KMP launches groundbreaking feature documenting 90 years of ‘Arabisation’ ethnic cleansing in Kurdistan and its role in the Anfal genocide

Investigators discover the remains of 500 ‘disappeared’ Barzani men and boys who were abducted from camps in northern Iraq by government soldiers in 1983 and buried in unmarked graves in the deserts near Iraq’s border with Saudi Arabia.

The Kurdistan Memory Programme (the KMP) was born of a vision to create a national archive that would form the foundational content of a national museum in Erbil.

Within the space of its 14 year operation the KMP has established itself as the world’s foremost resource on the Kurdish story. It has delivered the definitive account of the al–Anfal genocide of 1988 with interactive 3D maps, and its online resource has made accessible a wealth of deeply moving witness testimonies and unique archive footage.

Elsewhere, its exhaustive timeline feature chronicles more than 500 years of Kurdish history in unprecedented depth.

Since completing its filming work in early 2020, the KMP has worked hard to deliver its final and most ambitious project to date: a never before documented 90 year interactive history of ‘Arabisation’ ethnic cleansing in Kurdistan.

Featuring close to 100 original films documenting a near century of Kurdish experience, ‘Seeds of Genocide’ launches for the first time in May 2023.

Epic in scale, the feature uniquely details the deep connection between the ‘Arabisation’ ethnic cleansing of Kurdish lands and the mass genocide of 1988, in which up to 182,000 Iraqi Kurds lost their lives.

The mass killing of rural Kurds is commemorated at this memorial in Chamchamal, east of Kirkuk. Visiting the monument, AHMED ASKARI, a Kurdish member of the Kirkuk Provincial Council, reveals that Ba’athist laws relating to ‘Arabisation’ ethnic cleansing in Iraq were never annulled. Subsequently, Kurds continue to be displaced from their lands by the Iraqi authorities.

‘Unfortunately, ethnic cleansing continues to this day in the Kirkuk region,’ says Gwynne Roberts, the KMP’s international director.

‘By forensically analysing Arab nationalism and the policies that enacted dispossession, displacement and cultural erasure throughout ancient Kurdish heartlands, our hope is that the international community will grow more aware of the concerning historic patterns that lead to mass genocide. These traumas must not be allowed to repeat themselves in the 21st century.’

‘Seeds of Genocide’ reveals how the architects of Arab nationalism in Iraq and Syria modelled their influential ideology on that of Nazi Germany, and suggests that the embers of Ba’athism continue to glow in these two countries.

In all, the KMP has recorded more than 1,000 oral testimonies from people in every corner and societal strata of Kurdistan, edited and produced over 500 premium films, and created a unique multimedia archive that documents more than 500 years of Kurdish history.

‘Seeds of Genocide’ is the latest and most ambitious venture in the KMP’s establishment of a ‘digital museum’ to illuminate Kurdish history and identity, and has been produced in honour of the Kurdish people, their struggle, and its universal significance to the human story.

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The United States Institute of Peace hosts the Kurdistan Memory Programme in Washington D.C.

Established in 1984 and based in Washington D.C., the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) is an American federal institution that promotes conflict resolution and prevention worldwide.

On 21 November 2019 the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington D.C. hosted the Kurdistan Memory Programme (KMP) for a screening of its documentary film ‘One Family vs. ISIS’, and a debate about the importance of documenting tragedies in the region. 

The packed event was co-hosted by the USIP, the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Representation to the United States. It was attended by members of the institute and the wider diplomatic community, including President of the USIP Nancy Lindborg, the KRG’s visiting Minister for Foreign Relations Safeen Dizayee, and Germany’s Ambassador to the United States, Emily Haber, who introduced the screening. 

‘I cannot think of a more powerful way to tell the story of the [Yazidi’s plight] than by telling the story of what it meant to individual humans,’ said Dr Haber. ‘This film is a marvellous document of human resilience in the face of horror.’

One Family vs. ISIS tells the story of the Chattos, a family of refugees who were among the victims of the genocidal campaign by the radical Jihadist group ISIS (Daesh) against the Yazidi population in Sinjar in northern Iraq. Attendees were visibly moved by their powerful and emotional story, which personalises the experience of so many Yazidis in Iraq and Syria at the hands of ISIS.

