Interview with Bafraw Fakhradeen
23/12/05 – Serqala, Germian, 3rd Anfal
By Dr.chomanhardi -www.chomanhardi.com
Bafraw Fakhradeen grew up in a district and then she married and moved to a village in Germian. She had been married for less than two years when Anfal reached her region (3rd Anfal) and her husband was Anfalised. Anfal has made her become an activist. She works in a woman’s organisation and is involved in politics. Most Anfal women are desperate for help but Bafraw has fared better than many as she has a small family (two children) and is well supported by the Kurdish government. Her strong will and her better financial situation are reflected in her confidence and wellbeing. She is a lot more positive and optimistic about the world and her own life. In this interview she talks about her arrest, how she managed to escape, the period when she was hiding and her views about Anfal and the world.
– Can you please tell me your full name.
– Bafraw Fakhradeen.
– Which village do you come from Bafraw xan?
– Salayee village, Salayee Ban Shar (north of the city). My husband was Anfalised there. I originally come from Nawjool district. I was married for a year and a half when we were Anfalised.
– How many children did you have?
– Two, a girl and a boy.
– May they live long (Kurdish expression to wish someone old age). When did the attack start and had you heard about Anfal before it came to your region?
– It was April 88. Anfal started in Sengaw before it came to us (A common misconception some people think Anfal started in the Germian region). We knew about what happened there and about the chemical attacks.
– Do you mean the gassing of Halabja?
– Halabja happened before us. We knew but most people did not believe it would be so bad. Some people fled to the cities, some were scared, some said: Let’s go because they would do to us what they did in Halabja. But most people couldn’t believe it would be so systematic. When the planes came people thought they will bombard us like the past and then leave. The bombardments were happening every day [before Anfal], every day we would eat quickly and run into our basements. That was our life.
– How long was it like that for?
– About a year and a half to two years we were under constant bombardments by planes and tanks. I was newly wed when these constant bombardments started. Before that I wasn’t aware how bad things were because I lived in Nawjul district. But when I got married and moved to the village, my husband was a deserter, we were in fear and under threat all the time. Then relatives came and told the village people that we would be Anfalised and attacked by gas and we should leave the village. They said there was a large build up of the army in Tuz Khurmatoo. But most people didn’t believe it, some said it was all lies. Some said even if the government is grouping the army they wouldn’t attack. Some believed that after the war with Iran the government had few planes left and would not be able to attack. Many people left the evening before and got to the other side, but some were prevented, their path was blocked and they were told not to be scared.
– Who prevented them?
– The peshmarga (Kurdish freedom fighters) prevented us from leaving. They blocked our path in Shoraw and didn’t let us go. If they had let us go we would have been saved but they didn’t let us. It was night time and we saw the car lights, the army was coming towards us. We then headed towards the hills. We didn’t know where to go. The government closed the main roads, the army was everywhere. We headed towards the hills but realised they were (the army) surrounding us. They were coming from Sangaw as well. Everyone who headed to Sangaw ended up returning. People headed to Kifri, the army was there. They went to Nawjool and the army was there. We were completely surrounded in the hills. The planes were circling above us. They picked people up and took them. The jash came and told us that we will be compensated, we will be relocated, we will not be arrested. They deceived us. If we had remained in the hills we would have been safe but the jash gave us in. We believed them and followed them. We went to Tuz Khurmatu. We started in the night in tractors, chariots, some on foot. People were suffering, some were wounded. Children were dying in the cold and rain. We saw two tractors tumble down the mountain. Because the roads were old, it was raining and muddy, it was a tough journey. The tractors tripped over and women and children were screaming in the night. Early in the morning they blocked our way, the army and Jash came towards us and asked us where we were going. They separated the men from the women, the women were sent to the Maktab Shabab (Youth Centre) and men to the Maaskar (The Military Base).
– Where were these places?
