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.
When jihadists from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) invaded the Sinjar region of northern Iraq in 2014 they committed genocide against the Yazidi population. One Yazidi family, the Chattos, survived their onslaught.
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.
‘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.
‘Do you know what it’s like to lose a child? I can’t forget’
The death toll in Goptapa from chemical weapons was only exceeded by that of Halabja, which had been gassed seven weeks earlier. A witness to the Goptapa attack was MIRIAM YASEEN MOHAMMED who watched neighbours and relatives run for their lives and drop dead in village alleyways.
‘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 begged for Allah’s help as policemen took him away’
Death was a constant threat for the Kurdish villagers held in detention camps during Anfal. FATIMA KHURSHEED MAHMOUD describes how many of her relatives, including her father and brother, never returned from Iraqi captivity.
‘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.
‘My Kurdish family were the original inhabitants of Mama village, not Arabs’
In the 1960s Arab militia drove Kurdish farmers from their homes near Kirkuk and established control over this oil rich territory. ABDUL QADIR ABDULRAHMAN describes how the Ba'ath Party made his family suffer.
The gassing of Goptapa village on the banks of the Lesser Zab river was the most deadly chemical attack after Halabja. AISHA ISMAEL ALI remains deeply disturbed by the loss of five of her six children in the attack.
‘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.
‘The Iraqis tortured, looted and killed so the people of Qara Dara rose up’
Iraq's ruling Ba’ath Party used brutal tactics to "arabise" oil-rich Kurdish lands near Kirkuk in the 1960s. HADI HAMA MUSTAFA, a child at the time, witnessed a Kurdish smuggler being shot dead at an Iraqi checkpoint.
‘They had a nice, calm life but then Anfal was upon us’
Many men from Kulajo village joined the peshmerga and their families were punished for this by the Iraqi government. Relatives of OSMAN ALI AZIZ were transported to prison camps and others, including small children, were shot dead in execution pits.
The Iraqi army's treatment of Kurdish families in prison camps was cruel. Still traumatised by the memory of losing her husband, SEMEN KARIM RAZA recalls the moment they were parted and how she came to lose her son.
‘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.
‘“You betrayed your nation,” I told Saddam Hussein at his trial’
During Saddam's trial in Baghdad, Kurdish Anfal survivors confronted the former Iraqi leader. One of them was MAHMOUD RASUL MUSTAFA, who last saw his wife, three sons and two daughters in a prison camp near Kirkuk.
‘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.
‘The Iraqis even killed horses – I’ve never seen such a sadistic military force’
When the Iraqi army blitzed Kurdish peshmerga bases with poison gas in February 1988, AZAD SAGERMA, a senior field commander with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), was unaware his forces would face a military catastrophe that could only end in defeat.
“Welcome to Hell” read the sign over the entrance to Nugra Salman, the Iraqi desert prison close to the border with Saudi Arabia. MIRIAM RASHID MAHMOUD remembers how starving children were beaten unconscious by the guards there.
‘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.
‘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 razed 24 villages and drove people from their lands’
The 1963 Ba’athist coup against the Iraqi leader Abdul Karim Qasim led to a worsening of relations between Arabs and Kurds. Arab farmer SHAHAB AHMAD AWAD witnessed the expulsion of Kurdish farmers from the Kirkuk region by Ba’aathist National Guards.
‘“I don’t care what happens to me,” my father said. “But no harm must befall these civilians”’
Peshmerga risked their lives to save fellow Kurds, and none were braver than than Hakim Rebwar. His son, HAWRAZ RAFIQ KARIM, explains how his father made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the women and children of his village.