By Gena Mangiaratti:
This year, in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the poison gas attack on the dominantly Kurdish city of Halabja, Kurdish people from all over the world have come together through video to shed light on the meaning of “genocide” in an often-quoted struggle.
The Halabja Genocide occurred on March 16, 1988. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein launched a poison gas attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja, killing at least 5,000 and injuring over 10,000.
This year, Nissy Koye, of Canada, and Tara Fatehi, of Australia, both Kurdish, are producing a video that will launch on the anniversary of the attack. The video will be shown at memorial events both Koye and Fatehi are holding in their respective hometowns, and they have offered the video to be shown at memorial events around the world.
Fatehi similarly produced a Unity Video last year, which focused on the importance of unity among Kurds.
This year’s video, Fatehi said, while in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Halabja, is also meant to highlight atrocities that Kurds have faced over the course of history, and today. She will add English subtitles to submissions received in Kurdish because the target audience, Fatehi said, is non-Kurds.
“We want to spread the Kurdish story to the world from our perspective,” she said.
A few years ago I did an article on Kurdistan — and why it can’t be found on a map — and while I haven’t really written about it since, the story has since stuck with me.
Kurdistan is a region made up of southeastern Turkey, northern Syria and Iraq, and western Iran. The borders of these four countries were established after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, but the Kurdish people were left without a state of their own. To this day, Kurds are faced with the assimilation efforts of their residing countries.
Often, it takes the form of racism.
Fatehi, a PhD candidate in Medicine, is originally from the part of Iran that makes up east Kurdistan. She visited her home in 2004, when she was 14. The visit, she said, opened her eyes to the plight of her own people.
“I don’t see myself as an activist. I just see myself as a Kurd,” she clarified. “That’s enough of a statement, I think.”
In Iran, she said, she saw people get arrested while giving out pamphlets written in Kurdish. Others, she said, were stabbed on the street after loudly speaking Kurdish. She said their crimes were said to be religious, having nothing to do with ethnicity.
But when she suffered appendicitis during her time there, the racial tensions became clear. After the operation, she was given no painkillers. When the nurse asked her why she couldn’t speak Persian (Fatehi’s family left Iran when she was two and a half), Fatehi said in English that she was Kurdish — and was slapped.
Still, the plight of the Kurds in Iran seems to attract less awareness than in, for example, Turkey, where there are fewer ethnic minorities and the racism against Kurds is more evident, Fatehi said.
In the past five years, she said, she has witnessed Kurdish youth in various parts of the world become increasingly active both on and offline through not only politics, but in bringing light to many aspects of Kurdish culture and tradition.
The video will be launched in the afternoon in Eastern Time on March 16, and will be visible on Fatehi’s website, The Kurdish Dream.
Gena Mangiaratti is a journalist based in Massachusetts with an interest in the Kurds.