Taimoor: sole survivor of the Garmyan Anfal campaign (part 2)

By Taimoor Ahmad & translated by Yasin Aziz:

Anfal victims

Anfal victims

Taimoor Ahmad was 12 in 1988 when Saddam’s Anfal campaign began in Garmyan/Calar. This is part 2 of a translated summary of his interview with the Kurdish journalist Aref Qurbani, which appeared in Kurdish in the book, ‘Taimoor, Only Survivor of the Anfal Campaign’.

You can read the first part of Taimoor’s story here: Part 1

Many soldiers guarded the place; they wore greenish-grey army uniforms.  Most had Kalashnikovs. A few had pistols, and they came with lists looking for some names, or that is what is seemed like they were doing. We were being held in a huge, two storey circular building and, once they brought anyone in, there was no way to escape.  We were not allowed to leave the building.  We only knew about what was happening outside from newcomers who came from other villages. My father listened as they brought news of where the army was and how many villages had been destroyed and looted.

I do not know if anyone tried to escape, but as I went with my father to the top of the castle, we saw that thousands were on their way towards the Quoratwo castle. It looked as though all the Garmyan area villages had been destroyed, and they had arrested all the villagers.  I once heard my father tell my uncle, “If it were not for my family, I would have escaped”.  I was very sad for my father, as he wanted to escape.  But he would never leave us behind.

I wish we had gone to my uncle, when he sent a message telling my father to surrender and go to the army.  He was not sure: as it was a big war, he thought he would be killed somewhere for the Arabs.   My father was also worried about us.  If he had left, what would have happen?  But, I wish he had gone, anyway. As I later discovered, no matter what we did, for the government, ‘We were Kurds, and we all had to die.’

Taimoor Ahmad's book

Taimoor Ahmad’s book

For ten days, we all were kept there. On the eleventh day, they brought big lorries, and they started loading them up with people. They had lists of names and they wanted to group together people from the same family or the same village.  They were transferring us to Topzawa village near Kirkuk.  I think it took them 10 days to transfer all the Garmyan villagers.  The villagers had to leave all their tractors in the Quoratwo village with the Iraqi army. Every lorry had a guard with a gun.

We the children of the villagers were all scared of the Iraqi soldiers, they were like angels of death, wherever we met them they nearly killed us.  As they came near us, we all were scared, crouched down and trembled with fear.

When we left Quoratwo, we did not know where we would end up; we left most of our belongings and just took our food with some clothes.  On the way, one of my sisters was very thirsty and she picked up a container of kerosene thinking it was water and drank from it.  She started coughing and vomiting, and my father desperately banged on the lorry roof to make it stop.  When we were near an army barrack, we stopped and my father took my sister to the army clinic to get some treatment.

The whole convoy of lorries stopped, and when many villagers got off the soldiers panicked and then forced the villagers back into the lorries.  We were delayed for about three hours.  When we reached Topzawa village, it was like a hell, a big army camp.  It was fenced with barbed wire.   They separated us in groups according to our age and sex.  All the young men were separated, and the old women and old men were put on one side. We were put in different groups, and in different halls.  They kept bringing more Kurdish villagers on passenger buses. So many of us were gathered, God knows how many, perhaps tens of thousands.

When they registered our names, they put my father and uncle in the group of men,  separate from the rest of us.  I was with my mum and my sisters in another group, and my grandma was separated from us in the group of old people.

When they separated my dad, I held his hand tight. I tried hard to grab his hand. I did not want to be separated from him.  My father took out from his pocket 15 dinars Iraqi currency and gave it to me. He knew they would not let me stay with him.  But I tried hard and held his hand tight. At the time I saw tears in his eyes, but he tried not to show any emotion, and told me “Keep that money, you may need it with your mum and sisters”.

My father looked like he knew what was happening. We would not see each other anymore.  But he did not think that the government would kill all the women and children, as nobody thought so.  I tried hard not to let him go, I wanted to be with him, wherever he was going, but a soldier came, grabbed my arm, pushed me away and separated me from my father.  We looked at each other with tears in our eyes.  I just wondered why they were doing this to us.  At the time I could not understand, and did not think they were going to kill all these people.