Following the film, the Director of Middle East Programs at the USIP, Sarhang Hamasaeed, led a discussion with Fareed Yaseen, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, as well as Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the KRG’s High Representative in the U.S., and the founder of the KMP, Gwynne Roberts. 

‘This film shows the cost of conflict,’ said Hamasaeed. ‘In a single molecule we see a world of pain for each individual and for thousands of families.’

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman emphasised the importance of raising awareness of the historical context of genocide in the Middle East, both in the United States and beyond, but also made plain the KRG’s concern about the 15,000 to 20,000 ISIS fighters who remain at large in Syria and Iraq. Many of them escaped imprisonment after American troops abandoned their positions in Syria in October 2019.

‘To us, their narrative is so crazy that we can’t understand how anyone would fall for it,’ she said. ‘But young people, vulnerable people, and angry people do. We can continue to fight ISIS militarily, but we must also consider how we create a counter-narrative that can absolutely defeat their ideology.’

Attendees at the KRG-USIP event included Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the KRG's High Representative to the U.S.; Safeen Dizayee, the KRG’s visiting Minister for Foreign Relations; Nancy Lindborg, President of the USIP ; Emily Haber, Germany’s Ambassador to the United States; and Fareed Yaseen (not in picture), Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S.

Attendees at the KRG-USIP event included Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the KRG’s High Representative to the U.S.; Safeen Dizayee, the KRG’s visiting Minister for Foreign Relations; Nancy Lindborg, President of the USIP ; Emily Haber, Germany’s Ambassador to the United States; and Fareed Yaseen (not pictured), Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S.

Fareed Yaseen stressed that there could be no justice without official recognition of the crimes suffered by Yazidis, and also of the genocide suffered by the Kurds in the 1980s. 

‘I hope and pray that we deal with the issue of justice with compassion for the victims, and with wisdom and intelligence so we can make sure that this never, ever happens again,’ he said.

Yaseen suggested a great deal of archival work would need to be conducted to document the experiences of the Yazidis in Iraq and Syria, and for the perpetrators of human rights atrocities to be brought to justice. 

‘People often ask, well what can we do?’ he said. ‘Well, the first thing we must do is not forget what has happened. And that’s where I think the work of the KMP is so important.’

‘What we are seeking to do is to document Kurdish history for the world,’ said Gwynne Roberts, founder of the KMP. ‘Our project has been running for 12 years, and the films, data and historical multimedia we are producing will form a new national archive in Kurdistan.’

The suffering of the Chatto family and its aftermath was at times a difficult watch, yet many attendees of the Washington D.C. event left with deepened empathy for the plight of the Yazidis. 

The President of the USIP Nancy Lindborg concluded that, ‘This film helps us to understand their stories and to redouble our conviction to work for a world where these tragedies don’t happen.’

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BBC to broadcast ‘One Family vs. ISIS’ to global audience

Khairi Chatto pays for his sister Khawla’s release from ISIS captivity and there is an emotional reunion at Iraqi Kurdistan’s border with Syria. However, he does not initially tell Khawla that their father was killed by ISIS soldiers.

Following its successful March premiere at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the film ‘One Yazidi Family vs. ISIS’ was acquired by the BBC for international broadcast.

The film has now been screened 33 times across five continents via the BBC World and BBC Arabic services, under the revised title ‘One Family vs. IS’.

The film follows the deeply moving story of the Chatto family whose flight from violent persecution, enslavement and death symbolises the horrors experienced by the Yazidi community in Iraq and Syria, as well as the courage and humanity it takes to overcome such traumatic events.

Unusually, the filmmakers made contact with the Chattos six months before they were captured by ISIS jihadists, and the film charts the survival stories of various family members as they attempt to reunite in Europe.

‘We believe this is an important documentary for raising awareness about the plight of the Yazidi population in Iraq and Syria,’ said Joel Wykeham, Executive Producer at RWF World. ‘Many Yazidis are still living in camps, more than five years after they were displaced from their homes by ISIS jihadists. The BBC remains the gold standard for international news and documentary broadcasting, and so we are naturally pleased that ‘One Family vs. ISIS’ is receiving such a powerful international platform.’

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Canadian Parliament receives KRG and KMP appeal for renewed funding of IDP camps in Kurdistan Region

From left to right: MP Ziad Aboultaif; MP Gord Johns; KRG High Representative to the US, Bayan Sami Adbul Rahman; MP Tom Kmiec; MP Robert Falcon Ouellette; and Special Adviser to the KRG High Representation to the US, Niyaz Barzani.

