Co-Chair of the APPG on Kurdistan Nadhim Zahawi MP describes a recent visit to the country and how British people can help the situation by signing the e-petition on recognition of genocide.
When I first became MP for Stratford-on-Avon, it was evident that my constituents were not overly concerned that my family hadn’t lived in leafy Warwickshire for generations. Rather, they just wanted to know that I was on their side, and up to the job of representing them in Parliament. I hope that thus far, I have met their expectations.
But we are all products of our upbringing, and perhaps more so than most, I am very fortunate to be where I am today. I left Iraq for Britain with my family in the 1970s, because my Kurdish father faced prison or death under Saddam Hussein’s murderous rule. And it’s partly because of my heritage that I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kurdistan, and recently visited the area to learn more about the treatment of the Kurdish people.
Under the Ba’athist regime, Iraqi Kurds endured a strategic military programme of discrimination, demonization, removal and death. More than a million people in Iraq have ‘disappeared’ since the 1960s, all presumed dead, most murdered.
Men of ‘battle age’ (which could mean a tall, strong boy of twelve years old) were rounded up and ‘disappeared’. Thousands of women and children also vanished. Evidence also shows that many were taken to internment camps where they were executed or died from deprivation. Hundreds of thousands of people, including children, were buried in hundreds of mass graves which have only been discovered in recent years. Even now, mass graves are still being uncovered.. Hundreds of thousands only escaped Saddam's clutches by fleeing into the mountains, where many more died from exposure to the elements.
The last and most well-known phase of the military campaign (known as the ‘the Anfal’) took place in the late 1980s when about 182,000 men, women and children are believed to have died. To put this into context, that’s enough people to fill Wembley Stadium twice over.
The most notorious incident was the bombing of the town of Halabja by Iraqi planes armed with mustard gas. Five thousand people died a very painful death and thousands more were injured. Many babies born long after the bombing were born with deformities.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kurdistan recently heard moving testimony from one of the survivors who was just eleven years old at the time. His whole family was killed but he survived in a shelter, although temporarily blinded for 40 days. He was eventually distinguished from the corpses piled all around, and received hospital treatment before being reunited with his grandmother.
I am pleased to say that this survivor found safe haven in the UK, and now lives happily in Portsmouth. But his was by no means an unusual experience. And across the globe, survivors of the Kurdish genocide are bravely re-building their lives and their homes. Kurdistan is now the safest part of Iraq, and it has a booming economy, an emerging tourist industry and strong higher education sector.
But the victims of the atrocities still need to come to terms with the horror they have endured. To do this, they need international recognition of the barbaric atrocities inflicted on them.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group’s visit to Kurdistan was deeply moving, and at the Halabja Memorial we pledged to tell the world that Saddam's "Anfal" campaign should be recognised internationally as genocide, as it has been by the Iraqi Parliament and Supreme Court.
Brits can be proud of our role in supporting the Kurdish people in their struggle; it only stopped once the British Government prevented further slaughter by securing a no-fly zone, and Saddam's forces retreated. I now hope that Brits will continue to be friends of the Kurds by signing the e-petition I have tabled calling for recognition of the genocide.
Nadhim Zahawi MP is co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Kurdistan
If you are resident in the UK or a British citizen, you can sign the online petition to recognise the Kurdish Genocide here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014