March 17, 2015

Congress members at annual Halabja Commemoration announce bill to recognize the Kurdish Genocide

Washington, DC, USA ( – Two American congressmen, speaking yesterday at an event to commemorate the chemical attack on Halabja 27 years ago, pledged to introduce a resolution into the House of Representatives to recognize the Kurdish genocide.

Chris Van Hollen and Marsha Blackburn said the resolution would not only highlight the crimes of the 1970s and 1980s, but would also include a section recognizing the crimes committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) against the Yezidis and other minorities last year.DSC_0447

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government Representative to the United States, welcomed their decision, noting that the United States would join several other countries in doing so. ‘In 2013, the British Parliament recognized the attack on Halabja, the crimes against the Barzanis and Failies, and the Anfal Campaign as acts of genocide. Countries like Canada, Norway, Sweden, and South Korea have taken similar steps,’ she said.

Ms Abdul Rahman also recognized the broader history of genocide in Iraq. She said, ‘The Kurdish people have suffered unspeakable atrocities – the deportation and disappearances of thousands of Faily Kurds, the murder of 8,000 Barzani males, the Arabization campaigns in Kirkuk, and the murderous, 8-phase Anfal Campaign. Tragically, many others in Iraq have suffered similar horrors. Under Saddam’s regime, tens of thousands of lives of Shi’a, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkoman, Mandeans, Sunnis, political dissidents, and others were destroyed in the machinery of the military-security complex.’

Ms Abdul Rahman said, ‘In 2014, the Yezidi population suffered what can only also be called a genocide. Yezidi men have been slaughtered, Yezidi women and children sold into slavery, where many remain today.’ She asked, ‘How many times do we all need to cry “never again” before we mean “never again”?’

The Congress members and Ms Abdul Rahman were speaking at an event they co-hosted to commemorate the genocide in Halabja. Speakers included His Excellency Lukman Faily, Iraq’s Ambassador, Her Excellency Pakhshan Zangana, Secretary General of the KRG High Council on Women’s Affairs, and retired American General Michael Barbero, who served three tours in Iraq.

Over 150 people packed the event held in the Congress Visitors Center to honor the victims of the attack that claimed the lives of 5,000 people and injured 10,000 more. The attack occurred at the same time as the larger Anfal Campaign, in which Saddam Hussein’s regime sought to destroy the Kurdish people.

Ambassador Faily called for the crimes of the past be remembered. He said, ‘This massacre was one of many mass murders against the Kurds and other ethnic and religious groups, including the terrible Anfal campaign in 1988, mass graves of the southern and northern uprising of 1991, and the enforced exile and ethnic cleansing of my own community of Faily Kurds during the 1970’s and ’80s.’

Mr Van Hollen told the audience, ‘The attacks in Halabja were part of much larger and much broader campaign of genocide against the Kurdish people that was committed over decades, beginning in the 1960s and beyond.’ As a Congressional staffer, Mr Van Hollen was one of the first to help document the atrocities of Saddam Hussein’s regime. He was instrumental in the 1988 introduction of the Prevention of Genocide Act, calling the failure to pass the bill a ‘stain on the House of Representatives’.

Congresswoman Blackburn thanked the KRG for organizing the event. She said, ‘Remembering is such an important statement to make, that we take the time to recognize the Kurdish genocide.’

She and Mr Van Hollen are active members of the Kurdish American Congressional Caucus, a bipartisan group focusing on US-Kurdish relations. Mr Van Hollen and Ms Blackburn had in 2013 co-sponsored a resolution recognising the Kurdish genocide but the resolution has lapsed and they will now reintroduce it and include more recent events.

Ms Zangana spoke about the recent genocide against the Yezidis and other minorities, in particular the devastating effect it has had on women and children. She said that the people of Kurdistan believe in peaceful co-existence among peoples of different cultures and religions, that the Kurds share with the United States the values of democracy and tolerance. She said, ‘Right now Kurdistan and all Iraq is facing an incredible threat in the form of ISIS terrorists. ISIS wants to attack the political process, the aspirations of the people for democracy and civil society. It wants to destroy everything that is beautiful, everything that is sacred.’

Two short films by the renowned director and producer Gwynne Roberts of RWF World were screened. The first recounted the horrors of the attack on Halabja and its lasting impact on the local population, noting that the children of Halabja were three or four times more likely to get cancer than in any other part of Kurdistan. The second film was about three Yezidis who survived the massacre in Kojo village in Sinjar last summer.

General Barbero said that one of the most profound memories he had of going into Iraq in 2003 was a visit to the city of Halabja. He went on to focus on the role of the Kurdish security forces in preventing genocide, saying, ‘Today the Peshmerga protect over 1.6 million refugees seeking sanctuary in Kurdistan.’ He called on the US to work with the KRG to ensure that these refugees remain safe. He said, ‘All the Kurds ask for is America’s help. The question for all Americans, especially in Washington DC is are we doing all we can to the peshmerga defeat ISIS?’

Read a PDF of this press release here.
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