Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds In Iraq

Curator’s Statement

A Memorial to the Kurdish Genocide of 1988

A model of our memorial

A model of our memorial

We have chosen to construct our memorial in a park in New York City. We intend it to be a place where people are forced to face the genocide in Iraq against the Kurds, and we will use the granite blocks to display information about each aspect of this genocide as illustrated below. We have decided to make this memorial enclosed, as a symbol of the Kurdish people. Though they do not have a nation-state, they are the largest population in the world without one, and we intend to give them one in our memorial. We decided to construct this memorial in New York instead of closer to the place of genocide because we hope to inform and inspire Americans about this particular genocide and how to act against genocide in the future.

US Involvement in Kurdish Genocide:

The genocide of the Iraqi Kurds took place in 1988. This genocide occurred during the Reagan and Bush presidencies and did not prompt action on behalf of the US government. Genocide is a practice that occurs again and again, despite knowledge about the topic and international laws against it. Intervention in times of genocide is essential to the prevention of the crime, but nations choose not to intervene because of political alliances, national economy, or even a cost-benefit analysis initiated by the Pentagon. Despite inaction on behalf of the government in the case of the Kurdish genocide, a Gallup poll demonstrated that 59 percent of Americans thought the coalition should have continued fighting until Hussein was overthrown and 57 percent supported shooting down Iraqi gun ships targeting the Kurds. The label of “genocide” is usually not cast onto these mass atrocities until after they occur, and this was the case in the Kurdish genocide. If American leaders ever used the word “genocide” to describe the mass killings of the Kurds, support of intervention would have increased to 65 percent. Despite popular opinion and international law, the inaction on behalf of the US government in this genocide was not new. Samantha Power, special assistant in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, calls inaction in times of genocide “the world’s most unfulfilled promise.” Though the press and intelligence reports of the genocide in Iraq were accessible to US Policymakers, the genocide was portrayed as an attempt to suppress rebellion in the midst of the Iran-Iraq war. This portrayal of the genocide came largely as a result of the geopolitical atmosphere in Iraq at that time. The U.S. decided to support Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, and did not want to admit fault in Saddam Hussein and lose a potentially valuable alliance in this historically volatile region. Before the genocide, the U.S. supplied Iraq with over $500 million in credits to purchase U.S. agricultural products. Because of this, the U.S. had an opportunity to withhold valuable resources from the Iraqis and send a strong message against genocide. Instead, the Reagan administration chose to increase credits to over $1 billion, illustrating to the international community that genocide can be tolerated. During the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, and many other genocides before this one, the U.S. was either neutral or against the perpetrators of genocide, but in this circumstance, the U.S. was aligned with the genocidal regime.

Background on Discrimination Against Kurds:

Discrimination of the Kurdish peoples did not begin in 1988. Like most victims of genocide, the Kurds had been marginalized since the rule of the Ottomans in 1600 until today. The Kurdish population is estimated to be between 25 and 35 million, and they are largely considered the largest group of people without a nation state. The majority of Kurds live in “Kurdistan” a borderless region in Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria that spans an estimated 200,000 square miles. In each of these countries, Kurds are marginalized and discriminated against. In Turkey, Kurds have historically been forbidden from speaking and writing their own language and children were not allowed to have Kurdish names. Many view the Kurds as difficult to deal with because of their lack of organization in their message and isolation from the rest of the world. Before the genocide, the Hussein regime had attempted to relocate the Kurdish people in a somewhat more civil manner. The Kurds were compensated for agreeing to leave and not force militantly. As a result, Iraq had never been sanctioned for acts of atrocities against the Kurds and the government had more military freedom.

Details of the Genocide:


A young Kurdish boy dead as a result of chemical weapons

The genocide took place in Iraq, and was planned by Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator. Saddam’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, was his second in command and headed the campaign of genocide against the Kurdish people in Iraq. In him, Saddam Hussein granted supreme authority, and ordered him to, in his words, “solve the Kurdish problem and slaughter the saboteurs.” As the Iraqis were getting close to losing the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam felt that he needed to eliminate the Kurdish insurgency, and may not have wished to initiate genocide. Al-Majid ordered the Kurds to evacuate the homes they had inhabited for centuries and move into collective centers so that the Iraqi government could effectively monitor them. Those that refused to resettle into the government-sponsored housing complexes were ordered to be exterminated. The most well known attack of the Kurdish genocide was in Halabja, where 5,000 civilians were killed. However, Halabja was just one of sixty attacks with chemical weapons on civilian populations. This poison gas campaign was known as “Anfal”, or spoils, which comes from the eighth sura of the Koran, describing Muhammad’s revelation stating that those who disobey God should be “sternly punished.” After Hussein decreed that the Kurds were equivalent to the “spoils”, 03cIraqi military forces saw an incentive to destroy the Kurdish villages and everything in sight. This reign of terror lasted 18 months, and finally ended when Iraq was defeated in the Gulf War against Kuwait.

