The Barzani tribe had long been a thorn in the flesh of the Iraqi central government. Hostilities reached boiling point during the Iraq-Iran War when Saddam Hussein accused them of collaborating with the Iranians. Soon afterwards between 5,000 and 8,000 Barzani tribesmen were abducted and never seen again.
In the 1980s Kulajo gave unstinting support to the Kurdish resistance and for this its people were punished by Saddam Hussein. Villagers were transported to prison camps and many were later executed. Yet some lived to tell extraordinary stories of survival.
‘The Iraqi National Guard stole everything of value in our houses’
In the early 1960s the Iraqi authorities confiscated Kurdish lands north of Kirkuk. To this day, legal title has yet to be formally restored to its original owners. MAJID MOHAMMED ISMAEL describes how Arab militia looted his family home in Qara Dara and killed one of his neighbours.
‘We escaped the village with nothing but our souls’
The Iraqi Ba’ath Party ethnically "cleansed" areas near Kirkuk of their Kurdish and Turkman population in the early 1960s. TAHSIN OMAR BEG, a Turkman from Kutan village, remembers how Arab militia stole his father’s livestock, looted their home and executed their neighbours.
‘What hurts me so much is that 15 families from our village lost everyone’
Villagers from the Balisan valley compare the Iraqi poison gas attacks against them to “doomsday". AISHA TAHA MUSTAFA says she was frightened to the depths of her soul when people started dying around her.
‘The Iraqi National Guard burned down whatever they could: houses, belongings and crops’
In the early 1960s Iraqi soldiers and tanks supported Arab militia as they moved into Kurdish villages northwest of Kirkuk. SAMAD KARIM AZIZ witnessed local people being overpowered as they tried to prevent the invaders from seizing their livestock and land.
‘The Iraqis used to say, “Even your donkeys are peshmerga”’
Those living in the rural areas of Kurdistan risked imprisonment for being suspected “saboteurs.” A farmer, HAMAD AMIN MOHAMMED was jailed for four years by Saddam's regime because he lived in the peshmerga stronghold of Haladin.