This is my first article in English after a ten-year gap in my journalism career. Women's rights, child abuse and poverty have always been my preoccupation, and I always try to address these issues in my writings. I hope you enjoy reading.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Like cheap horror movies, human tragedies have a short lifespan in our memories. They quickly fade out and ossify into symbols, relics to lock up in museums and never to mention again.
The Halabja Massacre on March 16, 1988 is a most recent episode of these transient horror shows. One of the saddest events of modern time, even by our violent standards, when technology has given human savagery deadlier teeth with ever smarter weapons, does not deserve even a passing mention in world media. The sad memory of thousands of innocent people poisoned to death, thousands more maimed and slowly asphyxiated hasn’t held up to even a quarter of a century. It has vaporized like nail polish and vanished in thin air. In just 26 years, the wholesale slaughter of men, women and children as they prepared to celebrate Nowruz, the new dawn with the outset of spring and recession of dark cold winter, is reduced to banal details—too ordinary, too commonplace, destined to happen every now and then like a drunken hiccup. The memory of the tragedy is lost in the clutter of spot news on lesser tragedies now in progress in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, or the waves of fake images filling our satellites.
They victims of the biggest-ever chemical attack against a civilian population are as forgotten as they were for a long time after the genocide occurred, and during the entire year when they and their brethrens in other Kurdish regions were subjected to a rain of fire and brimstone—the entire wrath of a madman on the loose, striking with age-old vengeance—a ruthless paranoid tyrant locked in a test of will with another in neighboring Iran. And the world condoned it all—too enamored with Saddam Hussein at the time, too preoccupied with a bigger “pariah,” a more immediate threat: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, and his crusade to export his Islamic revolution. Saddam was a friend in those days, a key tactical ally putting his people’s lives on the line in the interest of peace, freedom and Western democracies. Thus, they let it slide, some intentionally, perhaps to cover up their dirty games: prop up Saddam and his killing machine toward higher ulterior motives. It’s either that or the Kurds were expendable. Too restless, too feisty, a potential threat to the geopolitical order conceived in a strategic region.
Even after the gruesome images appeared—a ghost town strewn with charred corpses, humans and beasts alike; farms scorched barren; channels drained of water—, world leaders and international media were still reluctant to get involved. Crude pictures and footages of the slaughter provided by amateur Iranian journalists, who happened to be around, were dismissed as war propaganda, hollow slogans, a ruse by Tehran to evade UN-mandated ceasefire with Baghdad.
So they continued to look the other way; and the pockets of protests by Kurds around the world were too insignificant to awaken public conscience; and so were the outcries in neighboring Iran, quiet whimpers among Iranian Kurds and conscientious poets, writers and musicians like Seyed Ali Salehi, Kayhan Kalhor, Ali Ashoori, Farhad Gooran, Nahid Agrehi. They shed tears over the catastrophe with dirges, eulogies and requiems—until that too phased out.
Twenty six later, only a museum in Halabja—“Peace and Reconciliation”—stands as a testament to this darkest quirk in human experience, a shrine filled with heartrending images and relics: charred remains, scorched fields, mangled objects. But this humble temple is dwarfed by frenzy of reconstruction and modernism in Iraqi Kurdistan, an attempt to forget the past and move on to the future: a tiny slice of the Kurdish population has come close to its dreams after a long painful struggle for dignity, autonomy and national identity, following a long record of defeats, betrayals and setbacks.
But, mind you, this too could prove to be short-lived—if Kurds fail to learn from the past, if mania for comfort and prosperity blots out history, if the glitter of black gold pumped feverishly to afford a bourgeois lifestyle blinds them to other threats lurking. Kurds can’t bury the past for good; can’t lock bones and skeletons in vaults and museums, hoping to build a castle upon the ashes, amid lush green meadows where the new generation of cows and sheep roam and graze. A new dawn, a rebirth of spring with fresh wheat shoots.
As Kurds approach another new year, as snow melts down the mountains and hills break out in green; as children turn out in resplendent clothes chasing sweets and flowers; as young women rush into bridal gowns in time for the festivities; let’s be alert! Let’s make sure this pause in suffering won’t turn out to be just a drunken hiccup in happiness and prosperity.