They treated us worse than cattle. They kicked us and hit us with gun butts.  In Topzawa, we lost all hope. It became obvious they would not let us go free again  when we saw that they were hitting and pushing us in a hurry to separate us from each other and towards the halls.  We all knew they were going to kill all the men, but no one thought that they were going to kill all the families and children.

My father, when he gave me the money, never thought that would happen. He didn’t know that we would never be free to spend that money.  He did not know they would shoot all of us.  Oh God, why should anything so bad ever happen?  We all thought they were Muslim and would have some faith.   We thought only God would be able to save us, but he did not…

I never forget. The soldiers forcibly separated me from my father. I saw in his facial expression, an agony of sorrow, pain of separation, as if his facial expressions were screaming in silence.  They took him where the young men were. My sisters were very young and they were scared to death, and holding on to mum’s dress, as if they were hiding away from the grip of hungry wolves.  I looked at mum’s face and it was full of tears. My sisters were too frightened to cry. They were holding on to mum’s legs as if worried that she was running away.

I always remember that dreadful scene, and I live with it.   My dad, with all the male members of the group who were above 15 years old, were all taken away.

We had uncle Umar, Usman, and a few more families from Kulajo village were with us until we were separated in Topzawa.  They sent the group of old people to South Iraq, somewhere called Negrosalman. Some died there, some returned to Kurdistan after many years.

They were separating all the groups with kicks, pushing and hitting us, not to think about any resistance.  They searched the groups and cheeked for anything that we had on us, even nail clippers, beads, any money, watches or anything of value.  If anyone had any valuable clothes were asked to take them off

There were hardly any food or water, not enough to go around, as we were so many.  Sometimes, we got the leftovers from the army barracks, cold and tasteless, we could hardly eat anything.  There were not enough toilet facilities, it was so crowded, if anyone had a chance, soldiers would harass him, to finish quickly.

Many could not wait, especially children, they discharged themselves where they were waiting, and everywhere was stinking.  The soldiers were criminals, never respected anyone.   I saw them often kicking and pushing old men, another one was pulled by his white beard.  When a soldier kicked, an old man and he fell on his face, blood and dust on his face.  No one would go to help him; we all were frightened.

Once when I tried to go to toilet and was in the queue, I came across a man from our village, I was so pleased to see him, and went to him to ask, ‘Salam Kak Muhamed, have you seen my dad?’  ‘No, I had never seen him, sorry.’  He replied. His face was sad, his reply was cold.  Oh God, what is happening,’ I thought.  I went back to my mum and my sisters and told them, I saw Muhamed and asked him about my dad, and told them what he said, and then we all started crying…Oh God, it was so painful..

I once saw, a woman was giving birth, a few women went to help her, tried to cover her, not let any soldiers see her, but the soldiers came, raised the cover and looked at her, and were laughing at her.  It was so awful to see those soldiers were like vicious animals.  It was so insulting how they behaved.   What an unfortunate day to give birth to an infant, to be born into the hands of criminals to be shot dead.

Those days we passed in Topzawa, we witnessed many horrible scenes.   I wondered why they were so cruel.  I remember when the peshmaga forces brought a few captured soldiers to our village, they never harmed them at all, and they were given food, shelter and respect.  Nevertheless, why we were treated like that?  We were not peshmarga gunmen (as they called them, ‘terrorists’ or mukharibine).  Why they do all these horrible things to us?  I remember in our Kurdish villages, whenever we had strangers, travellers or even the Iraqi army around, we invited them into our homes, cooked for them and looked after them.  We never had cafes, restaurants or hotels, and anyone visiting was always our dear guest, as it is a known tradition in Kurdish villages.

With a few of my friends we often went to do some cleaning for the camp halls, in the kitchen and cleaned toilets in order to make them have a little bit sympathy.  I hoped to get some food from them when I always worked hard to please them.  Once, a soldier called me to give me some food with meat, I was delighted to get that and hoped to take them to my mum and sisters.

