Hoshyar Byawelaiy: A Global Volunteering Symbol

By Ausama Anwar:

The 16th of March is a landmark in the history of Iraqi Kurdistan: it takes us back to the hellish chemical bombardments of the former dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein on Halabja town. This attack left nearly 5000 civilian casualties with the complete destruction of the town.

This date could never be forgotten. All of us here, from different walks of life and from different parts of the civic society – NGOs, governmental and non-governmental institutes – remember this atrocity. Therefore, just few weeks ago and as part of our Zamwa organization’s projects, we decided to do something beneficial and inspiring as an active reaction to such a terrifying memory.

A week before the 16th, while discussing our plans, we thought about honoring a popular persona from Halabja. Among the many candidates we couldn’t find someone more deserving than Mr. Hoshyar: the mine defuser who has been working in the mine fields for more than 26 years.

Hoshyar Byawelaiy

Hoshyar Byawelaiy


We knew just a little about Mr. Hoshyar until the day we visited him and heard him tell his own story.

As he told us: he started struggling as a rebel against the Al Ba’ath regime in 1986, during the peak of the Iran-Iraq war and when the Kurds rallied to an armed fight against the dictatorship. Both warring countries planted hundreds of thousands of landmines across the borders that you can still find to this day. They are mainly over the mountains of southern Kurdistan where Halabja town (which recently became the fifth governorate of the Kurdistan region) lies.

Without any prior experience, Hoshyar started removing mines from places used by the Peshmarga. His short courses on mine defusing in Iran were not sufficient to give him the degree of professional expertise he now has.

In 1986 he lost one leg because of a mine in Bamo Mountain near Halabja. In 1991 he lost his other leg in another mining incident.

Later on, he was badly wounded for a third time while working in a minefield. He says he has been severely wounded seven times in all, which implies that he has escaped death seven times; yet he’s still alive.

in the early 90s an NGO called Peace Winds Japan took him to Japan, where he underwent medical treatment and got two electronic prosthetic legs. Altogether Hoshyar has lived in Japan for more than 12 years. He admires that country and feels indebted to it. He has even painted Japan’s flag in his backyard and displayed it in his half-built mine museum near his village of Byawela.

Before getting to know him better, we were wondering why the story of this hero has gone largely unrecognized. But, after an hour of talking, he showed us the prizes and medals he has received from Kurdistan’s leaders. That was really consoling. Indeed, not only do these leaders admire him, but also the local people adore him and admire his hard work to save lives. Such is their appreciation of his sacrifices that several villages, buildings and schools have been named after him.

Shortly before we visited Mr Hoshyar he had gone away to clear a field full of mines that has been reported to him by a local couple. He has always, and always will, carried out these dangerous missions for free! Yes, he does all the mine clearings for free and doesn’t ask for any payment in return. His work is totally benevolent.

Mr Hoshyar simply explained that he has a monthly salary as a retired Peshmarga which he can live on. As we finished our meeting, he criticized the mine defusing institutes. He argued that they work too slowly and carelessly. “If they can clear a field of mines in a month, I can do it in a week; if they do it in a year, it will take me a month” said Hoshyar confidently.

Hoshyar has devoted his life to defusing mines as a volunteer. He has defused and removed hundreds of thousands of mines, equal to 540,000 km2 of cleared land. He has saved around 70 people whom had become trapped in mine fields, and evacuated 160 dead bodies from the fields that no one elese could get into. Hoshyar has been acknowledged by many local and foreign media, such as Al Jazeera and BBC. In this context you can watch the BBC’s report on him in 2011:

In conclusion, the name Hoshyar is a token of courage, volunteering and determination par excellence, not only for me or for Zamwa, but for Kurdistan! I believe also that what he has done is not only for Kurds or Kurdistan, but for the entire humanity. Hence, I can declare that Hoshyar is a global volunteering symbol who we can look up to with pride and feel the honor of his deeds drenching our veins.

Ausama Anwar was born in 1994, in the capital of the Kurdistan region, Hawler. He is a writer and author of two books. ‘A Gate to the Intellectual’ is dedicated to youth generally with an intellectual background. ‘Hidden Idea: Some Samples from Movies’ is a work of creative movie analysis. Ausama is also a freelance journalist and President of the Zamwa Society Development Organization.


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