On 7 June 2019 the Kurdistan Memory Programme’s (KMP) documentary ‘One Yazidi Family vs. ISIS’ was screened for Canadian Members of Parliament and their staff at Parliament Hill in Ottowa, the capital city of Canada.

The event closely followed a similar appeal for new funding for IDP and refugee camps in the Kurdistan Region by both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the KMP, which took place at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York a few months beforehand.

The screening was hosted by MP Tom Kmiec, the founder of the Parliamentary Friends of the Kurds group, and attended by Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) High Representative to the United States.

Abdul Rahman’s visit saw her meet Canadian officials including Shadow Minister of Defence, MPJames Bezan, Global Affairs Deputy Director for Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, Pegatha Taylor, and Canada’s Deputy Director for General International Security at the Department of National Defence, Phil Lafortune.

Speaking to the assembled parliamentarians, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman thanked Canada on behalf of the KRG for its support in the war against ISIS and resultant humanitarian crisis, and also for accepting refugees from Iraq and Syria.

Following her remarks, the audience received a televised introductory address from KMP founder Gwynne Roberts, which was filmed at a Yazidi IDP camp in the Kurdistan Region.

‘My friends, I ask you to consider one thing when you watch the film,’ said an impassioned Roberts, speaking while surrounded by Yazidi children and tent settlements. ‘These people have been here for five years and remain deeply traumatised, yet funding from NGO’s and the international community has effectively dried up. They need our help – and we need to work together to ensure they receive [humanitarian] support.’

Reflecting on the event, Niyaz Barzani, Special Adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government’s High Representation to the United States, said, ‘It was a great privilege to screen the documentary ‘One Yazidi Family vs. ISIS’ for our esteemed friends at the Canadian Parliament.’

’Their overarching response upon viewing the film was that the international community must address the grievances of the Yazidi people, especially those who still live in camps and require humanitarian and psychological assistance. They told us that it was sobering to be reminded that displaced Yazidis are still living in camps more than five years after being forced to leave their homes, and that this matter urgently requires attention.’

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Big turnout for European launch of the KMP in London

Distinguished international journalists, politicians, diplomats and filmmakers attended the European launch of the KMP at BAFTA.

A full house of Kurdish, British and international guests gasped, cheered and shed tears at the emotional European launch of the Kurdistan Memory Programme (KMP) at BAFTA in central London on 14 March 2019.

Guests of the KMP’s European launch were interviewed by a number of international television crews, including reporters from Gali Kurdistan, K24, Rudaw, Zagros TV and Kurdistan TV.

The screening event was hosted in association with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) High Representation to the UK and the All–Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Kurdistan Region, and commemorated the tragic events of Anfal, the Kurdish genocide, and the chemical bombing of the the city of Halabja, both of which took place in 1988.

KRG High Representative Karwan Jamal Tahir observed a moving silence for Kurdish victims of genocide, and then detailed many of the traumas faced by Kurds under the rule of Saddam Hussein.

The KMP’s founder Gwynne Roberts then introduced three films documenting the traumas of Anfal and Halabja.

‘Many enemies of the Kurds, particularly those who supplied Iraq with the materials to make these deadly weapons, would prefer that these stories remained untold,’ said Roberts. ‘They would prefer them erased from history. And that is why we at the KMP believe these accounts, just like the Kurdish story itself, must no longer be forgotten nor denied.’

Despite the tragedies outlined in the films, the Kurdistan Region is looking toward a bright future. This was illustrated by a short film introducing the KMP’s partner project, Kurdistan Museum. Kurdistan Museum will be the first major national museum of Kurdish history and culture, and will be built at the foot of the ancient and historic Citadel in Erbil.

‘The denial of the Kurdish story is an ancient pattern that continues to the modern day,’ said KMP founder Gwynne Roberts. ‘That’s why our goal is to make this rarely told story accessible to everyone.’

In the film, the world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind explains how his design for Kurdistan Museum links the ancient and modern struggles of the Kurdish people.

‘This building is a proof that this region is to be seen not as a war zone, but as a productive, incredibly interesting part of the world,’ said Libeskind. ‘Architecture is a symbol of identity… And by constructing the present, you really are building the future.’

