“A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” Stalin apparently said this to Churchill on the news of the death of a close friend of the British Premier.
The cynical saw speaks to a wider truth concerning human tragedies. We find it difficult to understand death on an industrial scale.
This is especially true of genocide which is defined as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group”.
The Iraqi Kurds are trying to encourage the world to understand that a decades-long process of genocide killed hundreds of thousands of people and that it remains a living legacy that affected almost all people in a region just twice the size of Wales, or about the same size as Holland.
But talk of how nearly 200,000 people died in just the last stages of the genocide is difficult for many people to take in.
Joanna Hunter of the Hull Daily Mail has brought part of this to life. She focuses on the abduction and murder of 8,000 men and boys from the Barzani tribe of Kurdistan in 1983.
She has interviewed Dawood Yahya Barzani, who was just nine at the time and “watched in horror as the men in his Iraqi village were rounded up and taken away by the army.”
Dawood tells her that “They arrived early in the morning, about 4am. They were terrifying but we were used to seeing them. It usually meant a beating or an execution. But this time there were hundreds of them. They started searching all the houses, telling us that Saddam had called a meeting and all the men were to go. My father and brother suspected it was a trick and hid.”
Hannah Arendt wrote of the banality of evil concerning the Holocaust and this observation from Dawood puts it in the Kurdish context: “The soldiers had a measuring stick and no matter how old you were, if you were taller than the stick, they took you.”
She describes how Dawood’s cousin, Jemal who was just 15 but tall for his age, was loaded onto a truck along with his uncle and four other cousins. The men were taken from their families and taken to southern Iraq.
The women and young boys left behind were never to see any of them again: “the camps had no men left, only women screaming and wailing, surrounded by small children. We never saw my relatives again. There was no human rights there and I was only a boy. I couldn’t do anything.”
Hunter points out that last year, the Iraqi Supreme Court found six former Baath Regime officials, including former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, guilty of murdering the men and boys, some of whom were as young as 13.
The court ruled this mass slaughter was an act of genocide. The Justice For Iraqi Kurds campaign urges the British Government to follow suit.
Dawood told the Hull Daily Mail: “I do know that what happened to them was genocide and I ask everyone to sign the petition for recognition. If the British Government recognised this it would mean I was being treated like a human being again. If they accept it, it will give us the right to tell our story. I think if they look at it they will accept it, it’s not like we are lying or making it up. I want to let everyone know how the Barzani tribe was treated.”
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK, said: “We need international recognition of the horror endured. Recognition is the first step towards prosecuting those individuals who were responsible for the genocide in Iraqi Kurdistan. As well as mass shootings, the Kurdish people were attacked with chemical weapons. The companies that sold these weapons are still operating and still need to be brought to justice. Saddam Hussein was never tried or convicted for the genocide. He might be dead but justice has not yet been done. Now we ask the British Government recognise formally the genocide which took place so Kurdish people in Iraq get the justice they deserve.”
Visit http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/ petitions/31014 to sign the petition, which urges the Government to recognise the genocide against the people of Iraqi Kurdistan.