An Interview with the Anfal survivor, Taimour
Preamble: Kanan Makiya’s Account of His Meeting With Taimour.
As far as anyone knows, Taimour ‘Abdallah, from the village of Qulatcho, is the only human being to have experienced firsthand the innermost workings of the Anfal campaign and to have lived to tell of it. This much I already knew in London, although I did not really know what the Anfal campaign was about, or if the boy’s account could be believed; it had been such a wooden and stilted interview. The Anfal was at that point just a name for me, one that kept on cropping up in the copies of the secret police documents which I had been given and which maybe had something to do with large numbers of Kurds disappearing in 1988. Many survivors had witnessed the attacks on their villages or other rounding up operations inside northern Iraq. But only one person ‘disappeared’ and by a miracle ‘reappeared’ to tell us what had happened to him.
Our meeting took place in an abandoned army barracks a half-hours’ drive into the mountains that surround Sulaimaniyya. Bombed out buildings with blackened windows perched on a mountain with unobstructed visibility in every direction. The setting was as remarkable as the base was awful–surrounded by walls, barbed wire and security checkpoints. Taimour’s life since the March uprising had been organized around the fact that he was and still is a prime target for assassination by Saddam’s agents. It became obvious the boy had been turned into a symbol, the servant of a cause, a living monument to the suffering of the Kurdish people.
Taimour was very quiet and passive throughout. In the sixteen hours that I spent in his company, he never spoke unless he was spoken to; he always answered politely, but in monosyllables, showing no emotion whatsoever. Was he suppressing them because of the trauma? Or was he expected to behave like a hero and heroes don’t cry? Maybe the setup of being interviewed in these unfamiliar surroundings by a foreigner was not conducive to the expression of emotion by someone who was after all still a child. He had been dressed up to look like a miniature version of a Kurdish peshmerga. Each Kurdish organization has its distinctive sash around the waist, its own favorite tailors and clothing styles.
The privacy that I desperately needed could not be arranged here. So I had to head back with Taimour and a big escort of armed men to Sulaimaniyya. We arrived at a house in the city center, and after the customary hospitalities and endless cups of tea, late in the evening, a private room was arranged and the interview finally started. But the electricity went off all over Sulaimaniyya. It went off and on again for the rest of the evening. Everything that could go wrong did that day.
As a result, I was nervous and upset. Who could have foreseen so many people hanging around? The idea had simply been to sit down with Taimour and a tape recorder. I had not anticipated such complications. I mention this because the build-up of tension inside me might have affected the interview. I expected too much from him, wanting every little detail of what had happened. Perhaps I came down too hard on the boy.
The interview began with my telling him that I was born in Baghdad but lived abroad and had come thousands of miles to talk to him. I said that I wanted to hear everything, including the memories he still lived with. “Don’t feel that there is any detail which is not worth talking about,” I remember saying more than once. I said all this just before the interview began, as though he wanted nothing other than to relive in infinitesimal detail everything that he had gone through. All this must have contributed to frightening the boy. ‘Who is this man? What does he want of me? What am I going to get out of this? Why should my story be of interest to him? What is he going to get out of it?’ All through dinner and breakfast the following morning, I saw him stealing glances in my direction. Whenever I turned to smile back, or acknowledge his look, he would turn his face away as though he hadn’t been looking in the first place. Taimour had good reason not to trust another human being ever again.
I think the boy did not want to talk to me. Circumstances had thrust him into a nightmarish, cruel world. Maybe he had never even known a real childhood. But the boy had been told he has to speak to this stranger who had come from far way and is useful to his people’s cause. He had been fitted up for the occasion and probably given a dress rehearsal or two in what to say or not to say. He didn’t want to talk, but he was expected to, and this is a culture where everyone does what is expected of them. Such lessons are drilled into children from very early on.
Taimour began by spitting out his story in one short spurt, adding nothing to what I didn’t already know from that first videotape that I had seen in August. I had not come all this way to hear a canned speech. Feeling the tension build up in myself, I started all over again, digging for the detail myself with short, pointed simple questions, no longer relying on the boy. After a while, a rhythm began to be picked up and I felt I was getting somewhere. How did he feel? I don’t know. Taimour, I think, was not expecting anything remotely like this. Did his eyes glisten? Once or twice I think he said things he didn’t want to say. The thought still preoccupies me. I remember pressing on relentlessly, stopping only because of the damn lights which kept on going out all over Sulaimaniyya.
What follows is a transcript of the interview, eliminating repetition and that initial spurt along with a few digressions. I have changed the odd word, and the location of small sequences of questions here or there, only for purposes of making what Taimour was saying clearer to the reader.
The day the army took you from the village, do you remember it well?
What were you doing?
Before the arrival of the army?
Yes, before the arrival of the army. What were you doing?
The army didn’t come to our village.
(Kurdish units employed by the Iraqi army, the Jahsh, came to Taimour’s village and not the Iraqi army.)
Who did they take?
Everyone. Men, women, and children.
Did any fighting take place?
(The Jahsh took Taimour and his father, mother and three sisters, along with everyone else in the village, to the Fort of Qoratu passing through the village of Melasoura. My line of questioning was intended to find out what a normal day in Taimour’s life was like before the Anfal operations came into his life. He either didn’t understand me, or he didn’t want to answer the question. At this point in the interview we were speaking in Arabic. A bit later on we shifted to Kurdish at his request, via an interpreter, because he said it was easier for him. His answers have been retranslated from his own words, not as screened through the interpreter.)
The Jahsh said they would escort us to [the village of] Kalar, but they lied, and they took us to [the Fort of] Qoratu instead. We stayed there ten days until they sent us to the prison of Topzawa in Kirkuk.
How did they send you there?
By big military cars. The ones called IVA
(‘IVA’ is the locally used acronym for lorries of East German manufacture which are widely used in the Iraqi army.)
How many lorries?
No, no, a lot. Around 30 or 40.
Were there tanks?
How did they take you?
They threw us in the lorries and they took us.
Were there any orders? An officer, for instance, who shouted something, who called the people to come and enter the car? Something like that. Do you remember anything that was said?
They said nothing!
How did you know what to do?
The only thing they said was: ‘Enter the lorry.’
Did they say why you had to enter the lorry?
Didn’t they give any reason for what was going on?
All right. They told you, “Come on, get in the lorry.” Then what happened?
We got into the lorry.
How? Family by family?
Yes, family by family.
Did they break up families?
How many people were loaded into each lorry?
I don’t know.
How many were you in a lorry?
Well, it was full.
Were you seated or standing?
We were sitting.
What happened to the stuff, the furniture, the livestock, and the wagons that you brought with you?