The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Representation in the United States hosted a conference to mark the 30th anniversary of the Halabja Genocide at the Newseum in Washington, DC on March 13, 2018.
The conference was titled 'Halabja: Echoes of Genocide in Kurdistan' and brought together survivors of genocide, officials, experts on cultural heritage preservation, justice and accountability and chemical weapons. The event in Washington was an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the chemical bombing of Halabja, but of the cycle of genocides in Kurdistan and Iraq over the last several decades.
KRG Representative Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman opened the conference with a speech honoring the victims of Halabja and all genocides, and calling for greater international action to prevent mass atrocities, in particular those that use chemical weapons.
She said, 'Thirty years after the Halabja bombing, the effects of the trauma of people who experienced this atrocity cannot be understated... For the survivors, recognition of genocide is part of bearing witness to their suffering.'
Representative Abdul Rahman added, 'It is incumbent on all of us to speak out against sectarian disputes spilling over into mass atrocities. The KRG was first to declare atrocities against Yezidis as genocide.'
An estimated 200 people attended the event, with hundreds more watching live on YouTube and live feeds from Kurdistan24, Rudaw, and Al Hurra.
Two survivors of the attack shared their experiences of how the Halabja genocide had changed their lives: Zmnako Muhammad Ahmed, via Skype from Kurdistan, and Mohammad Aziz, who currently lives in Tennessee and traveled to Washington to speak.
Senator Chris Van Hollen (pictured above) reflected on his personal experience interviewing survivors of the chemicals attacks while he was a Congressional staffer in 1988. He said, 'As we remember the 30th anniversary of the Halabja attack, we must dedicate ourselves to ensure that these crimes never happen again, and we must not forget our friends in Kurdistan.'
Todd Buchwald, a decorated State Department official who served as the Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice until recently, spoke about the need to remember the crimes of the past. He said, 'The events of Halabja are searing. It is important to honor the memory of those who were lost, and ensure that those atrocities are never forgotten.'
The filmmaker Gwynne Roberts, who has worked to document genocide as well as life and culture in Kurdistan since the 1970s, launched the website of the Kurdistan Memory Programme. Visitors to the website can watch interviews and stories recorded over several decades of Kurdistan's history.
Mr. Roberts spoke briefly and screened several short clips. He said, 'Unearthing historical truth has never been so vitally important... It is never easy to accept uncomfortable truths.'
In commemoration of the day, the KRG Representation published a book titled 'Echoes of Genocide' with statements from officials and organizations, survivor stories, and articles by international experts. The book includes a message from KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani as well as poems, pictures and articles exploring the impact of atrocities on the Kurdish nation.
The event also included a screening of a virtual reality film 'The Yezidis: Surviving Genocide' which transports viewers to the ruined city of Shingal, the temple of Lalish, and the homes of displaced Yezidis in Kurdistan.
World-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind (pictured above, speaking) joined a discussion with philanthropist Thomas S. Kaplan and Smithsonian's Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador-at-Large Richard Kurin about the role of art in commemorating suffering and genocide. Speaking about his design for a museum in Kurdistan to house collections about Kurdistan's rich history, Mr. Libeskind said, 'I do believe that architecture is one of the most powerful arts; to reconcile, to heal, and to remember.'
Simon Adams, the Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, delivered a speech at the conference, highlighting the international community's responsibility under the UN Charter to ensure that genocide and similar crimes are prevented from happening. He said, 'The failure to find justice for genocide and atrocities perpetuates a culture of impunity.'
Other expert panel discussions explored the topics of the search for justice for perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities ('Missing in Action: Justice and Accountability') and the normalization of chemical weapons in today's conflicts and beyond ('Use of Chemical Weapons in Iraq and Syria - Where Next?').
(c)2018 Kurdistan Regional Government