A Few Days Life of Revolution in Halabja: Introduction

Yasin Aziz

By Yasin Aziz:


When Iraq was founded by the British Empire in the 1920s and handed to the Saudi tribal Arabs, it was promised that Kurds’ cultural rights would be respected, that they would enjoy a kind of autonomy and their local rulers would come from among themselves to administer their affairs. As the Iraqi prime minister Abd al Muhsin al Saadun warned the Chamber of Deputies on January 21st 1926:

“This nation cannot live unless it gives all Iraqi elements their rights … The fate of Turkey should be a lesson to us and we should not revert to the policy formerly pursued by the Ottoman Government.  We should give the Kurds their rights.

“Their officials should be from among them: their tongue should be their official language and their children should learn their own tongue in the schools.  It is incumbent upon us to treat all elements, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, with fairness and justice, and give them their rights.”

This turned out to be nothing but empty promises that were never applied, not particularly from him but from the ones who followed, with a policy of repression by a tribal Arab regime. It was all to fool Kurds into supporting the new Iraqi government and for this government to be accepted at the League of Nations.  They never applied the principle of fairness outlined by the League of Nations.

This is a story about the modern history of Kurds exemplified in the life of the inhabitants of Halabja, especially since the overthrow of the Iraqi Monarchy on July 14th 1958.  The author was born in Halabja in mid 1950s when many changes were taking place, for better or worse.

This story mainly covers his generation’s experience. It tells what happened, how people lived, what kept them going despite the dangers of revolution, the reprisals arising from dictators’ policies of subjugation, and the threats of imprisonment, torture and killing.

There are many stories about suffering of Kurds and Shi’ite Arabs, which grew in the era of Saddam who dragged Iraq and many parts of the Middle East into a quagmire of internal and two external wars, costing the life of millions of Kurds, Arabs, Iranians, and many Europeans in the allied forces and humanitarian organisations.

Various aspects of the situation are seen through the viewpoint of the author and his contemporaries, in a situation that politicised the lives of so many, whether they liked it or not.


Halabja is “a small town of about 70000 population on a high ground at the east end of Sharzour plain, on the Iranian border in South Kurdistan, North East of Iraq about 75km from the  regional city of Slemani.  The town’s altitude is about 726 meter, average rain in a year is 750mm. It is surrounded by three chains of mountains: Shnerwie is about 2110 metres high, north east of Halabja, Balanbow, south west of the town is about 1560 metres high and Hawraman mountain is from the north to the south east periphery of Halabja is 2160 metres high.

The end part of Hawraman is called Surein mountain, from its extreme south, and it is rising up to 2548 metres high.

The Sirwan river streams down before the Balanbow, deep at the mountain feet towards the Derbandikhan water dam then towards the plain of Jelawla to join Tigris river near Baghdad .

 Halabja is situated on a sloping fertile arable plain. From all sides wheat and barley were grown towards the feet of the mountains for about a mile, but from the south west it is opening up towards the lower and lower fertile Sharzor plain”. (‘Halabja in the arms of history ‘ written in Kurdish language’ by Mr Hakim Mala Salih, p.13,15,19,20).

The word kur in Sumerian times referred to the name of mountain, and the word kurti meant mountain people or tribe.  The Lawian, a people settled in West Anatolia in about 3000 BC called the area Kurdistan. Gondwana meant the language of Kurds (in Kurdish language, gond means village). During the Assyrian period, South Kurdistan was a part of Mesopotamia called Zamw, which covered Sharzour up to the Zagroz/Hawaraman mountain and included Halabja, where the ancient remains of Assyrian barricades still exist, indicating where the Assyrians gathered their forces in their frequent military campaigns in the region.

The Medes, who were ancestors of the ancient Kurds defeated the Assyrians in their capital of Ninava in 612 BC and they established an Empire that stretched the width and length of the Middle-East for over 350 years, after which the Persians took over from the Medes through intermarriage and established the Persian Empire.

The Medes Empire came about as a result of Assyrians keeping coming to demand levies and taxes from the Kurds, which they always refused to pay. So the Assyrians came every two or three years with big armies in a campaign to plunder and kill and burn Kurdish villages and towns. They even crossed the high ragged mountains and a few times reached Lake Urmyia on the other side of the Zagros mountains in East Kurdistan.

This repression, plunder, looting and mass murder brought the Kurds together to form the biggest force in their history to destroy Assyrian forces forever, with the destruction of their capital Neinevah / Mousel in 612 BC.

When the Persians took over from the Medes, Koresh defeated the last Median king Astyages and the Persians went on conquer most of the Middle East and go as far as India and Egypt, until the Sassanid dynasty ended Persian rule, with the Arab conquests and conversion of the peoples of the area to Islam between 7th and 12th centuries AD. Then Saladin Ayubi, the Kurdish and Muslim historic leader, founded the Ayubid Empire in Egypt, which included Syria, Lebanon, Jerusalem , Mesopotamia and stretched to North Africa and the Arabian peninsula up to Yemen.

Saladin united various nations and regions to join his campaign to repulse the European Crusaders that sought to occupy and plunder the Middle East in the name of religion.   The reign of the Ayubid dynasty lasted for about 90 years ( ‘Saladin in his Time’, P.H Newby).

