By Judith Kerby:
It was standing room only at the Omega Centre, Portsmouth, England on the afternoon of Friday 16th March when members of the Kurdish community, representatives of the UK Government and the Kurdish Regional Government, and friends and supporters from city-wide organisations gathered together.
Mr. Brian Futcher, a friend of the Kurdish community for more than 20 years, opened the ceremony, welcoming all those present at the solemn occasion.
No Kurd could remain ignorant of the programme of genocide carried out against his people but, for those less familiar with the details, a short video was shown, portraying the tragedy of Halabja on 16th March 1988.
In the sombre atmosphere that followed, everyone stood for a Minute of Silence, giving those present time to remember their loved ones, friends, countrymen and fellow human beings killed or severely injured through this terrible act of genocide. 5,000 men, women and children were killed in a single day and, in a further act of remembrance, five candles were lit by members of the Kurdish community – survivors who have now made their home in the city of Portsmouth.
One survivor now living in the city was a boy of 11 when this tragedy occurred and he courageously recounted what happened to him and his family on that fateful day. Kamaran Haider pointed out that his was a story very personal to him, but similar tragedies were being repeated throughout Halabja for thousands more who, like his family, had been celebrating their short-lived freedom from the Iraqi regime but were also fearful of possible repercussions: fears that were all too dreadfully born out.
Everyone was deeply moved by Kamaran’s account of losing his entire family, along with everyone else in their home-made shelter, and of lying sick and traumatised for three days before being rescued by Farsi soldiers. The following speakers expressed their sorrow at such suffering and the need to recognise that the world had stood by, inactive, whilst such atrocities were committed. It is the responsibility of all of us to do whatever is necessary to prevent such horrors happening again.
The ceremony closed with a further address from Mr. Haider, representing the Halabja Chemical Victims Society, and on whose behalf the ceremony was organised. In his closing words he emphasised the purpose of this event: first to honour the victims of 16th March 1988, second to increase the knowledge and understanding of what happened to the Kurdish people under the Iraqi regime and, finally, to encourage people to participate in getting the world to acknowledge that the loss of thousands of Kurds was, indeed, an act of genocide.
Before departing, everyone was encouraged to support an e-petition to the UK government (please see below), to add their signatures in a Book of Remembrance and to write messages of condolence on individual Kurdish flags. Together with flowers, these flags were placed around the Halabja Memorial Tree – which was planted near the city’s seafront in 2008 – by a large group of survivors and their friends.
If you are 18 or over and a British Citizen you too can make a difference by signing the e-petition found at www.e-petitions.directgov.uk/petitions/31014. 100,000 signatures are required to get Halabja discussed and recognised as an act of genocide by the UK parliament.