Living with the aftermath of Saddam's Kurdish genocide


Years before the Saddam regime targeted civilians on their Kurdish identity, it targeted people with associations to the Barzan tribe (Mizori Balla, Sherwanis, Dolamaris and of course Barzanis from the village of Barzan). Some 8,000 Barzani males over the age of 13 were trucked away and buried in mass graves in 1983. These individuals were collected from IDP camps in Erbil, most notably the camps of Quchtapa, Diana and Harir. Some of these Barzanis were found in mass graves following the liberation of Iraq and their remains were brought back to the village of Barzan where they rest in a graveyard right at the entrance of the village.

Today I visited the graveyard, incidentally with a friend whose father was amongst the victims of Saddam’s Barzanicide campaign. Painted in white, the tombstones have nothing written on them. No names, no dates of birth or death, no verse from the Qur’an, not even the so much as something indicating who they collectively were. Underneath the tombstones are bones belonging to men who once were fathers, sons, husbands and brothers, they were trucked away from their humble homes and collectively murdered only for being Barzanis.

A few minutes into the visit my friend who was orphaned at the age of 2 said that we should leave, I then realized just how personal this was for him, that the likelihood of his father’s remains being under that sacred ground must be causing him the sort of pain that I cannot ever imagine. I held on to one of the tombstones and quietly recited the first Sura of the Quran, al-Fatihah, not the eighth Surah, al-Anfal in whose name the genocide against the Kurds was declared, in whose name 8,000 Barzanis, 182,000 other Kurds were murdered for having been born Kurds.

On the way back he told me of a lady who still keeps her 14 year old boy’s clothes, books, notebooks and other belongings as if one day, he could come back to that history book, to that draft of a poem he attempted to write, to that photo of that soccer player he liked, to the memories of that next door girl on whom he had a crush.

Six years into post-Saddam Iraq and one thing is certain, we are living in an Iraq where Saddam’s legacy is part of our daily lives.

— Written by Vahal Ali, an Iraqi American writer living in Kurdistan, he can be reached at Vahal.ali[at]