Existing Memorials:

The Iraqi government constructed a memorial in Halabja, the town that experienced the greatest destruction and had the most casualties as a result of chemical weapons, but this memorial was not helpful in the healing process for the Kurdish peoples. Halabja has not received government support to rebuild, and the Kurdish people found it to be hypocritical of the government to spend money building a memorial but not genuinely aid in the healing process. Additionally, the tension between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish peoples is still present, as the Kurdish people continue to request their own nation state.

Now What?

On May 1, 2013, the British Parliament unanimously voted to recognize the Kurdish Genocide as such. Though 25 years have passed since the genocide, the recognition of the genocide will instigate conversation around the world and will hopefully aid in recognition and intervention in future genocides. Though some say that genocide will inevitably occur because of human nature, many others say that genocide can be stopped if people understand how to recognize it when it is happening, and how to stand up against it. In the construction of this memorial, we hope to prompt reflection about each individual’s role as a member of society and remember that an individual does have the power to effectively prevent genocide, if he or she is empowered to do so.

Statement of Rationale

After careful thought, we have decided to place the memorial in New York City. Since there are exisiting memorials to this genocide that have been protested and considered offensive in the regions around Halabja, we believe that this memorial will create a more international understanding of the genocide, and the genocide will gain more publicity. Furthermore, westerners will become less Islamaphobic and more informed about the genocide and its current ramifications. Additionally, we want to focus the inscriptions on the granite blocks on US involvement in the genocide, so that people understand the US’ responsibility to intervene and their own responsibility as bystanders to genocide. The condensed nature of the city makes it so that pedestrians would be forced to walk through the memorial, and face the genocide (like the Iraqi government has not).

Though every genocide and major historical event deserves a memorial of some kind, this one is especially deserving because the Kurdish people continue to be discriminated against in the countries they occupy, and the international view of them is somewhat negative. Additionally, this genocide did not receive the international recognition that other genocides have received. The genocide of the Kurds is unique in its scale given its relatively short timeline. The genocide spanned less than a year, but the death tolls were high and interventions minimal. This gives intervention in times of genocide a sense of urgency, and demonstrates how quickly events of this scale can take place.

A Portrait of A Kurdish Man in Iraq

A Portrait of A Kurdish Man in Iraq

The Kurdish Genocide memorial in Halabja (as pictured here) is thought of by the population of the city as a representation of inaction on behalf of the Iraqi government. The memorial does not effectively address the true issues behind the genocide, and seem to memorialize an issue that is still very relevant and effects citizen’s daily life to date. Additionally, it is a memorial to the Halabja killings, but not the genocide as a whole, which was obviously had a far greater death toll. The memorial itself is quite an eye-sore, and has not been restored or maintained by the government (it was built in 2003). The disconnect between the memorial and the true long-term effects of the genocide are upsetting to the Halabja population, because the infrastructure of their city was ruined by the genocide, and has not been restored. They are probably mad that the government spent a lot of money creating this memorial, while they refuse to fund the reconstruction of the city of Halabja. Our memorial will attempt to address the grievances the citizens have, and we will build a museum that addresses the real issues behind the genocide. Our memorial will effectively provide awareness to the style of life of the Kurds, and give them the voice they have been deprived of by the Iraqi government. Additionally, we hope to make our memorial cost-effective and privately funded so citizens do not associate with the government they so passionately detest.

This is a sleeping place with a portrait of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK Founder

This is a sleeping place with a portrait of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK Founder

In our opinion the people that will be the most impacted by this memorial are the Kurdish people. The Kurds have been discriminated against and marginalized by the Sunni government of Iraq for decades. They have grievances against their own government as well, and have lived in areas that have still not fully recovered from Saddam’s attacks. They wish to become their own nation, separate from Iraq. The Kurdish people have suffered as a mere result of their ethnicity even long before the genocidal assaults started in 1988. Reconciliation for them is the primary goal of this memorial. However, the Kurds are not the only people we aim to impact with our memorial. Iraq is a country that has been torn to pieces by constant war and has been trying, rather unsuccessfully, to rebuild their nation for the better part of the last decade. The memorial will hopefully serve as some motion towards peace and reconciliation between North and South Iraq, a way for a divided country to set aside issues of religion and ethnicity in order to achieve a more stable existence. Our memorial is meant to bring a mutual respect between the two parties, or at the very least, dissipate some of the animosity between the two.


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