When in 1991, President Masoud Barzani met France’s former first lady Danielle Mitterrand, he said I wanted to tell her the miseries of the Kurdish people, but he saw that she had just returned from the camps for Kurdish refugees in Turkey. He said she was telling me the stories while crying. “That was my first time seeing a foreigner weeping for the Kurds.” Barzani said.
In that year, millions of Kurds from Iraqi Kurdistan fled to the neighbouring countries of Iran and Turkey. My own family headed to Iran. I was only a child of five or six years old. I was fortunate enough not to lose any of my family members in the mass exodus, but I know many did. However, it was not easy at all, even for us. We were fleeing in harsh weather through mountains with no or little food. People were desperate for a piece of bread, my mother was pregnant and she gave birth to my little brother just after we crossed the border. We named him after the city he was born in, Mariwan.
The exodus came after the Kurds, and also the Iraqis, boosted by promises of support from the international community, not least the United States, staged an uprising against Saddam Hussein’s regime after the first Gulf War. But very soon, the international community turned their back on us after they were satisfied with pushing Iraq out of oil-rich Kuwait.
Danielle Mitterrand, touched by the unimaginable suffering of the Kurdish refugees, stepped in and was instrumental in campaigning for a no-fly zone in northern Iraq and later extended to the south. It was after the imposition of the no-fly zone that the Kurds felt secure enough to return back to Kurdistan and establish what has become known as Kurdistan Regional Government.
In Kurdistan, she is called The Mother of Kurds for her long defence of the rights of Kurdish people. In my home city of Halabja, her statue is only meters away from the statue of the renowned Adila Khanm, the first female mayor of the city before the First World War.
Mitterrand said she became even more emboldened to support the Kurds after she heard about Iraq’s chemical attack in Halabja. Three days from now we will mark the 28th anniversary of that day. The tragedy though is not over, many of the missing children are yet to be found and reunited with their families, if any of their family members is alive at all. Those who were injured still suffer tremendously, and then their numbers decrease as more of them die as a direct consequence of their untreated wounded.
Abandoned and betrayed on more than one occasion, by the Russians in the late 1940s when the first Kurdish Republic in Iran did not survive two years, and then in the mid-1970s by the Americans when the popular Kurdish revolution was crushed in Iraqi Kurdistan. We Kurds tend to believe in the old Kurdish saying: No friends, but the mountains. But just last week, I saw a banner with the Kurdish flag in the background and an inscription that read: ‘Be the mountains’ I dare say Danielle Mitterrand was a mountain to us, a faithful friend, and a dear mother to all.
The famous Kurdish poet Piramerd says “Those who live in the heart of the people will never die.” There she is, alive in the hearts of millions of Kurds.
She helped bring about the autonomous Kurdistan Region. It takes only a few more to make it a Kurdish state.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.