Friday, July 13, 2007

From Sarajevo: The gassing of the Kurds... a form of denial



Today I learned something very important. I learned that I had been complicit in a form of denial.

In my talk at the meeting of the International Association of Scholars of Genocide I spoke about the relationship between study of the Holocaust and other genocides. I mentioned some of the recent post-World War II genocides, among them Cambodia, Rwanda, Srebenica, and Darfur.

A very compelling woman, Choman Hardi, whom I had met the day before came to the microphone. I knew that she was from Kurdistan, had left at the time of the gassing of the Kurds by Sadaam, moved with her parents to Germany, and then to London. She has received her Ph.D. there from the University of Canterbury and has just completed a post-doc.

She asked why was it that every time we listed various other genocides we neglected to mention the gassing of the Kurds at Anfall where countless thousands were slaughtered.

This gassing, which was made possible in measure by western corporations which sold Sadaam the raw materials he needed, is one of the great atrocities of the post-WWII period.

Yet we hardly ever mention it.

Why? I don't know but I am thinking about it..... And I have resolved not to commit this omission or, shall we say, denial in the future.

10 comments:

CaHwyGuy - Daniel the California Highway Guy said...

What's sad is that the genocides don't stop; they keep happening. Far too often things are hidden by omission.

I was thinking about hiding by omission last week when I was in Memphis, visiting the National Civil Rights Museum (I wrote about it here). That museum, while purporting to be about all civil rights struggles, only talks about one, and doesn't even address the participation of all those who were involved in the struggle (which creates a mistaken impression, for example, of the change in black-Jewish relations).

We need to be vigilant that not only are the right things said, but that everything that should be said is said.

Lake said...

Amnesty International collected the names of more than 17,000 people who had disappeared during 1988 genocidal campaign against Kurds by Saddam Hussein. However, genocide is not about numbers; it's about intent to destroy specific group of people.

Let me quote Mirsad Tokaca - director of the Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo:

"Genocide is not a matter of numbers, especially following the conviction of [Serb General] Radislav Krstić. The Convention on Genocide likewise does not specify numbers, but speaks of the intention to destroy or kill a specific group, or indeed to expose it to conditions leading to its demise. Such demise, moreover, does not mean that the victims must be physically exterminated, but that they are forced to leave their habitat. In other words, that the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot live in their homeland, that inhabitants of Zvornik no longer live in their town, and so on. This indeed was the intention of the aggressor. The figures only encourage me in the conviction that genocide is not a question of numbers: it is a matter of the identity of the victims, the way in which they died, and when they died."

Therefore, when we speak about Srebrenica genocide or any other form of genocide - we must keep in mind that numbers do not equal genocide; it's intent to kill or destroy particular group that counts. (Of course, this issue is much complex than I explained, but at least the point had to be made).

- Daniel

Deborah Lipstadt said...

I have not been to the Civil Rigths Museum but, while many Jews were exceptionally active and important in the civil rights struggle, I am not sure that this should be a major focus of the museum.

And it seems to me that the museum should be about the struggle of African Americans for their full participation in American society.

I disagree with Tokaca. I don't think genocide includes making people move from an area in which they lived.

There seems to be a tendency to declare far too many things genocide. It's not my field or area of specialization but it does not seem to be a wise move to me.

Argv said...

I think perhaps you're too hard on yourself. Your omission might not be denial; it might simply be practicality. Is it possible that as humans we bring forth the most immediate responses in situations like this? Perhaps your mind focuses on severity?

I also don't happen to believe that humans are capable of infinite compassion. It's simply too exhausting. When I think of the four you did mention (Cambodia, Rwanda, Srebenica and Darfur) I am overwhelmed with emotion already. To mention more makes me want to suppress, if only for brevity.

If you mention the ones you did and had to commit to mentioning every genocidal atrocity known to mankind would your speech be worth hearing? What would you have really told us? To hear the impact of a few key stories is close enough. There are just unfortunately so many examples to choose from that surely someone will always be left out.

Why not historical examples? Why not speak of the mass slaughter of Jews, Christians and Muslims during the sack of Jerusalem by the Frankish Crusaders in 1099 (60,000 - 100,000 dead a few days)? It's simply not possible to give every example - recognizing this makes you a good scholar, not insensitive. I particularly find the Crusader example very useful because of the cross-cultural significance and the long-lasting scar it has left behind on the middle east. But that might not be useful to a universal audience. However, Rwanda, might be.

Deborah Lipstadt said...

Argv: The massacre of the Kurds was something different. It was the first and only time -- cannot think of any other incidents-- in which gas was used since World War II.

Yet it is consistently NOT mentioned. It's not that it is mentioned sometime or part of the time... IT's never mentioned including by specialists of genocide.

Something is very wrong here.

Lake said...

Deborah said: "I disagree with Tokaca. I don't think genocide includes making people move from an area in which they lived."

Ethnic cleansing does not fit the definition of Genocide and I was not trying to make that point, Deborah.

The point I was trying to make is the following:

We had 15,000 people who died during the siege of Sarajevo and 1,500 of them were children. Consequently, Sarajevo had more victims than Srebrenica. But, the siege of Sarajevo has never been ruled genocide.

In Srebrenica, there was intent to kill and destroy particular group - and that's why Srebrenica massacre has been ruled genocide in front of international courts.

The point: even though Sarajevo had more victims, it still did not qualify as genocide; but Srebrenica, who had less victims, did qualify as genocide. In other words, genocide is not about numbers; it's about intent to kill or destroy particular groups (and it's a way more complex than my simplistic explanation).

Choman said...

