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.
‘Arabs are still occupying the land that belonged to my grandfather’
In the 1960s Kurdish farmers were driven off their farms near Kirkuk and replaced with Arab settlers. SADOUN REZA MAHMOUD returned home after the 2003 Iraq war, but his claim to his family's land is still being challenged by the Arabs who took it.
‘If a bird flies its nest, doesn’t it always want to return?’
For decades Kurds living near Kirkuk strongly resisted attempts by the Iraqi regime to drive them off their lands. MOHAMMED AMIN RAHMAN ALI returned to Chalistan repeatedly, only to be forced to leave his home again and again.
‘My brother had to cut my baby’s umbilical cord with a used razor blade’
The threat of chemical attacks made many Kurds flee their homes east of Kirkuk. ASMAR MOHAMMED JABAR explains how she escaped from Mahabaram village on the back of a tractor, only to give birth hours later.
‘Our bodies were freezing and icicles hung from our faces’
Facing relentless Iraqi poison gas attacks, thousands of Kurds fled through heavy rain and blizzards towards Iran. KHIDIR MUSA MOHAMMED AMEEN describes how he carried his nephew on his back for hours before realising the boy had frozen to death.
‘The Arabs are still occupying our lands 45 years later’
Hundreds of Kurdish families were driven off their lands near Kirkuk in the 1960s by Arab militia known as 'The National Guard'. FAKHRADIN KAKASHEEN MOHAMMED tells how, as a five-year-old, he was forced to flee with his family.
‘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.
‘The Arab militia were firing at us from our village graveyard’
Arab militia groups supporting the ruling Ba’ath Party drove Kurdish villagers from their homes near Kirkuk and replaced them with Arab settlers from the south. ARRAS ABDULLAH MOHAMMED remembers how his neighbours resisted for two days before they were forced to flee.
‘Who could have imagined the Iraqi government would shoot women and children dead?’
To protect their families, some Kurdish villagers joined militia known as “jash" and fought with the Iraqi army. It was often a difficult choice: RAUF AHMAD QADIR from Kulajo village joined a “jash" unit in Kalar and later learned many of his relatives had been arrested and executed in Iraqi captivity.
Turkman farmer YOUNES AHMED OMAR says he still holds the title deeds to his family's farm near Kirkuk, which was seized by Arab militia in 1963. However, the Arabs who have occupied it since then refuse to accept recent court rulings in his favour.