Updated: Tuesday, 21st November 2017 @ 8:07am

Survivors of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime fight for Iraq-Kurdish genocide recognition in Manchester campaign

Survivors of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime fight for Iraq-Kurdish genocide recognition in Manchester campaign

By Henry Vaughan

Survivors of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime were joined by the people of Manchester on Saturday as part of a campaign to urge the UK Government to officially recognise the Kurdish genocide.

The event at Exchange Square saw members of the Justice4Genocide campaign gather to read out the names of people who died in an ‘endless role call’ to reflect the number of people who were murdered.

An estimated 180,000 Kurds were killed from 1987 to 1988 alone in Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign, the equivalent of a quarter of the population of Manchester, but the full scale of the massacre is still not known.

The atrocity is currently not recognised as genocide by the government, and the campaign hopes that official recognition would be the first step towards the United Nations bringing formal trials at the international court in the Hague.

Campaigners say that many more innocent people were murdered as part of a sustained campaign to wipe out the Kurdish population in Iraq from the 1960s to the late 1980s.

Dr Kamiran Dizayee, who escaped Iraq in 1988 and has lived in Manchester since 1996, spoke to MM about his experiences and the importance of gaining recognition of the genocide of Iraqi Kurds.

A graduate of Baghdad Medical School, Dr Dizayee was drafted into the army in 1986, and after a few months training was sent to the front lines to fight in the Iran-Iraq war.

With the help of smugglers, he escaped through the mountains to a refugee camp in Iran, where he was when some of the worst attacks on the Kurdish population happened in the late 1980s.

Dr Dizayee said: “At the time we knew very little, there was nothing in the news.

“We could hear the attacks that Chemical Ali [Ali Hassan al-Majid] made on villages, but didn’t know the story until later on when we left to the west.

“After the attack on Halabja in 1988 we started to hear more about it, but never expected that a population of 180,000 was wiped out.”

During the 1980s chemical weapons were used to attack the Kurdish population. In one of the most vicious attacks the Kurdish city of Halabja was bombed with chemical weapons, gassing as many as 5,000 men, women and children and leaving tens of thousands injured.

They died slowly, in excruciating pain from chemical burns. Many who survived still live with painful injuries and many children are born with birth defects.

Although Dr Dizayee did not know at the time, a friend who he had become close to through six years of medical school, Kamiran Najmadeen, was taken from his relatives’ village after it was attacked by Chemical Ali.

He said: “Later I found out that Kamiran was taken with the villagers to the south, to a notorious prison used for families taken away, and they were killed and buried, some were buried alive – nobody ever heard about it.

“It was very sad. When somebody phoned me for years after, whose name was Kamiran, it reminded me of him and I always thought that he might be still alive.”

It was not until 1991 when Dr Dizayee returned to northern Iraq with a medical relief team, that he got a real sense of the extent of the massacre.

He said: “You see villages destroyed there, not one or two but hundreds. There’s no more life there, not even the wealthy, and no more people in this area.”

Around 90% of Kurdish villages and more than 20 small towns and cities were completely wiped out during the campaign to decimate Iraq’s Kurdish population.

Talking about the fact that the genocide is not officially recognised in this country, Dr Dizayee said: “[It is] really sad, it’s very important for a massacre on this scale that’s never happened in recent years – for people like this to be wiped out.

“It’s very sad because in a way you are allowing this to happen again if you don’t do anything about it.

“If it’s not recognised – the whole region is unstable, especially Iraq - another dictator might get into power again and it might happen again.

“But for it to be recognised by somewhere like the UK then it will have an impact internationally, to stop this happening in the future, not just in the Kurdish nation but to any minority anywhere in the world – it’s crucial.”

The campaign aims to get 100,000 e-petition signatures by March next year for the issue to be raised in Parliament and recognised officially as genocide.

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK, said: “We need international recognition of the horror endured.

“Recognition is the first step towards prosecuting those individuals inside Iraq and out who were responsible for the genocide in Iraqi Kurdistan.

“As well as mass shootings, the Kurdish people were attacked with chemical weapons. The companies which sold these weapons are still operating and still need to be brought to justice.

“Saddam Hussein was never tried or convicted for the genocide. Justice has not yet been done. The British Government ended the killing when they created the no fly zone over northern Iraq and for that we will always be grateful.

“Now we ask that they recognize formally the genocide which took place so Kurdish survivors living in Manchester, and in Iraq, get the justice they deserve.”

Hundreds who fled Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime now live in Manchester, but hundreds of thousands of men, women and children did not escape.

Dr Dezayee, who is heavily involved in Manchester’s Kurdish community, urged British Kurds to encourage friends, colleagues and neighbours to sign the petition.

He said: “It will be a big achievement for the whole Kurdish nation.”

To sign the petition click here.

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