However, when I went close to the dish, the soldier came and kicked the plate under my hand, and did not let me eat it or take it away.  ‘Oh God what a criminal is he, they never have fear of God.’  I thought.  I did not understand why they were so hateful, we would never do that, even to animals.

One day, when I was doing some cleaning, I came across a hall full of the villagers belongings: clothes, watches, beads, lighters, and many other things.  Those items belong to our people, as they were stripped of any valuables and belonging when they took them to the execution desert.

They took all the villagers away in big white buses. They were strange white buses with seats back to back. We could not see the driver, and his place was separate from us.  They took us to the execution area in the desert in South Iraq. All the buses were crammed with people.

They did not care whether we were comfortable or not.   In our bus were our family, my auntie Mahssum and her ten children, and Hamdyia my other auntie.  My uncle Usman’s family and the other lady from our village.  There was Piroz Hasan Mirweis’s wife and her children.  Her husband used to be my granddad’s shepherd.  I did not know what happened to him.   I remember that woman was heavily pregnant, on the way she fell ill, collapsed, froth was coming out from her mouth. I gave her some water, she uttered a few words. She thanked me, and pleaded for God’s mercy for me.

We had all my cousins with us: Sardar, Kamal, Jamal, Shamal. They were all my age group, and we were at the same school. There were many more girls and boys from my village, we all were friends.   On the way in the bus, we were too many, hardly any air, no window to see where they were taking us..  It was very hot; we had a little window, very small gap to get some air.  As we were so tired, hungry and did not have enough water, two of our children died on the way.

The bus never stopped to see what was happening.  We put the two corpses aside, and then we were waiting for our death, it was inevitable we all were going to die.  The children who died were about eight or nine years old.  We had been travelling from the evening before, and had no food or water, apart from a container my auntie had with her.  We all were pleading with God to come to our rescue.  There was no fresh air, it was getting hotter and we were dehydrated, thirsty, hungry and getting dizzy.  We were desperate to stop somewhere, even if they would kill us; we just wanted some fresh air.  We felt as though we were being suffocated, and we did not know why were punished like this.  We had no sins, most of us were just children; we had no idea about politics of the day, and what was going on.

We were travelling for hours, but still never arrived.  From Topzawa to the deserts of Samawa in South Iraqi desert was about over 400 miles. That was why it took us so long.  We were locked in the bus.  We could not open the doors at all, otherwise a few of us would have jumped out.  After many hours of travelling, it felt as if we left the paved road and we were going somewhere bumpy and unpaved.

We were on the country roads, and the bus was not going steady anymore. When the bus suddenly came to stop, we got off and were told to wait somewhere.  They saw the two children who were dead, they told us to leave them there and we got off.

At first, I was pleased to get fresh air, but when I looked around at the grey sky, and the limitless expanse of desert, and the soil under our feet was different.  It was just soft sand, was not like our home soil.  I was very scared, and thought, they were going to leave us all there.  I looked around, and everyone was just like me, staring at the empty desert.  They were just like me, worried about what was going to happen.  ’They will leave us all here in the desert without food and water to die in the dry desert heat’,  I thought.

I did not know that we did not deserve even to be left in the desert; they had brought us there all to be killed.  Many more buses were arriving.  It was nearly evening sunset.  There were no army barracks, just a few land cruiser cars that had come with us. They brought a water container, and gave some water to each of us.  That was the only kindness we saw from them. It was strange, we still did not know why they had brought us to that empty desert, and we still did not know what they were going to do to us.

For that little sip of water, our women were very grateful to them.  I do not know why we were so naive as to be deceived with a little bit kindness.  It did not take long before they brought plain pieces of black cloth to tie around our eyes.

After a while, they made us get in the bus again and drove us further into the desert. again.  We all were blind folded in the car, but I was not.  I don’t know why. I could have opened my mum’s or my sisters’ black knots, but I didn’t, perhaps I was too scared.  They drove us about 10 minutes more, then stopped again.  They let us off, this time it looked like this was it; this was our last moments of life.