The final screening of the night saw the European premiere of the KMP’s feature documentary ‘One Yazidi Family vs. ISIS’ on the heels of its successful 4 March debut at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

The film details the story of the Chattos, a family of refugees who were among the victims of the genocidal campaign by ISIS (Daesh) against the Yazidi population in Sinjar in northern Iraq.

Few guests were not affected by the Chatto’s powerful and emotional story.

Gino Nami, project manager at the KMP, was particularly encouraged. ‘It was wonderful to receive such wide media coverage,’ she said. ‘Beyond that it was also a great honour to host an event of this nature at the home of the British film and television industry.’

‘The European launch of the KMP was a spectacular success,’ said Gwynne Roberts. ‘The KMP seeks to document the Kurdish story for the world, so it was heartwarming to see films about the tragedies and bright future of Kurdistan receive such a positive response from a diverse and extremely distinguished international audience of journalists, politicians, diplomats and filmmakers.’

After watching a series of emotional and uplifting films, guests retreated to BAFTA’s David Lean room to discuss the event over refreshments.

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KMP appeals to Head of the UN Security Council for new funding for IDP camps in Kurdistan Region

KMP founder Gwynne Roberts addresses dignitaries and policymakers at the United Nations in New York.

The Kurdistan Memory Programme’s moving documentary ‘One Yazidi Family vs ISIS’, was premiered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on Monday 4 March 2019.

The films tells the dramatic story of the Chatto family, a Yazidi family whose flight from violent persecution, enslavement and death at the hands of ISIS symbolises the horrors experienced by the Yazidi community and other internally displaced (IDP) victims in Iraq and Syria. The courage and humanity shown by the Chattos throughout the film, as they struggle to free themselves from jihadists and reunite with their family, struck an emotional chord with the audience.

The event at the UN was hosted by the Kurdistan Regional Government Representation (KRG) to the United States and the Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the United Nations. It was an opportunity for the KMP appeal to United Nations leaders to deliver greater funding for IDP camps within the Kurdistan Region.

Guest speakers were then invited to address dignitaries by KRG High Representative to the United States Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman.

A number of policymakers who have pledged their support to the cause of Yazidi IDPs and refugees were in attendance. They included Czech Republic representative to the UN Miroslav Klíma; Thomas Lynch, the Senior Advisor to the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for ISIL Crimes; and United States representative to the UN Jonathan Cohen.

After praising the German and the Kurdish leaderships for their humanitarian efforts throughout the Syrian IDP and refugee crisis, KMP founder Gwynne Roberts argued that it was vitally important for the international community to match their efforts, as UN funding for IDP camps in the region is dwindling. It is a cause that has been publicised by Hollywood figures including the actor Carey Mulligan.

‘While the world’s media may have a short attention span, the victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria have experienced traumas that will last a lifetime,’ said Roberts. ‘I will let our film speak for itself, but please consider that its subjects are real people. They are amongst tens of thousands of victims of ISIS who continue to require financial support from the international community.’

President of the UN Security Council Christoph Heusgen responded, ‘What makes this film so special is that it focuses on an individual family. When we hear of the 65 million people that are refugees today, this is just a number. But we know we have to keep in mind that when we talk about 65 million refugees we are really talking about 65 million individual fates.’


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Prestigious exhibition to present Kurdistan Museum in Geneva, Switzerland

The Geneva Museum of Art and History is the largest museum in Geneva and specialises in the history of western culture from ancient times to the present day.

Kurdistan Museum is featuring in a prestigious exhibition about contemporary museum architecture in Geneva which will run from 11 May until 20 August 2017.

The exhibition has been created by the Art Basel Centre at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Geneve (Museum of Art and History), the largest museum in Geneva, which specialises in the history of western culture from ancient times to the present day.

Entitled ‘New Museums: Intentions, Expectations, Challenges’, the exhibition may also be staged at two other, as yet undisclosed, venues.

Kurdistan Museum was designed by the world’s leading memorial architect, Daniel Libeskind. It will be presented in Geneva with an architectural model, photographs, renderings, plans, drawings, sketches and a special film presentation.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) kept its museum project under wraps for eight years before asking Daniel Libeskind to unveil the venture in San Francisco on April 2016 at the Yerba Buena Centre. Construction has been delayed because of the KRG’s involvement in the war against Daesh and its financial support of 2 million refugees and internally displaced people.