I want to thank Deborah for posting the above. I also want to respond to Lake (above) who seems to argue that Anfal was not genocide. First of all, I would like to say that I have been conducting research about Anfal for the past two years and by conservative measures the number of people who were killed in this campaign is 100,000 (this includes people who were shot at the mass graves, gassed and bombarded and those who died as a result of malnutrition and epidemics in the camps). Anfal took place between February and September 1988, it included the siege of 6 geographical areas on the borders of Iran and Turkey. 2600 Kurdish villages were destroyed during Anfal. After gassing and bombing the villages to kill and terrify the population the troops surrounded each region. The villagers were steered towards collection points where they were awaited by the army. Men were separated from the women and children and the elderly were also separated from the rest. The men and boys (aged 12-60) were immediately taken to be shot at the mass graves; women and children were taken to the Dibs camp near Kirkuk and the elderly to the Nugra Salman camp on the border of Saudi Arabia. Many people in the camps, especially the children, died as a result of hunger and illness. And throughout the 7 months caravans of busses came to take women and children away to their death. A mass grave near Samawa which was found in April 2005 contains the body of 1500 women and children who were killed during Anfal. There is a comprehensive book by the Human Rights Watch in 1993 (Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal campaign against the Kurds) which draws from Iraqi government documents (6 tons that were captured during the 1991 uprising), mass grave forensic evidence and witness testimonies. Chemical Ali was recently convicted of genocide by the Iraqi High Tribunal. There is no doubt about the Iraqi government's intention to destroy the Kurds (tape recording of chemical Ali when he said that he will ‘solve the Kurdish problem by gassing them’ was broadcast on TV during the trials). This constitutes 'a part' in the UN Convention on Genocide: 'intent to destroy the group in whole or in part.' Let's stop brining up excuses for omitting Anfal from the list of genocides. This is even more unacceptable because thousands more people have died in the past 19 years as a result of exposure to the chemical weapons and thousands more are still dying of cancer and bone deformities. The rate of cancer and children born with abnormalities is five times higher for this population when compared to the rest of the population (for more details see Prof. Christine Gosden’s reports and Gwynne Roberts’ documentaries). Not recognizing Anfal as a genocide not only has political consequences but also social consequences for the survivors who are still suffering and dying. Let’s give the truth its due and stop finding excuses.

Lake said...

Choman, I am not implying that Anfal was not a genocide. In fact, if you read my comments more clearly, you will see that I acknowledged genocide in Anfal by saying, quote: "Amnesty International collected the names of more than 17,000 people who had disappeared during 1988 genocidal campaign against Kurds by Saddam Hussein."

Now, as Shaina from Bosnia Vault blog pointed out, quote:

"Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime is responsible for killing between 1.7 to 3 million people; but did they commit genocide? At first glance, that question might seem a bit rhetorical or perhaps even offensive; what other crime, or indeed word, can capture the killing of 20% of Cambodia's population? Yet, for all of its undeniable brutality, the killings by the Khmer Rouge might not legally be considered genocide."

This is because genocide has a specific legal meaning. It is the intent to destroy in whole or in part; members of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group.

Was genocide committed in Anfal? Absolutely. Was genocide committed in Srebrenica? Absolutely.

PS: We also had "Chemical Tolimir" in Srebrenica. He requested use of chemical weapons to gass civilians of Srebrenica and Zepa. Read here:

http://srebrenica-genocide.blogspot.com/2007/06/use-of-chemical-weapons-requested-by.html

Lake said...

Choman, I am not implying that Anfal was not a genocide. In fact, if you read my comments more clearly, you will see that I acknowledged genocide in Anfal by saying, quote: "Amnesty International collected the names of more than 17,000 people who had disappeared during 1988 genocidal campaign against Kurds by Saddam Hussein."

Now, as Shaina from Bosnia Vault blog pointed out, quote:

"Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime is responsible for killing between 1.7 to 3 million people; but did they commit genocide? At first glance, that question might seem a bit rhetorical or perhaps even offensive; what other crime, or indeed word, can capture the killing of 20% of Cambodia's population? Yet, for all of its undeniable brutality, the killings by the Khmer Rouge might not legally be considered genocide."

This is because genocide has a specific legal meaning. It is the intent to destroy in whole or in part; members of a racial, ethnic, religious or national group.

Was genocide committed in Anfal? Absolutely. Was genocide committed in Srebrenica? Absolutely.

PS: We also had "Chemical Tolimir" in Srebrenica. He requested use of chemical weapons to gass civilians of Srebrenica and Zepa. Read here:

http://srebrenica-genocide.blogspot.com/2007/06/use-of-chemical-weapons-requested-by.html

Aram Azez said...

I thank you all for bringing the Anfal issue up. Despite all the political pressure to reduce the Anfal from a genocide to an internal issue of Iraq( since the whole Islamic and Arab World ashamed and embarrassed for conducting Anfal spoilers of War) campaign against a non-Arab Muslim Nation, Kurds, no one can deny that the Anfal was, is and will a genocide.
I'm not sure what kind of research or sources have you chosen for your search Choman? I can see that you have come up with 100,000 killed and 2600 villages destroyed during the Anfal. And you think children who were aged 12 killed. I, myself, a survivor, witness, familiar with the Anfal issue, and have interviewed hundreds people,( including both my elder parents who were in Nugra Salman Camp.) I’ve also lost 7 member of my family during the Anfal; my youngest nephews were 3-5.
I have very higher number of victims and destroyed villages than those of yours Choman. You might have read some of my article about the Anfal in both Kurdish and English. Just for your information, the Anfal campaign was 8-9 Military offences. And the document and video tapes that only relocated to the US in 1991 were 18 tons.
You welcome to read some of my articles about Anfal Genocide, if you haven’t so far. By typing in the search bar (Aram Azez) of visiting my blog at (http//: independentkurdistanjournalism.blogsopt.com) you might find some good info.