Carl and Carolyn are living in Sulaimani, Iraq where they teach at the American University of Iraq- Sulaimani. This is their effort at describing what it means to live in a new location.
April 18, 2010
The visit to Halabja was a very sobering experience. This is the city on which Saddam’s air force dropped hundreds of poison gas bombs on March 16, 1988, killing over 5,000 people and leaving many more with life-time injuries. At the time of the gas attacks the city of Halabja was actually in the control of the Iranians (this being in the time of the eight year Iran-Iraq war), so the first persons on the scene were Iranian soldiers. The number of dead was so large that the soldiers could do no more than to put the bodies into hastily dug mass graves in the city’s cemetery. See two photos below. The first is of one of the monuments on top of a mass grave containing 1,500 bodies. The second of a series of tombstones on which are inscribed family names. The stones are in place only to memorialize the families; no one knows in which mass grave the bodies are now buried.
This gas attack has always been a tragedy to us, but it is so much more real knowing some of our students’ families actually lived through this event. Events on the ground on that fateful day were so arbitrary. In the photo below this paragraph you will see three students standing with us; all are from Halabja. The family of one of the students fled in one direction and were saved because of the wind carried the gas away from them. The family of another of the students also fled, but in the wrong direction. The wind blew the gas toward them and they died.
One more Halabja story: in the museum dedicated to the victims of the gassing of Halabja, the names of all of the victims are etched in the glass walls of the museum. One name is Zmnako, noted in the photo below with green tape around it. Zmnako was an infant at the time of the attack, and in the chaos that followed, was separated from his mother. All had thought that he had been killed and his body put into a mass grave, so his name was placed on the wall. Unbeknownst to people in Halabja, he had been rescued by people who assumed his family was dead. He was placed into the home of an Iranian Kurdish family who adopted him. He grew up there and after the death of his adoptive mother, learned something of his background in Halabja. The good end of this story: after doing some research, he discovered that his birth mother is still living and as of a few months ago he has been reunited with her. The green tape around his name says he is alive, not dead. We can only imagine the disbelief and joy of his family in Halabja on being re-united with him. He is now a student at AUI-S.
Perhaps we are reading our students incorrectly, but our sense is that where they could be so bitter, there appears to be a willingness to move on and be part of a constructive future. We can only hope that their aspirations bear fruit in the future. The privilege of knowing them has certainly enriched our lives.