When I got off, I saw that every bus had stopped beside of a dug out hole in the desert.  All the villagers were standing next to dug out holes, and we all were panicking, oh God, this is it.  No one uttered a word. When later I considered it, I thought that they gave us that little bit of water to make us dizzy and not to be fully conscious of what was going on.

I had never seen mechanical diggers used to make holes in the ground, but the desert ground was so soft, and that was why they used them.  The dug out holes were about 6 x 5 = 30 square meters.

I remember when they ordered us to get into the hole, my auntie fell and died, perhaps had a heart attack. I do not know, she was already dead before any shooting started.  Still no one uttered a word.  I think, it was better to have a heart attack, than being shot like that.  We had done nothing wrong for them to shoot us like that.  It was strange to put all of us in one grave; no burial ceremony, nothing, each group in a huge grave.  We felt as though we were all suffocated; short of breath, we could hardly breathe.  I was next to my mum holding to her dress, crouched as if we were trying to make ourselves smaller, and trembling with fear.  It was sunset, but was not dark yet..

A soldier brought the bodies of the two kids who had died in the bus and threw them into our dug out hole, before they shot us.  Next to each dug out hole was a soldier with a Kalashnikov gun. They had special commando uniforms of green with dark or brown patterns, and had black boots on.  They were holding their guns with one hand and, with the other hand, their index fingers were on the triggers, aiming their guns at us.

As we all were innocent, we had done nothing wrong, I thought God would not let them kill us just like that. We were waiting for God’s mercy and sympathy.  The soldiers were standing on heaps of sand.  Therefore, they looked high above us, and were aiming their guns at us.

It was for about 10 minutes that we were sitting in the dugout holes waiting to be killed.  I heard someone order them to start shooting us; that was why they all started together. They sounded as if they were emptying all their magazines, of 30 bullets each, and twice changed their magazines and pressed the triggers.

They sprayed all of us with volleys of bullets.  It was strange, as if I was supposed to see all that happened.  I often remember those scenes: no way to escape from them, they never leave my sight, my mind.   I was staring at what was happening, panic-stricken and I was looking at the soldiers who sprayed all the families and children with bullets.  They all started quickly. There was no slow shooting to aim at one person at a time. They sprayed us with volleys of gunshots.

Everyone fell onto each other in the space of a few seconds.  I saw most of the people in our group, how they were murdered.  How they fell.  I saw when my mum was shot dead.  She had a white scarf, and the bullet blew her white scarf away.  She fell, and blood was squirting from her head.  I saw blood was coming down her cheek.  Many bullets were coming quickly, I saw my sister Lawlaw: a bullet hit her face and she fell.  My other sister Snoor, as if she was trying to fend off bullets with the palm of her hand to protect herself.  A bullet hit her hand, blood darted out from her hand, and she fell on my mum’s body.  But my other sister Geilas, I didn’t see how she was shot.  She fell on the other side of my mum.  I saw her body lying next to mum.  I saw another bullet hit my other sister’s arm and she fell and curled her body too.

Another woman, which was my mum’s friend, she fell forward, she was crouching, as if she was in the position of doing a prayer.  I saw bullets hit her hip and pieces of flesh and blood thrown around.  I heard my uncle’s wife, Amina Ali Aziz: she was calling my mum’s name and fell to die too.  When the shooting started, all the people were falling like autumn leaves, falling over each other’s bodies. Perhaps there were children who were covered by the weight of many bodies: even if they were not hit with bullets, they were suffocated to death.