– In Tuz Khurmatu. This was right by the river just before you enter Tuz Khurmatu. They put the women into huge halls. The Youth Centre is still standing [you can go and see it], it had many rooms. Those who had relatives they helped them escape that night. After three days they brought us food but some of the jash were really bad, they would kick the food and would not let us eat. They said: Don’t give them anything, why didn’t they join the jash forces? An Arab senior officer came inside and told us: You were feeding the peshmarga all the time, why don’t the peshmarga help you out now? Why were you helping the peshmarga? Why did you wash their clothes? Why didn’t you come down from the mountains to register in the National Census when we asked you to? Those who are not registered in the National Census will see no good. In the night, Jabara Drej (Jabar the Tall) who was a Gilli mustashar and was martyred later (killed by the Iraqi government), secretly told us to break the light bulb. He said he would help us escape from the window that night. He said to break the light bulb and he would help us. We had been there for three nights.
– Was he related to any of you?
– No, he wasn’t related to any of us. We broke the bulb and he broke the window. The jash were crouching, making themselves into stairs and people escaped stepping on their backs across the courtyard wall. About 500 women escaped that night. From the roof the jash tied the children to their pishten (Kurdish belt which is made of a long cloth) and pulled them out. Jabara Drej was martyred during the mass exodus. His group helped him that night. They helped women and children escape. They helped about 500 women in this way. He kept telling his group to help us escape. After three days the soldiers found out that they (the jash) were helping people escape and there was a demonstration. The people [of Tuz Khurmatu] were hitting the police and the police were shooting at the people. The people killed a policeman during this outbreak. This is the people of Tuz Khurmatu I am talking about, they were demonstrating and fighting with the police. Then the Arab police did not dare to stay in the prison, so they brought the jash back. They had taken the jash away from us when they realised the jash were helping us escape but they brought them back because they were scared of being killed. Jabara Drej’s group came back. On the next day it started raining. We had been there for 4-5 days. I myself stayed there for six days and they were helping people escape for the last three days.
– Did you hear about him helping people escape?
– I saw him help people escape with my own eyes. I knew him, they are from the Gilli tribe, his brother had been killed. The government killed him (Jabara Drej) during the uprising. On the sixth day they brought buses to take the people [from the Youth Centre]. They filled the buses with screaming women and children. They were telling us that no one knows what will happen to us. Some women threw their children out of the stuffed buses, they didn’t want to take them. They filled ten busses loaded with women and children. Then Jabara Drej came back and said that the worst that could happen is that they too could get Anfalised like us. He said, Honour is precious, he told his group to help people escape from the windows in masses. It was broad daylight, heavy rainfall. They broke two of the window bars, the window had three bars, then they broke the window and people were rushing to get through. He told the jash to break the iron bars. He said, We are not more precious than these people, the worst that could happen is that we would be taken like them. They are our honour, he said.
– This was all in the Youth Centre in Tuz Khurmatu?
– Yes. He was telling us just go, rush and go. He kept telling us the army is coming to make people run faster. We too escaped, we went into a house. Many houses had their doors wide open telling people to go in and hide. It was pouring with rain. On the other hand people were being stuffed into coaster busses and taken to unknown destinations. On this side people were escaping and on the other they (the army) were taking them.
– The soldiers were taking people and the jash were helping them escape?
– Did the soldiers know the jash were doing this?
– They knew what the jash were doing but they did not dare to prevent them because the people of Tuz Khurmatu had attacked them a few days earlier. Then we went to that house. The family brought us bread and yogurt; I had my son on my lap. They gave us clothes and told us not to be scared; they would take us anywhere we want. They didn’t want to keep us in the house because it was very close to the Youth Centre and we would be found and taken again. I told them to take us to Bassirka, an Arab district. My husband’s sister lived there amongst the Arabs. At noon the man told us to walk on and he would pick us up further up the road. He did not dare to take us from his house because he was worried that people would see and report him for helping us escape. He said to walk and pretend not to know what is going on, he would meet us and take us from there. We went and he took his car out.
