What makes a people, a people? What defines a group: a common voice, a common history, culture, a blogging engine? Just as the Iranians, the Kurds celebrate New Year or Newroz every March. Among the celebrations and the well wishes given, there is an underlying sadness and strength that defines the Kurdish people during this holiday. Some say that it is the legend of Kawa that unites them while others believe that the history of violence against the Kurds is the backbone of their identity. March is the month of many anniversaries for the Kurds, violence in Syria, violence in Iran, but most notably the horror that occurred in the village of Halapja in 1988….and Halapja was the center of a new resurgance of violence this year.
Halapja burned once more this March, but not for the reasons you would think.
Let's first cover the issue of the importance of Halapja if you are unfamilar. As part of Saddam's Anfal Campaign in March of 1988, a mixture of various chemical weapons/gases were dropped on the village of Halapja, resulting in the deaths of over 5000 Kurds in a few short days. Images of this are truly heartbreaking, with the environmental and social impacts still being felt to this day.
This year, on the 18th Anniversary of the tragedy, students used the commemoration as an opportunity to protest the Kurdistan Regionals Government's corruption and lack of social services. The students were blocked at the gates, one demostrator was shot. The Halapja memorial became a symbol of the corruption, a place to take national guests but a place denied to those it honors…more violence erupted and the monument was burned to the ground. For Americans who are looking for an equivlent, imagine the Holocaust museum being destroyed in Washington DC. Some good has come from this, the KRG has apologized for the death and being the cause of the event; one can only hope that perhaps in destroying such a symbol that the government will learn to take the people's demands seriously.
Reactions to the burning of the monument are mixed, as a blogger myself I am still at a loss to define how I feel about this. The overwhelming sentiment is divided into two: those who are appalled that a monument (viewed to the level of sacred) could be and was so easily destroyed by the very people that it honors, or those who regret what happened but are grateful for the protest victory that has been hard won in this situation. Was this a needed sacrifice? I'll leave the decision of that to you.