusive insights and messages of support to empower the victims of genocide and seek ways to diminish and eradicate possible causes of genocidal violence in the future.
In his welcoming remarks, High Representative Karwan expressed his horror of the chemical attack on Halabja, stating that: “Today we commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the genocidal crimes committed against the Kurdish population by Saddam Hussain, where he treated the Kurds and the people of Iraq of all its parts most cruelly and savagely throughout his rule in Iraq, whose merciless solution to the Kurdish cause, was to ethnically cleanse the Kurdish nation and conceal the Kurdish voice of freedom forever.”
Mr Azad Tofiq, the Governor of Halabja also joined the event and praised the UK’s commitment in supporting the region. Nevertheless, he highlighted the destruction caused by the chemical attack on the town of Halabja and said: “Halabja still faces enormous challenges and we need international assistance across many sectors, including, agriculture, education, and health.”
These sentiments were echoed by Lord Austin of Dudley. He said stated that “March is a month of memory for many Kurds, some very good and some very bad. History does not stay in the past; mass graves are still being discovered. Past is not over, the present is being made in its shadow and the future demands the friends of the Kurdistan Region pay their respects as part of our continuing solidarity with a place that has much hope for the Middle East and the wider world.”
H.E. Mohammad Jaafar Mohammad AL- Sadr, the Iraqi Ambassador to the UK was among distinguished speakers who reflected on the crimes committed against the Kurdish people in Iraq. He said: “Around this time in 1988, the dictatorial regime committed a heinous crime against our Kurdish brothers by targeting them with internationally banned chemical weapons. We look at the people of Halabja with pride and what they have accomplished in their city from progress and development and we are proud of those honourable people’s adherence to the federal and unified Iraq.”
The Co-chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kurdistan, Jack Lopresti MP regarded Halabja as “A monstrous act and a part of an industrially organised genocide.” While we remember the victims and the martyrs of Halabja and Anfal we should pay tribute to a canny and brave people who have absorbed so much pain but have emerged smiling and determined never to be victims and objects of history but active subjects and masters of their own fate. They deserve our continuing solidarity, friendship and support”, he added.
To raise awareness of the lessons of genocide for future generation, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Karen Pollock said “The term genocide was coined as a result of the Holocaust. The international community pledged never again. And yet, genocide has taken place since. When we talk about the Halabja, one of the most shocking things is that only 40 years after the gas chambers, there was the use of chemical gas, targeting an entire town. People need to know of the horrors that befell the Kurds, the long term impact and the repercussions still felt today. I am proud to support the Kurdish people and stand with you in remembering, today, tomorrow and always.”
At the panel, a Kurdish artist and also a witness to the Anfal genocide, Dr Osman Ahmed shared the dreads of the massacre which has haunted him to such a degree it played a substantial role during his time as an academic in the UK, and continues to play a substantial role in his art today. This powerful testimony was followed by a speech from Rt Hon Alistair Burtm a Global Partners Governance Associate and Former FCO Minister for the Middle East said: “As Minister and backbencher, the pain of the past events has left a deep impression upon me as I tried to convey both in the House of Commons and beyond. Such remembrance remains necessary today, the definition of genocide which does not recognise the events of Halabja as an element of such a crime is in my view deficient in the eyes of many. There will be no end to the remembrance of such things.”
Further, Gwynne Roberts, Director RWF World and the Founder of Kurdistan Memory Programme (KMP) shared stories from people who have witnessed key events in modern Kurdish history. He said: “Although Halabja was one of the worst atrocities of the Saddam Hussein’s era, what happened there was repeated on many occasions across Kurdistan. The great lesson of Arabisation is that past is present and its long-term polices of ethnic cleansing and state sanction violence has sown the seeds of genocide over an 80-year period. If they cannot recognise that the present can be seen in the past, the Kurds in Iraq and Syria run the very real risk of a brutal history repeating itself.”
On the legal aspect of genocide recognition, Gavriel Mairone, Founder of MM~LAW LLC, Gavi said:” Justice for the victims, and official legal recognition of the commission of the crime of genocide, is delayed, waiting for the Parliament in Erbil. Parliament needs to empower the Kurdish courts to hear the evidence and hold the foreign companies who provided the chemical weapons, accountable.”
A solidarity remarks was also expressed by Alicia Kearns MP stated that: “There can be no healing without justice which is still being stolen from so many and the grieve of loss causes scars every single day. All of us can play a role in this particularly as parliamentarians because we can urge our governments to support efforts to locate the missing, to support justice for victims and survivors but also we can refuse to be silent and continue to speak about the atrocities committed.” She added: “It is also important in the UK to Celebrate the Kurdish people and enjoy the joy, pride and the beauty of the Kurdish people and its nation and make sure that is known within our country. We must make sure all the British people know the wonders of Kurdistan and its culture, but also how much we owe to the Kurdish people and the KRG for their support to protect our liberty and freedom that we are so lucky to have.”
The commemoration was concluded by a speech from Gary Kent, Sectary of APPG on Kurdistan stating that: “Marking the past helps put down a marker for the future. The Kurds matter immensely to Iraq, they matter immensely to the UK, and they must matter much more to the world as a whole. He also delivered a message of support on behalf of the Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, the Chairman of APPG on Kurdistan who was not able to join. He said: “I am proud to be a friend and proud to see how the Kurds refuse to be imprisoned by their history while making sure that the history of repression and genocide is understood by the wider world and each new generation.”