The Ayubid Era ended with Babur who took over from Salih, the last Ayubid, with the occupation of Egypt and this led on to establishment of the Ottoman Empire which endured until the end of the First World War In 1918.

When the allied forces, Britain and France, as the victors of that war, divided the area, South Kurdistan was added to the newly established Iraq, with the condition that all cultural, civil,legal  and human rights of the Kurds should be recognised and included in the Iraqi constitution.

A decision of the League of Nation in Geneva on 16th January 1925 was sent to the British officials in Iraq stating: “The League of Nations put forward a request to The British Empire in Iraq to undertake responsibility for the security and observance of Law and Order in South Kurdistan and to monitor legal and civil rights of the Kurds in the area under protection of British Empire”.

The people of Halabja and Slemani, especially the writers and the learned, were jubilant about the League of Nation’s decision. There were meetings, discussions and celebrations, as they thought that this decision was final.

One of these people was the governor of Halabja, a well known poet in the town called Ahmad Mukhtar Jaff, from the tribe of Jaff in the Sharazour and  Halabja area, who was on a good terms with the British in Kurdistan.   All like-minded people were happy that the British would keep up with their promises and wouldn’t let them down after they got rid of the repressive and backward Ottoman authority in the area.

The news was followed by articles in the papers expressing peoples’ delight – for example, in the ‘Zyian’  (the ‘Life’), a local Kurdish newspaper. There were also meetings and cultural activities and poetry evenings. Poems were written about the news which felt as if self-determination had been announced.

It was considered a boost and encouragement for the development of cultural activities, the use of Kurdish language in schools and publications and the foundation of the Association of Kurdish Scientists and Intellectuals in 1926. Therefore, many learned and well known writers and teachers came forward to participate and contribute.

There followed a meeting of about 300 of the intelligentsia in the main ‘sharawany’, the town’s  Council of the regional city of Slemani . Money was collected, and plans drawn up for future cultural activities.

In Halabja, there were more meetings and fund raising for cultural activities and plans were made for the development of learning and education and to open schools and evening classes to eliminate illiteracy.

But things didn’t turn out quite as it was promised by the League of Nations. In 1932 the Iraqi government was accepted as a member of the League, and the British no longer had direct power over it. Laws were watered down or not implemented and only a few of the ministers and government officials were Kurds.

Despite the attempts of Kurdish intellectuals and some prominent tribal leaders to lobby the Iraqi government and the League of Nations, they all turned a blind eye on the Kurds demands.  Despite many attempts to demand Kurds’ legal rights through demonstrations and protests, no one from the regime considered listening to their demands.

This situation remained until 1945 when the Kurdish Mahabad Republic in East Kurdistan was founded, with the temporary backing of Joseph Stalin. This lasted less than a year, and it ended with the West’s backing for the king of Iran to destroy and abolish the Kurdish Republic. During this period the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of South Kurdistan/ Iraq was also founded.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party was very active in Halabja. The concept of political activity for the liberation of Kurdistan spread like sown grass seeds in schools, youth associations, trade unions, student unions and farmers associations.  There were frequent meetings and discussions and also educational activities using Kurdish books, magazines, patriotic lyrics, songs and poems.

In 1954, the first Nawroz festival was allowed in the Kanyia Qulka district in Halabja. It was attended by many people and also watched by many police because there were fears of an uprising.  In 1955 the Nawroz festival was held at the national park of Halabja.  It was never officially recognised as the Nawroz Kurdish National festivity but instead called the Festival of Trees and Woods.

On March 3rd 1958 there was a mass march in Halabja arranged by the KDP for the election of representatives of the people of Halabja.

That month a document formulating demands of the people was presented to King Faisal of Iraq and to the parliament, the House of Elders, the Prime minister, the main radio station of Baghdad and the main newspapers and magazines that were published in Kurdish and Arabic in Iraq.

This document stated: “We as the Kurdish Nation in Iraq we request that our civil and legal rights that were approved by the League of Nations was signed and accepted by the Government of Iraq from the date of its establishment, we demand that those rights to be included and observed in the new Iraqi constitution for the Kurdish Nation to protect our national, civil and legal rights to be concise and clear with its implementation”.

The Kurds’ demands were refused. The monarchy was overthrown by Arab nationalists in 1958 and this paved the way to the Kurdish September 1961 revolution.  Halabja was one of the centres where the revolution began.

‘A Few Days Life of Revolution in Halabja’ is expected to be published in 2014.

Copyright © 2013 Kurdistantribune.com

One Response to A Few Days Life of Revolution in Halabja: Introduction
  1. Baqi
    November 4, 2013 | 14:59

    Interesting topic.

    Halabja suffering persists thus far.
    Little attention has been paid to the plight of its residents.
    What precisely took place in Halabja, who were involved and what conversations took place 1-8 months later between whom?

    KIM has in its possession some extremely sensitive footage and documents that must be revealed eventually even its for sake of research purposes.
    It was provided to us by an Arab resident of Baghdad. Our people deserve and reserve the right to be cognizant of the truth.
    We have decided not to publish them because its not the right time and it can inflict some heavy damage to our cause.

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