– How long did you stay in their house?
– One day then we walked from their house to the main road and he took us from there.
– Did anyone see you?
– No. No one saw us and even those who did were all keeping quiet, they were all Kurds. Half of the jash were very good people, the other half were terrible. He took us to my sister in law’s place, all their neighbours were Arabs.
– Where was this?
– It was in Tuz Khurmatu. We were very scared. We did not leave the house for three months. My sister in law said to keep a low profile in case the Arabs tell on us. In fact the Arabs were much nicer than the Kurds. The wife of an Arab senior officer in the army came and told us: Don’t worry about us, we will not hand you over or talk about you. She told us to stay there and not move, she said that we are safe there. She said if we move a mustashars (jash leaders) might give us in. The Arabs knew well about the jash. The three months we stayed there we did not dare to come out or even come to the courtyard. We were like prisoners. Arkan (her son) was still breastfeeding. The security forces were searching every house for the Anfal people, they arrested those who had managed to escape. One morning, I had Arkan in my lap when the security forces started banging at the gate. We were staying in a part on their (sister in law’s) courtyard. My sister in law locked the quarter where we stayed from outside. The officer asked in Arabic: Who is staying here? We were all quiet. My husband’s nephew said to the officers that this section of the house was empty to rent and the rest of the place, he told them, is occupied by their family. I stuffed my breast into my son’s mouth.
– So they didn’t notice you?
– Fortunately they searched the rest of the house and they didn’t find us but they found and arrested many others and took them to Dibs.
– Was this during the curfew?
– Yes they did an extensive operation. The helicopters were circling above. It was the Tikritis (people who come from Tikrit, Saddam’s birth place), they even took some of the jash. We stayed there for three months and the Arabs never informed on us. Then the amnesty came which they said was for everyone except Jalal Talabani. This is when we came out without fear. Then I decided that we rent a place, so that we don’t bother them (relatives) anymore. We moved into an empty courtyard in Jumhuri. Then they said the government was doing a survey of the Anfals. Some people went to register. But it was another trick, the Tikritis had come to arrest more people. We were in an empty courtyard in Jumhuri, by the Said Hashim mosque. They said the government is calling people to register [and] so many people went to answer the call. Then we found out it was not a survey but another operation to arrest people. The army and helicopters came from Tikrit straight into Tuz Khurmatu.
– Was this after the amnesty?
– Yes after the amnesty. (Although this is possible it has not been confirmed by others and it is possible that Bafraw is confused about the timing of this operation. This may have happened before the September amnesty). They searched everywhere, they arrested people, they arrested women. They took a young man from a fridge box. They searched everything. The place we rented was owned by a Kurdish senior officer, he told us not to worry, because the place had been empty for a long time and he would lock the door again and say that it has not been rented yet. He told us to be quiet until the effort ends, fate would decide whether we would survive or not. The neighbours were very good, they all told the soldiers that the place was still empty. The door had a big lock on it. They were Arabs, we heard them in the road, they were Republican Guards. This time too we were saved. They took many people during this campaign. Six months later many of the people who were arrested in Dibs were released again. (Another indicator that Bafraw may be confused about the dates because the detainees were only released after the September amnesty). I know many of them, they told me later that they were given food but they were mistreated at first, it got better towards the end. But three big busses from this group were transferred to Nugra Salman, no one knows what happened to those. One of the women told me that the guards were older in Dibs, they were good to them and helped them but they suffered a lot at first. The three months we were in hiding were the worst. The Arabs were better than the Kurds, the families that were reported were informed on by Kurds, spies for the government. They told them so and so’s family is sheltering Anfal people but the Arabs didn’t inform on us. The Kurds did the worst things for money but some risked their lives to save and shelter others. After the amnesty the government was deporting people, they would put a number on your door and ask you to go to Hewler (Arabisation of the oil rich regions). I thought to myself: What shall I do and where shall I go? I only had one brother in law who was a soldier. My daughter (she points at the young girl) was a baby and my son was a toddler. I thought I should go to Smud so that they don’t send us to Hewler (Erbil), I had no one there (in Hewler). So we moved to Smud and we rented a place. We stayed there but they would not give us our food coupons. They said that Anfal people are not entitled to them. They gave us no food coupons and no compensation, they gave us a piece of land and we made that into a house. The government would not give us anything. In Tuz Khurmatu there was a man called Jaafar, he was Arabic and he really oppressed the Anfal people. He deported many people from Tuz Khurmatu to Hewler. He would put a number on their door and tell them to leave. He would say that a bus would come to pick us up later. We ran away that night and went to Smud. We stayed there for about a year, it was misery. There was no water. Eventually we came back to Serqela.