‘Architecture is a symbol of identity,’ says Libeskind. ‘And so amidst the destruction of Palmyra and of great ancient places, to build a museum in Erbil is an affirmation of the very opposite. By constructing the present you really are building the future.’

Kurdistan Museum seeks to set the story of the Kurdish people in stone, sharing the Kurdish story with the international community and inspiring open dialogue amongst future generations. The landmark requires a new national archive and a permanent collection, which is being assembled by the Kurdistan Memory Programme, and will chronicle Kurdish history and culture from present day to the 16th century.

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Family of the late Kurdish revolutionary Leyla Qasim proposes reburial at Kurdistan Museum

LEYLA QASIM remains an icon of the Kurdish nationalist movement.

The sister of the late Leyla Qasim, the Kurdish national heroine who was executed for her opposition to the Iraqi Ba’ath Party in 1974, has called for her to be reburied in Erbil in the grounds of the proposed Kurdistan Museum.

Leyla Qasim was the first female political activist to be hanged in the Middle East in the 20th century, and her execution mobilised a generation of women to join the Kurdish national movement. She was buried in Najaf in southern Iraq despite her publicly expressed wish before her death to be buried in her native Kurdistan.

‘I feel the time has now come for her be buried in her homeland. What could be more fitting than that her remains are taken from Najaf and re-interred in the grounds of the Kurdistan Museum in Erbil when it is finally built,’ Sabiha Qasim told the Kurdistan Memory Programme (KMP) in Erbil.

Leyla Qasim died at a time when Kurds in northern Iraq were in armed revolt against the Iraqi regime. Her name continues to inspire compatriots involved with the Kurdish struggle for statehood, no matter what their party political allegiances are.

A member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and a student at Baghdad University, she belonged to a secret underground cell working in Baghdad. The undercover KDP unit’s role, according to one member of the group, was ‘to make people in Baghdad aware there was a war going on up north.’

Born in December 1950, Leyla came from a very patriotic Kurdish family who supported the KDP led by Mullah Mustafa Barzani. She grew up in Khanaqin, northeast of Baghdad, and was a star pupil at the local school. She always saw herself as a Kurdish nationalist and even as a young girl wanted to see the Kurdish flag hoisted in her home town instead of that of Iraq.

The family of Kurdish national heroine Leyla Qasim have requested her reburial in the grounds of the proposed Kurdistan Museum, Erbil.

The family of Kurdish national heroine Leyla Qasim have requested her reburial in the grounds of the proposed Kurdistan Museum, Erbil.

On 29 April 1974 Iraqi security forces raided Leyla Qasim’s family home in Baghdad during the middle of the night.

‘She calmly ordered the secret police to wait outside her bedroom as she got dressed,’ recalls Sabiha Qasim. She told her family at the time, ‘They want me because I’m a Kurd’.

Leyla Qasim was taken to the security headquarters and incarcerated in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison on terrorism charges.

With her were four male Kurdish students, Hassan Hama Rashid, Azad Miran, Nariman Masti and Jawad Hamawandi, all members of the same cell. They were tortured and ‘falsely accused’ of planting an explosive device in a cinema, according to the KDP’s leader Masoud Barzani.

The group was kept in solitary confinement but with the help of a friendly female prison warden Leyla managed to alert her family to her whereabouts. It was the day of her execution on 12 May 1974.

Visited by her mother and father, she broke the news of her impending execution and also revealed she had been visited by the Iraqi government’s then second-in-command, Saddam Hussein.

She said Saddam had offered to let her study abroad if she would renounce the Kurdish cause. ‘I am a proud Kurd and will remain so to my grave,’ she reportedly told him. By rejecting his offer, she faced certain death.

At Abu Ghraib, her mother heard friends urging her to try and get the sentence commuted because she was a woman.

‘I am not frightened although I am a girl,’ she replied. ‘I want to be the first of us to be executed.’

Leyla Qasim was hanged a few hours after her parents left the prison. On the way to the gallows she is reputed to have sung the Kurdish national anthem, Ey Reqib (‘Oh Enemy’). Leyla’s body was returned to her family next day with her eyes gouged out. Permission for a funeral was refused and she was finally buried in Najaf.

