Sign In / Up

Add contribution as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Comment as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Login

Not a member Register   Forgot Password
or connect using
 

Email

 

Rudaw

Kurdistan

Halabja: When the Witness Broke His Silence

By Nawzad Mahmoud 20/3/2013
Turkish photographer Ramazan Ozturk shows his iconic photo at the 25th anniversary of the chemical gas attack in Halabja. Photo: Rudaw
Turkish photographer Ramazan Ozturk shows his iconic photo at the 25th anniversary of the chemical gas attack in Halabja. Photo: Rudaw

SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – Turkish photographer Ramazan Ozturk’s “Silent Witness,” the iconic photo of the poison gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, was anything but silent: It spoke in every language, and to all of humanity.

 

It is the dead infants – like the one in his now famous photo of a father who died with the baby he was trying to protect still in his arms – that Ozturk most remembers from that day he spent in Halabja, shooting pictures after Saddam Hussein’s henchmen had finished their murderous deed.

 

In March 16, 1988, as Iraq’s eight-year war with Iran was coming to an end, Iraqi army jets ordered by Saddam’s cousin and enforcer Ali Hassan al-Majid,  attacked Halabja with chemical weapons for nearly six hours. It killed more than 5,000 innocent men, women, children and infants.  Thousands more died from complications, diseases and birth defects in the following years.

 

“I named them silent martyrs,” he says of the dead children, with grief welling in his eyes as the chilling memories flash through his mind.

 

He remembers walking through the streets and homes, taking pictures of dead families: sitting at a lunch table; infants in mothers’ arms; children with their small arms tightly wrapped around a mother or father.

 

“What I saw that day can never be expressed in pictures, or in words,” he said as he passed over photographs of that day.

 

Ozturt had long been familiar with the Kurdish struggle for freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan.  He had frequently made trips to the mountains of Kurdistan where the Kurdish freedom fighters persevered and fought the Iraqi dictator. In 1987, spending five days in the mountains with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, he met its leader, Jalal Talabani.

 

Talabani was surprised a Turkish journalist was willing to take risks to go to the mountains of Kurdistan, since the Turkish government was one of Saddam’s closest allies at the time.  “Talabani told me that I was gambling with my life,” he recalls.

 

  Every time I look at this photo I cry a lot, because it reminds me of the very moment I took it 

The Kurdish Peshmarga helped him sneak into Iran for his journalism work, but he was later caught and deported back to Turkey.

 

“I was in Istanbul when I heard the news about Halabja through the Reuters news agency.  I immediately decided to go to Halabja, and arrived there just two days after the attack.”

 

He says that in some ways the pictures of the Halabja massacre are similar to those of the Jewish Holocaust. 

 

“The pictures from the Jewish Holocaust show that the victims who died in gas chambers desperately tried to climb on top of one another to reach fresh air.  I  saw that many in Halabja had died in groups, indicating they were trying to avoid breathing the poison,” he says.  

 

Asked why “Silent Witness” became the icon of the atrocity, he said: “The picture expresses a father’s love for his baby.  As he was falling to the ground, the father managed to enfold the infant, hoping that would protect him from breathing the poison.”

 

“Every time I look at this photo I cry a lot, because it reminds me of the very moment I took it,” he said.

 

“I saw infants who were still breastfeeding in their dead mother’s arm.  I saw children who had their arms wrapped around their dead father while they were still alive,” he said amid tears.

 

Ozturk said that he had longed to see justice prevail. And when it did, at an Iraqi court 21 years later where Ali Majid – or “Chemical Ali” as he was known – sat in the dock, Ozturk was there.

 

“Twenty-one years later, after the 2003 US-led invasion, the mastermind of the crime faced justice and received multiple death penalties,” Ozturk recalled.

 

When Ozturk was called as a witness, he pulled out his pictures and showed them one by one. On that day in court, “Silent Witness” became the cry of thousands of innocents who could speak no more. 

Tags :
4534 Views

Be Part of Your Rudaw!

Share your stories, photos and videos with Rudaw, and quite possibly the world.

What You Say

some kid from massachusetts | 6/21/2017 11:31:23 PM
Americans simply don't know about the Kurdish independence struggle. We think of Kurds as "those non-Arab people with chicks that fight the...
PLINY THE KURD | 6/22/2017 6:21:03 AM
The usual rhetoric of support to the unity of the four states partionning the country of the Kurds is immoral,shere cynism and is of utmost...
President Barzani: 'We can’t wait anymore' for permission on Kurdish referendum
| yesterday at 09:50 | (6)
Mohamedzzz | 6/21/2017 10:48:30 AM
Decency expects from international community to support an independent Kurdistan to 40+ million Kurds without a country of their own.
Independence | 6/22/2017 3:08:05 AM
All chwar parchy Kurdistan are supporting referendum and Independence Only Aytollah and Goran are strongly opposed. Bejit Xanaqin.
Khanaqin: We may be Shiites, but it’s a big “Yes” for Kurdistan independence
| yesterday at 09:40 | (5)
pre-Boomer Marine brat | 6/21/2017 9:24:45 PM
Of course ISIS blew it up. Their leader filled it with hot air. Get enough hot air in something and that's what happens.
Telh | 6/22/2017 2:07:54 AM
Great outcome. More fruit of Islam for the world to evaluate.
UPDATE: ISIS blows up mosque in Mosul where it declared its caliphate
| yesterday at 11:50 | (2)
Zerdest | 6/3/2017 4:20:42 AM
Kurds were zoroastrians like persians. Zoroastrianism is older than yezidism (mixture of islam, christianity, babylonian, Iranian religions)
KurdsAreZoroastrian | 6/22/2017 1:09:31 AM
What a nonsense, yezidism is a mix religion of all religions, not pure aryan religion like zoroastrianism, which is way older than yezidism.
Iraqi president calling Yezidis ‘remnants of Zoroastrianism’ sparks anger
| 23/5/2017 | (7)

Elsewhere on Rudaw

A designer's dream for Kurdish banknotes closer to reality than ever before 11 hours ago |

A designer's dream for Kurdish banknotes closer to reality than ever before

I wanted to bring back this [lost] confidence more
War of words: Kurdish official calls on Iran's supreme leader to mind own business 15 hours ago |

War of words: Kurdish official calls on Iran's supreme leader to mind own business

By same logic, we are also entitled to talk about more
Barzani tells Mosul tribes that referendum is to prevent new cycle of killing 17 hours ago |

Barzani tells Mosul tribes that referendum is to prevent new cycle of killing

“I will not hide it from you that I am concerned more
0.265 seconds