Kirkuk protests calling for monument at former military site

Iraq’s Kurds mark Anfal genocide with calls for memorials, reparations

ERBIL — Kurdistan is marking the 36th anniversary of the Anfal genocide, a grim chapter in Iraq’s history, with schools across the region observing moments of silence. The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Ministry of Education has directed all educational institutions to honor the victims before classes begin.

After the silence, schools will hold discussions to educate students about the Anfal genocide’s significance and historical consequences. These sessions aim to deepen understanding of the atrocities committed during this period and ensure the events remain a part of collective memory.

On April 14, recognized officially since 2007 by Kurdish authorities as a day of remembrance, the focus is on the genocide’s most harrowing phase near Garmian, approximately 62 kilometers south of Sulaymaniyah. This phase witnessed severe brutality, resulting in a significant number of Kurdish casualties, marking it as a particularly dark period in the eight-stage Anfal campaign.

Nechirvan Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region, described the Anfal genocide as “one of the most brutal genocides in history” in a statement. He reiterated calls for the federal government of Iraq to deliver justice and comprehensive reparations for the victims and their families, noting that while the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Court has recognized the Anfal campaign as genocide, much remains to be done.

In a separate statement, Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, referred to Anfal as an “unforgettable crime” and confirmed the regional government’s dedication to supporting the families affected. Emphasizing the ethical and constitutional duties of the federal government, he called for “the federal government to appropriately compensate all victims of the Ba’ath regime’s atrocities.”

The Anfal campaign, carried out from February 22, 1988, to September 6, 1988, was a systematic genocide orchestrated by Iraq’s Ba’ath regime targeting the Kurdish population. The campaign involved eight distinct phases and led to the deaths of an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Kurds, as reported by Human Rights Watch in 1993. However, Kurdish sources believe the death toll could be as high as 182,000.

Named after the Quran’s Surah Al-Anfal, which refers to “the spoils of war,” the regime used the campaign’s title to falsely portray the Kurds, predominantly Sunni Muslims, as infidels to gain broader support. This misuse of religious context was part of a broader strategy to justify the genocide under the guise of suppressing Kurdish resistance, which the regime viewed as a threat to Iraqi state security.

The most brutal phase of this campaign occurred in the Garmian area, beginning on April 7, 1987, a date coinciding with the anniversary of the Ba’ath Party’s founding. This phase continued until April 20, intensifying notably on April 14, when Ba’ath regime forces executed a large-scale military and paramilitary operation against the Kurdish population.

Victims of the Anfal campaign were forcibly transported in military vehicles, tractors, and civilian cars to mass graves in Qoratu and Khanaqain. The remnants of their belongings continued to be found scattered throughout the area into the late 1990s, a haunting reminder of the atrocity.

The execution of the Anfal campaign in eight phases resulted not only in the loss of thousands of Kurdish lives but also in significant demographic changes in the targeted regions. The overarching aim was to suppress Kurdish identity and forestall any potential future resistance, indelibly marking Kurdish history and collective memory with profound trauma.

In one of the campaign’s most gruesome acts, over 4,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed, including the notorious gas attack on the city of Halabja in March 1988, which claimed the lives of approximately 5,000 civilians. The campaign targeted rural Kurds to dismantle Kurdish insurgent groups and Arabize strategic areas of Kirkuk governorate. Recently, activists, residents, and organizations advocating for genocide recognition protested at the former Topzawa military camp in Kirkuk, calling for its conversion into a monument dedicated to the victims of the Anfal genocide.

During a press conference at Topzawa, Hemin Haseeb, a local activist, detailed the community’s ongoing efforts to have the camp recognized as a memorial site for Anfal victims. On Feb. 17, 2024, a petition supported by 44 writers and activists, along with 22 organizations, was submitted to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, advocating for the transformation of the former Topzawa military camp into a monument.

Located in the Yaichi district, around seven miles southwest of Kirkuk, the camp spans over seven acres. The Baath Regime used Topzawa military camp as a detention center for tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians. The petition states that detainees were segregated by age and gender, and many were systematically killed in phases, with some buried alive in mass graves.

Activists stressed the importance of preserving the Topzawa military camp and establishing a monument to encapsulate the severe war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Ba’ath regime against the Kurdish population. They argued that such a monument would serve as a poignant reminder and historical testament to the atrocities endured by the victims.

The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights forwarded the petition to the Prime Minister’s Office on March 14, 2024. After consultations, the Council of Ministers’ advisory board endorsed the petition, leading the Prime Minister’s Office to issue Directive 3068/241354 on March 27, 2024. This directive tasked the Iraqi Martyrs Foundation with evaluating and providing feedback on the proposal.

Haseeb said that these actions represent initial steps in a comprehensive effort to memorialize the camp as a site honoring the victims of the genocide. He announced that a delegation plans to visit Baghdad soon to meet with the head of the Iraqi Martyrs Foundation to further discuss the establishment of the monument.

Activists continued to recount the harrowing events, highlighting further abuses during the 1991 uprisings. Under the direct command of Ali Hassan al-Majid, infamously known as Chemical Ali for his role in the Halabja chemical attack, the Ba’ath regime arrested thousands of Kirkuk residents. Many of these detainees were held at the Topzawa camp, where numerous executions took place, and their burial sites remain undiscovered to this day.

For months, a dispute has simmered between Kurdish villagers in Topzawa and Iraqi army forces over the fate of the former military camp. The villagers have been advocating for its transformation into a monument to the victims held in the facility, while the Iraqi army prefers to revive it for military use, a plan that has sparked protests from villagers wary of reopening wounds that are still all too fresh.

Remains of 172 Anfal victims reburied in Chamchamal ceremony

Remains of 172 Anfal victims reburied in Chamchamal ceremony

Barzan district commemorates Anfal victims by planting 8,000 oak trees

Barzan district commemorates Anfal victims by planting 8,000 oak trees

Remembering the 1991 Kurdish uprising

Remembering the 1991 Kurdish uprising