– How did you survive in Smud?
– We had nothing to live on. We were extremely poor and needy. I don’t know how we survived. We lived on people’s charity. We only had what people gave us. We had no salary, no food ration. Now thank God we have a small salary and we manage to survive. Then we had nothing, I had little children and everything was expensive. We had no man to work for us. Now, fortunately, Save the Children supports my daughter to buy her own things. I work with a woman’s organisation and we have the Anfal salary, we manage. They (Kurdish government) have also given me this place, now we are much better off than we used to be. Then many people didn’t dare to shelter us, we were a bad omen to people. Some people used to tell us: Don’t come to us, we will be arrested too. I now don’t talk to many of my relatives because at the time we needed them most they didn’t help us. I still remember all of that. Now things are so much better. I work and we have two salaries. We have a house. My son is in the sixth year secondary school (equivalent to 12th year in the British system) and my daughter is in the fifth (11th year according to the British system). I have been living in Serqala since 1994. Everyone has been very good to us and my children don’t like to leave this place.
– Why did you choose Serqala?
– It had water and there was work. We helped people plant their land, we planted broad beans, we harvested. People helped us here. Whenever they had work they asked the Anfal women to do it, they wanted to help us. This place has been so much better than Smud. Smud was a ruin, an awful ruin, just dust and waste. They have given us so much here, lots of charity. If they had anything they gave it to us. So we stayed here and now we are doing very well.
– You talked about hiding with your children. Did any of your other relatives survive?
– I saw none of them again, only my brother and mother. My brother had been a peshmarga, he was hiding. He surrendered during the amnesty but they arrested him. He was in prison in Tikrit for a month and he was supposed to be hanged. He was eventually released on another amnesty. They took him two months after the amnesty, they said he had been a peshmarga. He [Saddam Hussein] gave amnesties and he took them back. They told him to go and do his military service and when he went to the conscription office they arrested him. They told him he had been a peshmarga. They took him to Nawjul where we come from. He met a security officer who knew our father and the man advised my brother to tell the truth, that was his only chance, he told him. They asked him why had he become a peshmarga? He told them that we had to leave Nawjul because my other brother was a deserter. In the village they made him a shepherd so, he told them, then he thought it best to join the peshmarga forces. He also told them that he had come back because there was an amnesty for people like him. They told him that does not count. They took him to Tikrit but we didn’t know. He was in solitary confinement for 20 nights, he was supposed to be hanged and then Saddam gave an amnesty for the political prisoners. The guards told him he should be grateful to Saddam Hussein otherwise he would have been hanged. When he was released they resettled him in Smud. I went to Smud because of him and my mother until 1991. After the uprising we fled (the 1991 mass exodus to Iran and Turkey).
– You went to Iran?
