Survivors of a horrific chemical weapons attack on the Iraqi town of Halabja relived the experience at a somber commemoration of the event held at the Columbus School of Law on March 15.
Along with the Kurdistan Regional Government Representation to the U.S., the law school hosted the 25th anniversary commemoration of the Halabja genocide, which occurred in March, 1988 when Iraqi government airplanes under the command of dictator Saddam Hussein dropped chemical weapons on the town of Halabja.
The attack on the peaceful town was part of a larger effort to exterminate the Kurdish population of Iraq in the 1980s. Approximately 15,000 civilians were killed, many simply dropping in the streets to the apple-like odor of Tabun, an extremely toxic nerve agent.
The discussion, “Kurdish Genocide: Remembering Halabja for the Sake of the Future Panel Discussion,” presented panelists Dr. Sherkoh Abbas, president of the Kurdistan National Assembly in Syria; Zmanko Mohammad Saleh, Halabja survivor and the subject of a powerful documentary called "Halabja, The Lost Children;" and Professor Michael J. Kelly, associate dean at Creighton University School of Law and a leading expert on the Halabja attack.
“You need to talk about it,” Kelly told the survivors gathered in the room. “Don’t be silent about what happened to you. The world needs to know about it.”
Among other goals, the speakers are asking the United Nations to officially classify the chemical attack as genocide, which carries a distinct legal status and meaning.
Zmanko Mohammad Saleh was but three months old when the chemicals were dropped upon his town, wiping out nearly every member of his family. He was adopted and raised by an Iranian family and lived essentially stateless, with no established nationality in either country.
“I didn’t have any picture of my father. I didn’t know who my family was,” Saleh said.
Saleh said he continues to suffer from psychological problems today and that it is very important that the world understand what happened to Halabja in 1988 was genocide.
Saleh closed with a quote from a fellow survivor. “We have suffered through a long winter’s night, but we could always see a bright star of hope. Now, finally, a new day has dawned and we look forward to living in the sun again.”