Westminster MPs from the all-party parliamentary group together with British activists from the three main political parties and writers recently joined many others from across the world to attend the international conference on the Genocide in Erbil and the international civic ceremony in Halabja.
These 25th anniversary events also garnered valuable messages of support. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair sent his warm and full support and said that “Halabja was one of the world’s greatest crimes, the first time a Government used chemical weapons against a civilian population. It should always be remembered and marked.”
The official American message honored the victims of Halabja and the Anfal as part of US efforts to prevent future atrocities and help ensure that perpetrators of such crimes are held accountable.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan sent a very important message which saluted the KRG authorities for organizing the conference in Erbil and Halabja as “a testimony to the deep wound opened in the conscience of humanity that is still bleeding even after 25 years.”
He recalled how Turkey had received “Iraqi Kurdish brothers fleeing from the Halabja massacre with open arms, mobilising every resource at its disposal.” He added that Turkey will continue to work with utmost determination so that tragedies such as Halabja never happen again, and so that peace and brotherhood prevail in the region.
He cited massacres and bombardments by the murderous regime in Syria, and how Turkey has “opened its doors to the aggrieved Syrian people and embraced our Syrian brothers in its arms, as we did 25 years ago for our Kurdish brothers struggling for their lives under the oppression of Saddam.”
The message pointedly added that the peoples of the region should be ruled by “leaders who will not resort to cruelty or point guns at them, and that a culture of harmony, tolerance, coexistence and cooperation among different ethnic and sectarian groups prevails.” Baghdad and Syria should take note.
The UK Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, described Halabja as a terrible symbol of inhumanity. His Labour shadow Ian Lucas cited “the dreadful suffering of Iraqi Kurds” and said that we must remember always the attack and respect the loss of its victims which must remain “a continuing lesson for us all.”
Officers of the all-party group have tabled a Commons motion backing the decision of Burt and Lucas to work together and with KRG representatives to try to overcome legal obstacles and find a suitable pathway for recognition by the British Government.
The British Parliament’s official recognition of the Kurdish Genocide was highlighted in speeches by British MPs Nadhim Zahawi and Robert Halfon and seems to have put the continuing global campaign on a new footing. The British Parliament wasn’t the first in the field – that honour rightly lies with the Swedes and the Norwegians – but it is the first major Parliament to do so. This may have started what the Norwegian Deputy Speaker Akhtar Chaudrya told me is a “snowball effect” with parliamentarians elsewhere seeing the need to follow the North European example.
A member of the Scottish Parliament, Hanzala Malik, who was part of a previous all-party delegation, has already tabled a motion which urges the devolved Scottish Government to “consider what support it can give to a growing and global campaign to mark the Kurdish genocide and bring comfort to the people of the Kurdistan region in Iraq, which has many similarities to Scotland and whose people and society continue to suffer the devastating impact of the genocide.” There is a debate on Halabja in the Scottish Parliament this week.
Former French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner also pledged to help persuade the French National Assembly to follow the British example. There is also talk of the German Parliament embracing recognition.
The Iraqi Human Rights Minister also suggested at the Erbil conference that Iraq should ask the UN to set a day for worldwide commemoration of the Genocide. It would be highly symbolic for Baghdad to make that move.
I am no lawyer but acknowledge that there are legal complexities for governments. Important issues of reparations and prosecutions could flow from recognition by governments. But moral and political recognition also has many dividends.
If we don’t remember what happened in the past then it is more likely to happen again. The old slogan, often applied to the Holocaust and anti-fascist causes, is “Never Again.” It’s a fine sentiment but hollow if it doesn’t involve action in real time to prevent such events. The more countries that mark the Kurdish genocide, through parliaments, governments, towns, civic groups, school talks and visits the better. There is a handful of memorials in Britain. There should be more. The 25th anniversary of Halabja has helped develop an international momentum that puts the past Kurdish Genocide and the future of the Kurdish people firmly on the map.