– Yes. I was carrying my daughter all the way, we walked in the rain and ended up living in tents on the border of Iran. After two months we returned to Smud. And in 1994 we came to Serqala. Our life was much better here and we decided to stay. Some people returned to Tuz Khurmatu but I decided not to. I now work in the organisation in Zinana and travel to the base a few times a month. I also go to Tuz Khurmatu. I keep asking them to transfer me but they would like me to stay with them. In the last two years life has got better for my children. Mam Jalal [Talabani] is good to us. They care about the Anfals now. But we still don’t have a monument or statue that people can go to, to commemorate. It would be good for people to gather somewhere, there should be a graveyard or a museum or something like that. The children of our children should have a place to go to and see what Saddam Hussein did to us. It was partly our own fault, we were so naïve, we were so poor we didn’t even know what the date was, we didn’t pay attention to the days of the week, we had no access to the news, there was no TV or satellite at the time. We were terribly naïve. We didn’t know what was going to happen until it happened. Nowadays whatever happens even the children know about it immediately. The satellite news tells you a lot, but then people were poor and naïve. Why didn’t the world interfere when all of that was happening to us? They knew very well what was happening. Why were they good friends with Saddam when he bombarded Halabja and now they are against him? It is all politics. Now they visit the Halabja graveyard (referring to Colin Powell’s visit to Halabja). Whatever happened to us was because of the western countries. God says I make you and I destroy you. Now they know that they won’t benefit if they turn their back to the Kurds, they are now good friends with the Kurds. But they had a hand in our destruction, they gave Saddam his chemicals. And we didn’t know anything, Turkey was our enemy, Iran was our enemy, whichever road we took was dangerous, we were really confused. Nowadays a child knows more than we did then because they study and read and listen to the news. We did not go to school, we did not have anything. I was slightly better than the rest of the people because I lived in a district and I had studied up to secondary school but the village people were very naïve. I asked my husband to move into the city many times, he would not. I sometimes told him that the government may destroy our homes and he (her husband) would say: No way! We would be like everyone else if anything happened. And then he was taken and Anfalised.
– How did you separate from your husband?
– When we got to the river they separated the men from the women. The moment they separated us from our men the soldiers came to have a look at us. They talked between themselves, this woman is pretty, that one is beautiful. I understood a little Arabic. Right there they separated some of the pretty women. They were holding their hands apparently helping them along. I swear if I could die, I would die right there. The other women didn’t understand.
– Did they separate the beautiful women?
– Yes they took the pretty women, they laughed between themselves, they were saying rude things. I understood. I told the women to bring their scarves down to their foreheads and look down. Those six days in the Youth Centre I told the women don’t wash your face so that you are not beautiful and you are not abused. Everyone was crying, no one tried to clean up, we all smelt. Those six days we were rotting but we didn’t try to clean up, we didn’t want them to take the beautiful women. It was the same in Dibs. One of my acquaintances who came back from there told me that there was an extremely beautiful woman amongst them. Every day a senior officer would come to look at her and talk to her. One day he said to her that she was needed for questioning. He took her somewhere, some thought he had taken her to another place, to Kirkuk or something. She disappeared for two days. When she was returned the women asked her what happened but she wouldn’t say a word. She had told the others that they wanted her as a nurse, she knew a little about medical things. She was ashamed to speak. My friend told me they blackened her face and hid her whenever the officer came. He asked where she was and they told him she has been deported. He kept looking for the beautiful woman and gradually he gave up. She was shaking every time he came to look. Kurds would kill if someone does anything to their sister but at the time we were totally powerless. They did whatever they wanted to the women. Many women were sold to Arab countries, a document was found in Kirkuk which named 18 women, one of them is my sister in law. She was gorgeous. My brother was a teacher, he was Anfalised. She had two daughters. They took the very beautiful women. I read an interview with an ex-general who said he had seen it with his own eyes how the women were taken to Egypt. I went to Kalar and talked about this issue. I said: Is it possible that all these countries did not know about any of this? We just want to know what happened to them, they probably will never come home, they are of no use to us anymore but we want to know. The Arab countries were helping Saddam