Commemorating the Halabja Genocide 28 Years Later

The most famous image that came out of Halabja: a father escaping with his new born child killed.

The unimaginable horror that occured in Halabje became symbolised by the image of Omar Osman, the father seen lovingly and protectively clutched his newborn child- but both long dead by the time the western journalists arrived on the scene to take their images. Other scenes involved little children murdered along side their mothers in their front yards. Fleeing families in the streets, and frozen children whose horrified faces spoke volumes of the enormity of what had occured in that little city…

When the chemical attack on Halabje occured, thousands of Kurds were fleeing the brutality of the Saddam regime, even as the more brutal Iran-Iraq war raged on- sparing no one in its path of destruction. This is why you see so many murdered families outside of the city of Halabje, in the deceptively green fields- as if they are merely sleeping dolls playing some cruel game with fate. And 28 years ago this day, my family was escaping that same death and destruction and passing through Halabje. And on this day, where many others died we survived. And by strokes of fate greater than my understanding I sit here tonight, reflecting and knowing that my own family could have been just a passing image of the horrors that occured in Halabje…

Many years later, in the relative safety and luxuries of Australia, when I was teaching politics in university I was always struck by the carelessness of privileged people; of people so fortunate and unaware that they saw politics as a choice; and I felt again and again that familiar friend- that sharp bitter, twist of pain at being reminded that the world is divided into two parts: those who have seen and known the horrors of war, of oppression, of terrorism, of violences so unspeakable that they leave ripples of pain across generations, altering our DNA with its sheer brutality, and those whose blissful awareness continues to perpetuate the oppressive systems and regimes responsible for the immense suffering of others. But for us politics was never a choice…

So, this is not a call for you to know about Halabje. This is not a plea for you to know of our history of violences experienced, of genocides scattered across our history as often as the number of the glorious mountains of Kurdistan. Those who died in Halabje so cruelly cannot speak for themselves tonight. But there are survivors. And if you wish to listen to what the murdered could have said I know what they would have said. Listen. They would have said: that you are just as responsible for what has occured and what will occur again and again if you remain blissfully ignorant, silent and safe in the protective towers of your privilege. And unless you start caring with a vengeance; with an unshakable will and the courage it takes to really, genuinely see the images of Halabje and to feel a consuming flame of pain and resolve so hard that it forever brands your soul towards political action that in the process it reminds you that even alone we can have profound impacts on the world…

28 years later, today in Kobane, we held a moment of silence in the front yard of our office- as did every other office, shop, and organisations across the canton and all of Rojava- and I was asked to commemorate this day for my co-workers present. I did not think Helebje would lead me to Kobane- another historical Kurdish city- commemorating those who died in Halabje; but I was reminded of the immense responsibility to those that can no longer speak for themselves; that even alone we must endeavour to have profound impacts on the world, if only to speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves…

Hawzhin Azeez

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