Halabja, Kurdistan region ‘Iraq’, — Ali’s life is like a shattered mirror. After twenty years of separation he finally found the warm embrace of his real mother. However, when he was 17 he lost his adoptive mother, an Iranian widow. Probably Ali is the only person who can say, “The compassion of each mother feels different.”
Like any other child, Ali’s mind was always filled with imaginary tales and he never thought about his family’s tragic end.
“Now when I think about it, I understand that my stories are more painful than the ones of other children,” he said. “Whenever something happened to me, I would say why fate has chosen me for this.”
Those events have now become memories of the past for Ali. He is now at home in Halabja.
Zimnako Mohammed [Ali Asmin pour] his mother in Halabja, Kurdistan region of Iraq. Photo: Ayub Nuri
“On March 16th, you were on my lap. I told your dad that we would go to the basement until the shelling is over. Your father went up to the rooftop and your brother Sarteep followed him. I heard Sarteep crying as he fell. I rushed to him with a soaked piece of cloth, but there I collapsed too. When I opened my eyes I found myself in an Iranian hospital and you were no longer with me.”
After 21 years of separation, in a tearful ceremony near the Halabja memorial monument, this was how Ali’s real mother told the story to Ali in the autumn of 2009.
“Thank the almighty, after the death of my mother Kubra, he made me find my real mother.” said Ali.
Zimnako is his real name, but after the gas attack on Halabja in the spring of 1988 by the Iraqi army and his separation from his mother, the Iranian family who adopted him as a baby named him Ali.
It has been two years since Ali returned. Now he is studying at the American University in Sulaimaniyah and engaged to one of his relatives. He loves Sulaimani city in Iraqi Kurdistan where the city officials have awarded him with a Kurdish identity card and birth certificate.
Ali is now trying to get a driver’s license, and he plans to get married in the near future and move to Sulaimaniyah with his family.
“My story sounds like the one of Joseph,” said Ali.
During Ali’s return ceremony at the Halabja memorial, his Iranian uncle, Asfandiyar Hamid, looked at him with his tearful eyes and said, “His survival was like a miracle, when my sister Kubra found him in Halabja,www.ekurd.nethe was covered with flies. He had sucked on his fingers for two days from hunger. My sister Kubra loved him more than her two real sons until the day she passed away.”
“When I was playing with kids, I could hear my mom telling others that she had found me in Halabja, but she was just telling our neighbors and did not let me know.” said Ali.
Since his return a sense of sadness has been haunting Ali.
“When my mother Kubra had an accident, she was taken to hospital and her legs were amputated. I did not visit her that night, and she passed away the next day. I still ask myself why I did not visit her that night, I still feel the sorrow,” said Ali. “When she died my whole life stopped, there was nothing left for me.”
The President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, and the president of the Kurdistan region Massoud Barzani, both met with Ali. Ali said the main focus of his meeting with the leaders was the fate of the missing children of Halabja.
“I asked them to do all they could to find the other missing children. If they see their real mothers, they will recognize them at once, even if they have not met them before.” said Ali.
Although Ali was linked to his real mother through blood tests, he said with confidence, “When I hugged my real mother, it felt as if I had known her for 100 years. I have been dreaming about her and wanted to know what she and my dad looked like.”
Ali has suffered so much being away from his real family that he is now ready to take it upon himself to go back to Iran and search for the other missing children whose families still wait for their return.
Fatima Hamidpour, aged 58, is Ali’s Iranian aunt. She made Ali promise to always come back and visit them before bursting into tears.
Hamidpour has witnessed Ali growing up in front of her eyes. She said that her sister Kubra did not want Ali to know the truth so that he isn’t hurt.
“Once I went to a psychiatrist and told him about Ali’s story, the specialist said that we should have told him the truth when he was six years old, because after that age he can feel it by himself.” said Hamidpour.
“It was because of the psychiatrist’s advice that we decided to tell Ali about the truth,” she added.
She also said that Ali would not have been in Halabja now if not for what the psychiatrist had said.
Ali is now preoccupied with the stories of Halabja and does not want them to be forgotten. He is thinking about a project for collecting the stories of the survivors in their own words.
“In every house in Halabja there is a tragic story. Next year I want to arrange a contest in Halabja schools for nonfiction stories. I plan to tell each student to go and ask their own mothers about where they were and what happened to them on March 16, 1988. I will gather these stories and I am sure a unique collection will be assembled.” said Ali.
Ali once told his tragic story in a class at the American University in Sulaimaniyah.
“When I turned back, I saw tears running down the eyes of some American teachers, then I understood what Saddam has done.” he said.
Ali saw Saddam Hussein’s execution while he was still in Iran.
“When I was in Iran, I decided to forgive Saddam and said that perhaps God will show him the right path, but he lived as a tyrant until his last moment. If not for Saddam, what would make an American feel pity for Halabja.” said Ali.
When Ali came back to his real family, he could only speak with his mother through a translator. He hasn’t mastered Kurdish yet.
Ali’s stepbrother from his biological mother said, “We thank God for brining this sweet brother back to us. He is a very good person.”
Ali was the only surviving male in his family. His four brothers, one sister and his father all perished in the chemical attack by the Iraqi army on Halabja in March of 1988 that killed 5000 people.
His mother remarried later on and now she lives with Ali in the same house.
Ali said, “When another missing child comes back to Halabja I would love to be present there and welcome him back because I understand their pain.”
Ali then spoke sadly of the day he was separated from his family.
“I was three months old when I lost my family. I was 17 when my adoptive mother died and I lost my family once more. I lived in her empty house for four years in loneliness. I always felt lonely and I kept asking myself, why should my story end like this?”
Ali misses his relatives in Iran and he would like to visit them. But his studies do not give him time.
“I always talk to them on phone and I have had the chance to visit them twice so far. But when my school is over, I will definitely visit them more because half of my heart is still there.” he said.