Vital questions remain unanswered

Over 13,000 books from Halabja remain in Iran 36 years after chemical bombing

HALABJA – As the city gears up to commemorate the 36th anniversary of the devastating chemical attack by the former Baath government, over 13,000 books from Halabja’s public library remain unreturned from the Islamic Republic of Iran. These books were transported to Iran in the chaos following the attack on March 16, 1988.

Omar Mohammed, the director of the Halabja Public Library, told 964media that the books were moved to Iran during the attack. “Dr. Kamal Fuad managed to bring back only 250 books to Halabja,” he added.

Kamal Fuad, a notable figure in both political and cultural spheres from Sulaymaniyah, co-founded the Kurdistan Patriotic Union in 1975.

“The books are now housed in a library in Sahneh, within Iran’s Kermanshah. Despite repeated requests to both the authorities and the Kurdistan Regional Government Ministry of Culture, efforts to retrieve these books have been unsuccessful,” Mohammed stated.

Former Minister of Culture Khalid Doski, was made aware of the situation during his time in charge and had expressed intentions to resolve it, responding to calls from Halabja’s youth and literary scene for the return of the books. However, little progress has been made.

In 2015, Dlawar Bamoki, a young activist from Halabja, launched a campaign that collected 5,000 signatures demanding the books’ repatriation. The petitions were submitted to Iranian consulates in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, as well as to the KRG’s leadership.

Mohammed noted that among the missing volumes are rare books unavailable in other libraries in Erbil or Sulaymaniyah. Before the 1988 bombing, Halabja’s library was the second largest in Iraq, following only the Public Library in Baghdad.

The Halabja Public Library, established in 1936, now holds over 100,000 items in Kurdish, Arabic, Persian, and English. Mohammed remains optimistic about the books’ eventual return from Iran, which would significantly enhance Halabja’s cultural legacy.

Efforts by 964media to contact Azad Tofiq, the governor of Halabja, were unsuccessful as his phone was off.

The Iranian Consulate in Sulaymaniyah had previously claimed that the books were disposed of due to contamination from the chemical attack. However, this explanation is met with skepticism in Halabja, particularly because the library was located about 600 meters from the attack site, suggesting that direct contamination of the books was unlikely. The successful return of 250 books by Kamal Fuad inspires more skepticism.

Halabja, now officially recognized as a governorate by the KRG, is situated near the Iran border, roughly 83 kilometers southeast of Sulaymaniyah. The chemical attack on March 16, 1988, was part of the Anfal campaign against Kurds, involving chemical weapons that resulted in thousands of deaths and lasting damage to the community.

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