The Kalashnikov shooting stopped. Then I only heard the sound of blood, then I didn’t know what made me get up and go to the soldier who was shooting us.  I attacked that soldier who had killed my mum and my sisters, I did not know what I was going to do to him, I just went for him.  Was I pleading with him or was I angry?   I caught his waist belt very tight.  I looked up to his face.  I saw the soldier’s eyes filled with tears.  I felt the time when my father left me and I tried to hold his hand so tight.  He lost the grip of his gun, as the gun was slack in his hand and was pointing downward.  He had two magazine bullets tied together with a black tape. I heard one of his superiors shouted at him in Arabic.   I guessed he told him off and ordered him to shoot me. Then he grabbed my arm and threw me back into the pile of bodies of my family, relatives and friends; they all were my loved ones….

It was strange that the soldier almost burst into tears when I was grabbing his belt, but still threw me back onto the piled corpses.  I heard again someone else shouting at him as if to make him shoot me. He did shoot me, and I got a bullet or more, I don’t know, my back was wounded and I fell and fainted, or at least I died for a while.   When I woke up, there was no one around, only a mechanical digger a bit further away, it seemed that it was busy trying to cover bodies of the villagers in many dug out holes.  I was worried if there was anyone around who might see I was still alive.

I tried to get up. Around me there were pools of blood, it was slippery, the blood was soaking into the sand, all my family, mum, sisters, aunties, relatives, village and school friends were dead.  I tried quickly to get out, I was bleeding myself with severe pain, but scared, it was getting dark. I looked around the mechanical digger was still far.  I got out of our hole, still looking around where I was, scared that if any soldiers were there and saw me, they would shoot me.

I did not know where I was heading.  There were shrubs, thorny shrubs, sand  and nothing else, they looked like dark heaps.  I was scared if they were soldiers with guns ready to shoot me.  Imagine, a twelve year old boy, wounded and bleeding, surrounded by all these threats and with severe pain, but still I was trying to survive.

I saw a car’s headlight, I tried to hide thinking, ‘That must be the soldiers who shot us, who sprayed my whole world of love and happiness, my people with bullets.’  There were places with car tyres, deep in the sand. I hid myself in one of them.  I saw the white land cruiser car come around, there was one man in it, in army uniform, and he did not see me.  He was looking around, perhaps looking for anyone who might yet be alive to kill them.

When the car passed by I got up, but I fell, I did not know if I fainted or fell asleep. I do not know for how long I was not aware of myself.  I heard someone near me, a man in a white dress, he was calling me: Taimoor. Taimoor, wake up, let us go, he sounded like my dad, oh, I was happy to hear him calling me.   I got up and looked around, but nothing was there, the man had disappeared. I was not sure what was happening, was it just my imagination or hallucinating?

I tried to walk, I was passing another hole with many corpses, I saw someone moving, I looked, it was the movement of a child. I called, who is that, in the head light of the mechanical digger I saw a little child, a girl about seven or eight year.  I called her with a whisper: “What are you doing?  Come with me, let’s go”. I called her to come with me.  “No, no I don’t want to leave my mum, I am scared of soldiers.  No, I cannot leave my mum, my legs are stuck under her.  No, I am not coming”,  she said.  I left her, I did not know what to do, I was too young to understand that I should not have left her alone.

I was so scared, I could not do anything about the girl, and was scared that if we talked, there might be soldiers around to hear us and we would give ourselves away.   I tried to go somewhere, every dark heap of sand or shrubs became like a soldier, as if they were pointing their guns at me.  I tried to think what to do, I thought I should take the downtrodden tracks of car tyres in the sand. I tried to feel the sand and took a route. I remembered we were not too far from the paved road, as earlier we came in the bus, was not too far.  I kept trying to follow a route, but often lost it, and still I tried to find a new one.

I was tired, bleeding, thirsty, and hungry.  I still pleaded with God to save me, I was scared that if I saw any car headlights, they would probably be the soldiers again, and so they would shoot me.  I still kept going until I saw a fire in the dark, in the distance, and I headed to the fire, I will try if they are not soldiers’, I thought. I plodded along, and went nearer.  Suddenly I saw moving heaps of dark shadows; there were dogs around me.  They came and surrounded me, big dogs. I was scared if they were going to attack me and kill me, as I had a bleeding wound in my waist and perhaps that would make them tear me to pieces. I was scared, they all were barking at me.  I tried to find stones to hit them with, to protect myself.  I hurled a stone at one of them, to make them keep away from me and it made a screeching noise.

