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 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.
‘I walked my son to the bus: I knew I’d never see him again’
Villagers from Sheikh Wasan initially refused to believe chemical weapons had been used against them. AISHA TAHA ABDULLAH remembers her son laughing when she urged him to cover his windows and doors with blankets.
‘Iraqi soldiers struck the young men in front of their parents with a metal hose’
After Iraqi jets gassed Kurdish peshmerga strongholds in the Gara mountains, 99 men from Guze village were rounded up and executed. AISHA HAJI SALAM describes how her two sons were taken from her and never seen again.
‘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.
‘They jumped into the spring to wash off the chemicals, but the water was poisoned’
The villagers of Ware thought they'd be safe from Iraqi gas attacks because they lived near a government base. They were wrong. AISHA MAGHDID MAHMOUD recalls how her father searched for their family members amidst the corpses of their neighbours.
‘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.
‘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 loss of my son is a never-ending pain because I wasn’t able to bury him’
The poison gas attack on the Balisan valley was a first for Saddam Hussein. Never before had chemical weapons been used by a state against its own people. NAJIBA KHADIR AHMED has vivid and painful memories of what happened.