As many as 182,000 Kurds were killed and 4,000 villages destroyed in the genocidal Anfal campaign carried out in 1988 under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Families of victims shared their memories in Duhok on Friday, April 14, Anfal Remembrance Day.
Mivan Hussein’s father went missing during the genocide. “We do not know anything about the term ‘dad.’ We never called anyone Dad,” he said.
Shirin Remezan last saw her husband and son 29 years ago in a building in Duhok where men were separated from the women.
“It was about torturing women and men, and a lot of suffering,” she said standing in the same building on Friday. “We never forget that day. We cannot look at these walls without it reminding us of that day. It feels as though we have returned back and face torture.”
Kurdish authorities want to turn the building into a museum to at least preserve items that belonged to the disappeared, but plans have been put on hold during the financial crisis.
The international community knows very little about genocides that have occurred in Iraq, including Anfal, said Dr. Maria Rita Corticelli, director of the Center for Genocide Studies at the University of Erbil.
Kurdish and Iraqi genocides are not broadly studied, both locally and internationally. Corticelli believes there are two reasons.
Firstly, not all the genocides have been recognized so they do not gain attention. And secondly, because of the cycle of violence that has engulfed Iraq for decades, it is difficult to study such things during a situation of war.
Corticelli, through the Center for Genocide Studies, is trying to get academics to study the subject here. Researchers face significant challenges, however.
"Here there is a huge problem with the documentation of genocide. It's very difficult to find information,” Corticelli explained. “All the information is scattered everywhere in villages. It's very difficult to gather information – you have to go village-to-village to gather it."
"Another thing here that affects a lot is the lack of civil society. If you have a society where the civil society is strong, you have these groups actually fighting to find the things... it's much easier. There is much more cohesion. And here I see it's very difficult to get that. You have different organizations, there is no collaboration because everything is very segmented. So it's much more difficult to work in a situation like this."
Corticelli believes that because most of the conflicts in the country are of a sectarian nature, that contributes to the lack of a cohesive effort to document and investigate the crimes committed during the conflicts.
She has found mixed attitudes among Kurds with respect to investigating and publicizing the genocides. Many young people, she said, are not interested. They dismiss it as something that happened in the past.
Others, however, are very interested because they have personal connections to the history. “They want to know what happened, because most of the people have family members who were killed or disappeared. So they are personally engaged."
For Corticelli, knowledge of what happened during the genocide and sharing the memories of victims and family members are important factors when it comes to building a just society. "You cannot have a just society without the peace building process,” she said.
Her center is holding a conference on Sunday and a week-long exhibit on genocides in Kurdistan. The goal is to bring people together to talk about genocide, human rights, and peace building.
"The important thing is to educate people," she said.