I saw someone came with a torch; it was a man, an Arab man.  He dismissed the dogs and took my hand.  I was somewhat pleased, as he kept the dogs away from me and took me with him.  He took me to a tent. In the tent, there was an old lady, and a young girl.  They took me in, changed my clothes, and washed my wound which was painful.  They tried to clean my stains and put some oil on my wounds.  They brought me a loose ‘dizdasha’ Arab dress.  They took away my bloody clothes, they brought me some yoghurt drink and bread, and I was very hungry.

As I was too tired by then and hungry, I fell asleep where I was lying…

The day after, they brought a pickup car; they took me away to somewhere else.  The old lady and me where at the back, she covered me with her dark overall, she tried to hide me from soldiers.  When we came across police and soldiers checkpoint, they stopped us.‘ Why they were driving so fast?’ they asked  ‘Our lady is ill, we are trying to get her to hospital’,  the driver replied.  They did not let the soldiers see me; the car was high up, and when they had a look, they did not see me.  We were on the way for a long time, a few hours’ drive. We reached a town. I imagined it was like Calar, my town, and I was happy that I was going home. But suddenly I remembered, what home?  My mum and sisters were all murdered and probably my dad too, as he had disappeared and I never saw him again.

I did not know his language, but the man who saved me from the dogs knew a bit Kurdish language, as he used to do army service in the Mosul area, and understood me quite a bit, helped a lot to ease my pains.  I could not tell them anything about what had happened until after a few months, when they had taught me Arabic.  The town I took for Calar was Samawa in South Iraq.

In Samawa, they left me with a family. It was a big family; they had children my age, and I had friends then.  On the way to Samawa, we had stopped somewhere, a man in the car went to a shop and bought me a watch, and gave it to me.  I took mine off, it was broken and I wore the new one.  I was pleased.  With the gestures he showed me, I understood that they cared for me.  There was no threat to my life anymore.

One day, a young man came home, and when I saw him in the army uniform,  like the ones who had shot us, and sprayed us with bullets, I was scared and ran away to hide under a table. That made all the family cry.  They understood why I was so scared of soldiers.  The family all gathered around me and started crying.  The soldier changed his uniform, and came to me and gave me some cake and soft drink, as if to show his presence was not a threat to my life.

Translator’s note: It took Taimoor a few months to learn Arabic, and then he could tell his story to the Arab family.  At first they did not let him go out, in case anyone found out who he was, because the family had a few Baathist neighbours.  When they had any visitors, Taimoor was kept in a different room by himself. Later on, when he went out, he would not talk to anyone apart from the family who had risked their own lives to shelter him. That family would have been punished if the government had discovered that they had sheltered a child from the Anfal campaign.  It was two years before he made contact again with his uncles in Calar. The Arab family looked after him and cared for him like their one of their own.

Taimoor’s book about his survival was published in Kurdish in 2013 in Slemain, by the publishing company Karo.

4 Responses to Taimoor: sole survivor of the Garmyan Anfal campaign (part 2)
  1. HAVAL
    January 1, 2014 | 10:49

    yeasin Aziz did a great work by translating this document which might be used in international court law in the near future.This work great contribution to the case of Anfal.

  2. Yasin Aziz
    January 1, 2014 | 17:11

    I have always lived with and shared the pain of those victims. We all should try to do whatever we can, it is not only of Kurds, it is the cause of humanity.

  3. Yiannis Saveriades
    January 7, 2014 | 07:32

    This is a story unknown to the wider world….
    the KRG should assist its dissemination in all possible ways in Europe, the US, Asia etc

    • Yasin Aziz
      January 8, 2014 | 15:41

      Hi Yannis, this is just part of the story, I am about to finish a book, and will be published soon, includes many tragic stories for publicity about what happened in the last 90 years, since Iraq was created by Victors of the 1st World War. Many Thanks

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