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Kurdistan Museum, Erbil is announced in San Francisco

'By constructing the present you are really building the future,' says Kurdistan Museum architect DANIEL LIBESKIND.

On 11 April 2016 the world renowned architect Daniel Libeskind publicly unveiled a sensitive project that he had kept secret for six years at the request of the Kurdish Government.

The announcement was made at the Bloomberg Businessweek Design Conference in Yerba Buena Centre in San Francisco, famous as the site for the Apple product launches.

The secret project was Kurdistan Museum: a new symbol of Kurdish liberty that tells the story of the Kurdish people, and the genocide they suffered under Saddam Hussein.

Daniel Libeskind was an apt choice as architect for a museum addressing the difficult subject of genocide given his family’s past suffering in the Nazi concentration camps. He is the world’s leading memorial architect and renowned for his ability to evoke cultural memory in buildings.

Kurdistan Museum will play an important dual role: it will memorialise the death of 182,000 Kurds in Iraq during the 1980s whilst at the same time preserving Kurdish history and cultural heritage from as far back as the 16th century. It will stand as a beacon of Kurdish freedom for the future, and be the first major world institution devoted to sharing the Kurdish story with the world.

Daniel Libeskind’s credentials for such a project are impeccable: he was chosen as the master planner for the reconstruction of the World Trade Centre in New York after 9/11, and has also designed buildings such as Berlin’s Jewish Museum, the Military History Museum in Dresden, and the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, England.

The design of the museum has been informed by the character of the city of Erbil, which celebrates its ancient history while embracing economic progress and modernity.

‘I think ancient cities need contemporary life in order to affirm their traditions,’ says Libeskind.

The Kurds’ war against ISIS, however, has added a new dimension and urgency to the project to build Kurdistan Museum.

‘Architecture is a symbol of identity,’ says Libeskind. ‘So amidst the destruction of Palmyra, and the destruction of great ancient places, to build a museum in Erbil is actually an affirmation of the exact opposite. By constructing the present you are really building the future.’

For the time being, however, construction has been put on hold as the Kurds of Iraq battle against the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’, their financial resources drained by their epic struggle.

‘The Kurds are inviting outside financial support for the project,’ says Libeskind.

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The psychological aftermath of violence and genocide

DOCTOR BAYAN RASUL is a psychiatrist who has studied trauma for over 35 years. She has helped numerous Kurdish communities whose lives were impacted by Anfal and poison gas attacks, and in doing so has herself been affected by stress related illness.

Aisha Ismail Ali, whose six children died during Anfal, has never recovered from her loss. She still lives in the village of Goptapa, which was gassed by the Iraqi army in the Fourth Anfal of May 1988, but painful memories still haunt her sleep.

‘My boys and girls still visit me in my dreams,’ she tells visitors as she strokes her children’s clothes. ‘Their clothes still smell of them. Until I die I’ll be waiting for them.’

There is no psychotherapy available to Aisha to help alleviate the effects of the massive trauma she and thousands like her have experienced across Kurdistan. Survivors still suffer long-term physical and psychological effects decades later, and clinical research suggests the trauma they suffered can be transmitted to people around them.

The experiences of chemical bombing victims in Halabja, where 5,000 peopled died in 1988, is a case in point.

‘A woman from the town told us how she’d been left for days amongst the piles of dead bodies,’ says Doctor Saren Azer, a Kurdish doctor who treats Anfal survivors. ‘She was finally brought out alive only to discover nobody had survived from her immediate family. She still lives in the trauma of that event. When we doctors hear her story, we feel traumatised ourselves.’

Doctor Bayan Rasul is a Kurdish psychologist who has studied trauma for more than 35 years. She was present when thousands of Barzani males were abducted from Iraqi Government camps near Erbil in 1983. Over the years, she has witnessed first hand how deep psychological scars have been inflicted on the Barzani women and children who were left behind.

‘They would never laugh, and were always in tears,’ she says. ‘Their children would get sick and die. During the day they were in mourning. They suffered from stomach pain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and internal bleeding. They also had mental health issues and many were diabetic.’

The women complained of heartburn, headaches, stomach and colon problems. They could not sleep and were stressed, unable to relax.

Doctor Rasul, who has helped numerous Kurdish communities hit by Anfal and gas attacks, has herself paid a price for treating other people’s trauma. She has been diagnosed with a series of stress related illnesses including Bell’s Palsy, and has also suffered from cancer and high blood pressure.

