COPENHAGEN, Denmark – Saddam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds should not be forgotten by history and should be taught at schools, said Struan Stevensen, a British MP in the European Parliament and head of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq.
“The horrific oppression suffered by the Kurds under Saddam Hussein must become a necessary part of our children’s education,” Stevenson told Rudaw.
He is part of an increasing number of Western politicians who support the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in formally recognizing Saddam’s atrocities against the Kurds as genocide, and designating March 16 as an international day against the use of chemical weapons.
That was the day in 1988 when Saddam’s regime attacked the Kurdish town of Halabja with poison gas, killing some 5,000 civilians. Photographs of the dead, which included women, children and even dead infants clutched to the chests of lifeless mothers and fathers, outraged public opinion worldwide and became the symbol of the Anfal campaign.
“It is important for the EU and Western countries to recognize the Anfal as genocide, because we must learn the lessons of history and ensure that it never happens again,” Stevenson said.
Saddam launched the Anfal campaign against the Kurdish minority in Iraq in 1987. The operation continued until 1989 and included the use of ground offensives, aerial bombing, systematic destruction of settlements, mass deportations, firing squads and chemical warfare. It is estimated that more than 180,000 people, including women and children were killed. Around 4,500 Kurdish villages were razed to the ground.
In 2012, Sweden became the first country in the world to recognize the massacres against Kurds as genocide. Last year, the British Parliament also formally recognized Anfal as genocide.
Since then, more and more MPs have been pushing for all of Europe and the West to follow suit, among them Britain’s Lord Clement Jones and Robert Halfon, Sweden’s Annika Lillemets and Valter Mutt, Canadian Jim Karygiannis and the Danish MP Nikolaj Villumsen.
Villumsen believes that the Kurds were “betrayed” by the international community in 1988, and points to the Western companies which sold Saddam the materials used to make the chemical weapons.
“Therefore, I believe that we should redress the injustice and Denmark should recognize Anfal as genocide. Not because it will bring the dead back to life, but because it will be a recognition of the sufferings and help to counteract that it will happen again,” Villumsen told Rudaw.
Denmark was one of the countries that participated in the war against Iraq in 2003, which overthrew Saddam. The justification for the war was that Hussein possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and that he had used his chemical weapons numerous times against Iraqi minorities, including in Halabja.
“We as Danes know that Saddam gassed Kurds and we used it as one of the arguments for going to war in Iraq in 2003. But still we do not recognize Anfal as genocide. Thereby, we apply a double-standard,” said Villumsen.
According to the British MP Robert Halfon, the lack of international recognition has caused a “deep sense of grievance amongst the Kurds.” Therefore, he wants Western governments to push through a relevant resolution in the United Nations.
“Recognition would mean those responsible for war crimes could appear before the international court, and compensation would be given to the Kurdistan Regional Government. The Kurds are a nation that does not live in the past, but learns from the past. Recognition would help heal wounds from many years,” Halfon said.
For years the organization Kurdocide Watch, which has branches in many countries, has been fighting to get Anfal recognized. Members of the its international committee, including Newzad Alani, lost family members during the chemical attacks.
Alani is from Sulaimani, close to the Iranian border. When he saw the TV pictures of dead people in Halabja in 1988, he was so shocked that he could not sleep and eat for three days. But when he heard Stevenson’s proposal about letting European schoolchildren learn about Anfal, he was delighted.
“This shows that some Western politicians take our struggle for recognition seriously when they want that schoolchildren should learn about it. If future generations learn about past genocides, then the risk of it happening in the future will be diminished,” Alani said in an interview with Rudaw.
“The threat of chemical weapons is still present,” Alani added, pointing to the use of chemical weapons last year by the regime in Syria, which neighbors Iraq.
According to Borhan Yassin, senior lecturer at Lund University in Sweden, Western recognition of the Kurds’ sufferings will be a moral support. He draws a parallel with the genocide, or Holocaust, against the Jews during World War II.
He noted that “the Jews invested in the Holocaust,” using it to protect the Jews and forcing the international community to morally support the creation of Israel.
“Recognition means protection. Kurds should be aware of that,” Yassin told Rudaw.