A visit to the Barzan valley

[Translate to Englisch:] © GfbV

On January 30, 2012, I visited the Barzan valley near the Turkish border on the Greater Zab, accompanied by Mrs. Nazdar Asaad, board member of the victims' association "Vejîn" and active member of the Society for Threatened Peoples, section Kurdistan / Iraq. In Barzan, the body of the legendary Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani is buried – and there is also a cemetery for the deceased men and boys from Barzan.

I visited the cemetery where the Barzani are buried. There are neither names nor birth or death dates on the gravestones. I was able to speak to a few young men and women who had lost their fathers and were then raised by their mothers under adverse conditions. The remains of their fathers might possibly be among the dead. One of the young men I spoke to was orphaned at the age of twelve. During the conversation, I noticed that he wasn't able to continue the conversation, so we had to stop. On the way to the office of the victim's association "Vejîn", I was told that some women still lay out the clothes, books, folders and other objects of their sons to keep the memory alive.

In 1975, the regime of Saddam Hussein and the Shah of Iran found a deal – mediated by the USA. The Shah closed the Iraqi-Iranian border so that the Kurdish rebels under Mustafa Barzani ran out of supplies. After this, the Hussein-regime started to evict the Kurds from their tribal areas of Barzan, Mizori Balla, Sherwan and Dolamari – and brought them to camps such as Quchtapa, Diana and Harir. In 1983, about 8,000 men, members of the Barzan tribe from the concentration camps, were forced into trucks and taken to southern and central Iraq, where most of them were killed. When the Americans took Iraq in 2003, the bodies of hundreds of Barzani were discovered in mass graves in the south of the country. The remains of the victims were then exhumed, transferred to Kurdistan and buried in the Barzan valley. Some of the Kurdish women who were left alone in their homes still know nothing about the fate of their sons, brothers, fathers and grandfathers.

Women are left to their own

After the deportations, the women in the region were left to themselves and mostly lived below the poverty line. Nevertheless, they tried to keep their old traditions alive. After 2003, when Saddam Hussein´s regime was overthrown by the United States and the economic situation stabilized, the women´s situation gradually improved. They are supported by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

"Vejîn" - The voice of the widows of Barzan

The association "Vejîn" (english:"rebirth") was founded in the beginning of 2007, supported by the STP and some committed men from Barzan. The NGO – that has its headquarters in Barzan – is trying to do research on the fate of the genocide-victims of the Barzan valley to give their relatives certainty. The organization also tries to improve the living conditions of the survivors by means of humanitarian and logistical aid. Furthermore, "Vejîn" offers training and continuous education courses to enable the surviving women to get settled in a regular job. To achieve these goals, the association wishes to strengthen their cooperation with local and international organizations and government institutions.

Handicraft as a weapon against forgetting

A project that focuses on handicraft as a weapon against forgetting is to be established, starting by producing traditional clothing and everyday objects in a village called Kaniabote, where there are about 95 women who became victims of the events of 1983 or the so called "Anfal operation" of 1988/89. Apart from keeping Kurdish traditions alive in the Barzan valley, the project will primarily help these 95 women to generate their own income and to lead independent lives. Furthermore, the project will also help the entire region economically – in long terms – also because the women chose to do their work by using locally purchased materials only.