Mourning the Kurdish victims of the Black Anfal Campaign

Mourning the Kurdish victims of the Black Anfal Campaign
Comment: The generational wounds of Saddam's Anfal campaign, also known as the Kurdish genocide, have yet to heal, writes Aras Ahmed Mhamad.
6 min read
25 May, 2016
Kurds continue to fight for truth and justice over the Anfal campaign [Getty]

As Kurds, at this time of the year, we mourn one of the most atrocious genocidal campaigns of the 20th century, committed against innocent civilians by the Baath regime's vicious army and its proxies. And those who participated in the Operation Anfal - Anfal literally means "spoils of war" - are still roaming free in the Kurdistan region.

Family members of victims boycotted the 28th annual commemoration, demanding the Kurdistan Regional Government provide an honourable livelihood for relatives, and to return the bodies and earthly remains of their loved ones.

April 14 marks the commemoration of the ethnic cleansing campaign, in which 182,000 people - including women, children and the elderly - were killed or taken to the heart of the Arab desert in the Nugra Salman prison. But relatives of the victims have, particularly in the past few years, boycotted the commemoration - accusing Kurdish officials of failing to acknowledge their requests and instead using the occasion as a public relations opportunity.

Shalal Abdul, mayor of Tuz Khormato, and Amanj Muhammed, mayor of Chamchamal district, released statements saying they made arrangements to commemorate the occasion, but later decided to cancel planned events due to protests and objections by relatives of the victims.

The relatives warned the KRG about possible demonstrations if compensation were not issued soon, and reaffirmed that "no activity is allowed to be held".

The security forces have even prevented victims' relatives from entering the Anfal Monument in Chamchamal, expecting extensive rallies and disorder.     

The KRG should have rebuilt the damaged villages, compensated the victims' families and created a monument in Hawler, the Kurdistan region's capital, in order to unite the Kurds.

The victims' relatives accuse Kurdish authorities of sheltering participants

The Armenians used their genocide at the hands of the Ottomans as a mechanism to unite and declare independence and run their own affairs, but Kurdish officials have recently reduced, after 25 years of self-rule, the monthly compensation paid to victims' families.

Relatives of the Anfal victims receive only $350, after the KRG cut $120 in 2014. Moreover, payments have been delayed at times for up to six months due to, according to critics, corruption, nepotism and mismanagement of oil revenues.

The victims' relatives accuse Kurdish authorities of sheltering participants, including Jash u Mustashar - Kurdish mercenaries - and other culprits who are now living in the region. The relatives have several times asked officials to arrest perpetrators and send them to court.

Ali Bichkol, a veteran peshmerga fighter, says that he and his peshmerga friends know someone that killed eight peshmergas in the past. This "mercenary" has been retired by the KRG's Ministry of Peshmerga and has reportedly received nearly 2.5 million Iraqi dinars ($2,120).    

Out of 300 mass graves in the deserts, only five have officially been inspected. The remains of 298 bodies of those who were interred have been returned to Garmyan administration, and another 1,500 were returned to Barzan area. 

It is worth mentioning that the international media turned a blind eye as superpower nations helped the Baath regime to protect their interests. They sold weapons and mustard gas  to Baghdad. Other media outlets did not want to jeopardise their own economic welfare and remained silent.        

According to Kurdish journalist Muhamad Rauf, who is also a relative of Black Anfal Campaign victims, 423 people have been directly accused of carrying out the Anfal campaign. Of those, 285 are currently residing in the Kurdistan region.

The KRG established the Kurdish parliament in 1992, later forming the Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal affairs. Nahwi Saeed, a researcher based at Newcastle University, says many legal and political procedures should have been executed in the Kurdistan region by now.

"Truth commissions should have been established, and secret archives of Baath regimes should have been opened and utilised to find the truth and implement the lustration process in the region. In Iraq, the policy of de-Baathification was undertaken by Iraqi governments in the post-2003 period to remove the Baath Party's influence in the new political era. However, no such policy was followed."

Nahwi, whose father was also a victim during the campaign, says that, after the 1991 uprising, Kurdish political parties granted amnesty to the Anfal perpetrators without asking victims' families for permission. In addition, no apologies were given to victims' families by the perpetrators.

A purge from political circles of those responsible could have played a significant role in democratic consolidation, trust and genuine reconciliation after the 1991 uprising. However, these actions to see justice were totally ignored, mostly for political reasons.

After the 1991 uprising, the Anfal perpetrators were rewarded by the two ruling parties with high political positions. Thus, one can say that no justice has been served in the Kurdistan region.    

There is no guarantee that the Kurds will never again experience another Anfal campaign

As well as destroying houses, looting, demolishing agriculture, and a tendency to eliminate Kurdish identity and Kurdish resistance, the perpetrators raped women and seized young girls.

The abduction of young girls and the subsequent rapes paint the horrendous psyche of the Baath regime in a similar light to that of the Islamic State group in Shangal in 2014.

IS, like Saddam's army and mercenaries before it, destroyed the infrastructure of the city of Shangal, killed the men and enslaved the young girls and women as spoils of war. News reports indicate more than 5,000 Yazidi females were taken by IS and male prisoners were either killed or indoctrinated.

There is no guarantee that the Kurds will never again experience another Anfal campaign, unless there is internal unity - not only to survive but also to remain strong in the face of external tyrants and foreign oppressors.    

In Operation Anfal, between 1986 and 1989, 4,000 villages were levelled to the ground, and a million people were forced to flee their homes. Some 3,100 mosques and 100 churches were completely devastated. Two million heads of livestock were killed. According to observers, 90 percent of the Kurdistan region's villages were wiped off the map, while 15 million mines were planted to prevent people form returning to their villages.

Moreover, 1.5 million villagers were sent to compulsory work camps.

"It is not just money that matters to victims, rather along with material reparations, symbolic reparations are vital. The victims need truth and justice," Nahwi explains.

Instead of grieving with and pitying the relatives of the Anfal, releasing empty statements and orally condemning this heinous act, the KRG should have been working to heal the deep psychological wounds of the relatives of victims, including support to provide them with a better quality of life.

Anfal was not only an operation to ruin Kurdistan's land, threaten Kurdish people or anfalize the villagers in a bid to undermine the Kurdish Liberation Movement and its peshmerga, but it was a pre-planned devilish agenda to eradicate and extinguish Kurds from the face on earth.

Aras Ahmed Mhamad is a freelance journalist. He is the Founder and Deputy Editor of SMART, an independent English magazine that focuses on literature and society. He has contributed to Fair Observer, The World Weekly and Your Middle East, among others.

Follow him on Twitter: @arasok

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.