‘I had to hide my own trauma to help my people,’ says Doctor Rasul.

With limited professional psychological help available in Iraqi Kurdistan, the trauma suffered by many Kurdish communities can seem endless. And with a flood of refugees from the war with ISIS now reaching Kurdish refugee camps near Mosul, it is a problem that is overwhelming available resources.

There are only around 80 clinical psychologists working in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, according to the aid agencies. There is a larger number of psychiatrists, but they are overworked too.

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Interviewing victims of trauma with sensitivity

It is important for future generations in Kurdistan to understand how their lives have been shaped by events of the past – even though the memories are frequently painful.

Abdullah Mohammed Abdullah crouches at this sister’s grave in Rania, 20km west of Iraq’s border with Iran. She died on 16 April 1987 when the nearby Balisan valley was gassed, one of Iraq's first chemical weapons attacks against the Kurds. Abdullah has never recovered from the trauma of her death and the loss of his father.

He was 12 years old when his father saved him from the bombing, but both were then captured and bussed to Erbil, the Kurdish capital. There they were separated.

‘The secret service took him away from me and my father just said, “Abdullah, I am gone.”’ he says. Abdullah was released but never saw his father again.

His eyes fill with tears as he finishes his story. The location of the interview, outside the Ranya hospital where he boarded the bus in 1987, is poignant. Abdullah’s pain is palpable and in an attempt to comfort him the interviewer, himself clearly affected by the story, embraces him.

It is difficult not to be deeply touched by the raw testimony of those who have survived the dark, tragic moments of Anfal or ISIS brutality. They have, in most cases, been deeply scarred in the process. However, Kurdistan Memory Programme (KMP) interviewers have learned how to address the emotional and psychological turmoil they encounter in the villages.

KMP interviewers have deep respect for those who want the world to know what happened to them, even when – decades after the event – their memories remain almost too painful to share.

National tragedy has defined the history of Kurdistan. But it is important for future generations to understand how their lives have been shaped by events of the past. The testimonies collected by the KMP team make that possible, whilst at the same time honouring those whose lives were taken by Anfal or other cruelties.

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The importance of documenting painful memories

Many of the KMP's interviewees have been been psychologically scarred by trauma yet want the world to know the truth of what happened to them.

Since 2008 a team of Kurdish and British filmmakers have been travelling all over Iraqi Kurdistan collecting testimonies from villagers who witnessed key events in Kurdish history, especially the Anfal and Yazidi genocides.

They have been documenting their experiences for a project called the Kurdistan Memory Programme (the KMP), which seeks to collect this oral heritage to create a new national historical archive for Kurdistan.

The KMP has interviewed more than 1,000 people and is providing an original perspective on modern Kurdish history, which is viewed through the eyes of those nordinary people who experienced it first hand.

Over the years, dozens of Kurds have worked for the Kurdistan Memory Programme (KMP) as researchers, directors, cameramen editors and translators. They come from Britain, America, Europe, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan itself, and their participation is vital to the success of this unique project.

National tragedy has defined the history of the region. This is why these professionals are applying their expertise to establish an authoritative and accessible record of historical events that have changed life in Kurdistan irrevocably. Their work will inform the world about the importance of Kurdish history and how it shapes the political contours of the Middle East.

The Kurdistan Memory Programme records the accounts of survivors of executions, gas attacks, deportations, flights, imprisonment and rape by Saddam’s regime and the Islamic State (ISIS). These video testimonies form the basis of a remarkable and definitive collection.

This work is important. During Saddam Hussein’s persecution of the Kurds, which culminated in the Anfal military campaign of 1988, up to 182,000 people died and more than 4,000 villages were destroyed. In the more recent war against ISIS, thousands of men and women have been killed, wounded, abducted and abused by Islamic extremists.

That’s why it’s vital this history is not forgotten, so that future generations can understand the pain and sacrifices of their ancestors to help forge a more peaceful future.

Collecting testimony from victims of genocide demands a high level of sensitivity. The interviewees have been been psychologically scarred by nightmarish experiences but are willing to revisit them to let the world know the truth of what happened. Aware that they must be be sensitive to the continuing trauma of survivors, the KMP has learned many techniques to ensure that emotional turmoil is met with deep sympathy and understanding.

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