The Iraqi attack on the Balisan valley was the first time a sovereign state had used chemical weapons on its own populace. Shocked villagers who survived the attack likened the experience to witnessing "doomsday".
‘I come to the cemetery every day – it feels like I’m with them’
Chemical warfare deeply traumatised the rural communities of Kurdistan and the distress it caused still affects survivors. TAHA MOHAMMED AMIN describes how a bomb exploded outside his house in Sewsenan village and people began to die, a nightmare vision he relives every night in his dreams.
‘I couldn’t go to the mountains because I was pregnant and had already lost a baby running away’
From 1985 to 1987 the Iraqi army destroyed around 1,600 villages. One of the worst hit was Askar: it survived regular bombardments according to SAEDA OMAR RASUL, but the presence of peshmerga and Iranian soldiers in the village made a chemical attack inevitable.
‘I thought the strange smell was from people cooking’
Balisan and Sheikh Wasan were the first villages in Kurdistan to be attacked with poison gas. SALAAM HUSSEIN AZIZ describes how curious villagers went up to bomb craters and breathed in the toxic fumes. Soon they were screaming in pain and collapsing.
‘People described a smell of rotten apples but I knew it was a chemical gas’
There were very few trained medics able to treat gas victims after the Balisan valley attacks in 1987. DOCTOR ZYRIAN ABDUL YOUNIS was the only peshmerga doctor in a region stretching from Erbil to Iran.
‘There were 30 of us on that tractor, all of us blind’
Sheikh Wasan village in the Balisan valley was bombed with chemicals a year before the gassing of Halabja. ADIBA AWLLA BAYIZA remembers how, blinded and in pain, she and her children were imprisoned in Erbil after the attack.
‘“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.