Hussein, they had a hand in our oppression, if they are Muslim, why didn’t they help us? If they are Muslim why did they help Saddam Hussein? The majority of them (Anfal victims) were shot on the border of Saudi Arabia around Slaman and Nugra Salman. My mother told me you could see the border of Saudi Arabia [from there]. She said they saw the closed military vehicles that took the men. The guards had told them laughingly, These are your sons being taken to their death. They took them close to the border. She said they watched from the small windows, the guards would whip them because of this, why are you watching, they would say. My mother told me that the guards would laugh and tell them to expect their sons to come home soon. She told me that they used to gather the rubbish, paper and plastic things to make fire and make some tea. That is how they lived there. Their hands were rotting because there was no water. The lice were all over them, they used to brush them off their hands and legs. I had a little brother who was with my mother. She said that he would not sleep, he would cry all night. The lice harassed him, he could not sleep. My mother was strong she would wash him but it did not make a difference. They gave them no food, no water. The guards sold them things. One onion for five dinars, only one onion. A handful of rice for five dinars. It hardly got rid of the bad taste in your mouth, my mother told me. They gathered bags and plastic and sticks to make tea. That was their life there. When my mother came back her body was rotten because there was no water to wash. She said when the water tank came and people went to get some the soldiers hit them with hose and cable. Half of them didn’t dare to queue for water. They beat them so much. There has been so much oppression, we will never finish talking about it. In Dibs, Tuz Khurmatu, Tikrit. Then, my mother told me, they were taken to near Beji. They (soldiers) had dug pits by bulldozers. She said that they were taken to the pits. She told me it was sunset, they were near a raw of trees. They were told to crouch at the lip of the pits, facing the pits. My father spoke Arabic and he understood that they were going to be shot. Women started shouting and saying the shayatuman (The declaration Muslims must make before they die). The sun was just above the horizon. It was a desert, the pits were right before them. They would be shot from the back and they would fall into the pits. They were grouped in lines according to family. Then suddenly a car came. The officer had three lines on his shoulder. He spoke in Arabic and said, Don’t shoot them, there is an amnesty. Then they made them get up again. They put them back onto the trucks and took them back to prison. The killing had ended. Those who had been killed so far they were finished, those who were still alive survived. They were in the large busses for two days, falling asleep and fainting. They were taken back to Nugra Salman. The busses were travelling slowly. My mother has had a stroke now.
– Where is your mother?
– She is Tuz Khurmatu. She suffered so much and was so depressed. Recently they discovered a mass grave, they brought back some bones. Some of them were my brother’s friends. Following that my mother had a stroke. She is nearly blind now. She said, So this is what they have done with my son? The doctors have advised her not to go to wakes because she cries a lot when she goes. She is in bed for two years now.
– I am really sorry.
– Now the Kurdish government helps us but if they could build a couple of places for Anfal we would like that. We want our own special place, a statue to commemorate. We don’t want the new generations to forget what happened to us and how brutal Saddam was. No one has done such things in the world: beheading women and children, stealing women… there is no such thing. Only Saddam was capable of doing such things. Now that he is gone, thank God, we are free, we are not scared, check points are not scary anymore. I did not go to my parents for two years in fear of the check points [before the fall of Saddam’s regime], sometimes they detained women there for a couple of days. Now people are free. No one is scared, thank God. In the night the tanks and bombs echoed in your head, what life was that? Now fortunately most people are not desperate. The Anfal women are much better, they just need land and accommodation and now the government is trying to give them land too. If that happens they won’t need anything else. But unfortunately the salary that is given to the people is the same for everyone, those who have ten children are the same as those have 2, that is not right, they should have different salaries. Land should be given to everyone, no one should be without a home. We are glad they are giving land to people. I myself listen to the Anfal women in the meetings, many of them ask for land. Some of them live at their brother’s homes and with other relatives. People don’t have the space for them. They can’t buy land themselves so we hope the government will support them. The salary went up a bit [recently] so that was good but they still need homes, their own private place. I want everyone to have what I have. I want all of us to be equal.
– Many thanks for talking to me.
– You are welcome, thanks for coming here.