DEBANA, Kurdistan Region — Kurdish people marked the 29th anniversary of the genocidal Anfal Campaign on Friday morning in the Debana village of the Garmiyan region where many of the victims were marched to their deaths or forcibly disappeared.
Survivors and family of the victims remained focused on two main demands: bringing back the bodies of their relatives believed to have been buried in mass graves by the former Iraqi regime in the center and southern parts of Iraq, and trying the perpetrators in the court for their crimes.
Kurdish officials and public figures laid wreaths of flowers to honour the victims in Debana village, including by the Minister of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs Mahmood Salih Hama Karim.
Karim said that they are working hard with the authorities in Baghdad to locate, and later bring back the remains of the victims to the Kurdistan Region, responding to the main demand of the survivors.
The Kurdish government said that the anniversary comes as the era of isolation has ended, and the Kurds have won “strong friends and allies” in the Middle East and across the world.
A woman who said she lost several members of her family in the genocide, including six siblings, and her step-mother, told Rudaw that her father, a lone-survivor in his family, had refused to attend the anniversary.
“My father has never attended any of the Anfal memorials, and will not do,” she said, “because they do not want to come to the Anfal anniversary, what they want is to try those who caused this nation this tragic event to be tried in the court,” she continued, making reference to those people who are said to have helped the Iraqi regime in its campaign against three Kurds, but never were tried.
She said that his father does not want to listen to “lies” from Kurdish officials who read statements on such occasions.
“In our family, my father is a lone-survivor. None of his relatives survived,” she added. “Three of my sisters, three brothers, my grandmother, and my step-mother all were Anfalized.”
Kurdish authorities have said that as many as 182,000 Kurds were killed in the systematic series of attacks in 1988, with some 4,000 villages destroyed.
The rights organization Human Rights Watch, which defined the atrocity as genocide after conducting its own investigation published in 1993, stated the eight-stage military campaign resulted in “the deliberate murder of at least 50,000 and possibly 100,000 Kurds.”
Baghdad takes responsibility
The Kurdistan Regional Government stated “with great sadness” in a statement on Friday that 14 years on since the fall of the Baathist regime, Baghdad has not yet compensated the victims of Anfal.
The Iraqi parliament, as it marked the Anfal genocide in Baghdad on Thursday, voted “in principle” to recognize April 14 of each year as a national date to remember the Anfal crime; also, to set a fund to compensate the survivors and relatives of the victims, to establish a center to document the evidence regarding Anfal in order to promote the cause on the international level, and to set up a memorial in one of Baghdad’s yards in memory of the Anfal victims.
The motion will need to be voted on in Iraq’s next session in order to become law.
Aram Sheikh Mohammed, Iraq’s deputy parliament speaker, himself a Kurd, said that in the past it used to be the case that Baghdad was sending orders to carry out genocide against the Kurds — meaning that it was about messages of war — but now they are remembering the victims in the capital, sending messages of peace.
The parliament’s speaker Salim al-Jabouri, who also attended the memorial in the Iraqi parliament, said that Anfal showed Saddam Hussein’s “cruelty and brutality against the Kurdish people in Kurdistan.”
Both the Iraqi government and parliament have recognized Anfal as genocide perpetrated by Iraq’s former ruler, Saddam Hussein, against the Kurdish people.
Many of the victims were also Turkmen and Christians, but the majority were Kurdish families, according to Iraqi and Kurdish official investigations.
The United Kingdom, Sweden, and Norway have already recognized Anfal as genocide, and the Kurdish government works to promote the cause, and seek more recognition.
This year’s anniversary, entitled by the Kurdish government, was themed around Kurdish sacrifice, and Kurdish unity for independence — in light of the renewed Kurdish efforts to hold referendum on Kurdish independence in Kurdistan Region, and possibly in the disputed areas, some of which were affected by the Anfal campaign.
The Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) statement said that the nation of Kurdistan remembers the victims of Anfal as the Kurdish Peshmerga are engaged in fighting the ISIS group, an extremist group that launched an ongoing genocide against the Yezidi people in 2014.
While the Anfal genocide happened at a time the Kurds had few or no friends at the time, the KRG says that now is different.
“The Kurdistan Region is no longer alone, and is not isolated. It has strong friends and allies in the region, and in the world,” the message reassured the people of Kurdistan, while calling for unity between the Kurdish parties “post-ISIS,”just as the Kurdish parties did in early 1990s when it formed the Kurdistani Front that later on resulted in the birth of the KRG in 1992.
UK’s Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, who was in Erbil meeting with Kurdish officials this week, paid tribute to victims of the Anfal campaign.
“That this campaign was conceived, sanctioned and executed by a state against its own people is beyond comprehension and is a stark warning of what happens when evil is left unchecked,” Ellwood said in a statement, as he explained the British contribution in support of the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces in their fight against the ISIS group.
The campaign took its name from Surat al-Anfal in the Quran which was used as a code name by the former Iraqi government for a series of systematic attacks against its Kurdish population, conducted between 1986 and 1989 and culminating in 1988.