In March of 1988, Iranian troops and Kurdish guerrillas took control of the Iraqi military base in Halabja. Two days later, the Iraqi Air Force fired rockets and napalm into Halabja’s residential areas followed by a poison gas attack. Some 3,000-5,000 innocent civilian Kurds, mostly women and children, were killed and 10,000 or more severely injured. The Kurdish genocide was the most brutal gas attack since poison gas was outlawed after World War I.
With so many different ethnic groups living in one region and straddling several borders, the north central Kurdish area of the Middle East has been a continuous battle ground amongst and between the nation-states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Throughout the history of this area, the Kurds have revolted against the Turks, Arabs and the Persians in trying to establish an autonomous or independent state but have always been defeated. In defeat, they’ve pressed for some degree of autonomy which was granted, but inevitably revoked. Cyclically, the Kurds re-organized, rearmed and revolted and were again forcibly put down.
The Kurds have fought independently, but have also formed alliances at different times. They aligned themselves with the Persians against the Turks, and then the Turks against the Arabs, Assyrians and Armenians. In fighting their oppressors for autonomy and independence, the Kurds have in turn also sought to repress other ethnicities, notably the Armenians and Assyrians.
Kurdish Genocide by the Ottoman Empire
Leading up to and during World War I, the Ottoman Empire conducted a number of genocidal campaigns against the Christian minorities living within Turkey as well as other provinces under its control. The most well-known is the Armenian genocide. There were also lesser known, but no less brutal, genocide campaigns against the Assyrian Christians in Northern Iraq.
After World War I, the newly declared Turkish Republic leader Kemal Atatürk repudiated the Treaty of Sèvres which proposed a referendum be conducted in the Kurdish homeland. As a result, conflict continued between the Turkish military and the Kurds. This conflict still exists today, as the Turkish Kurdistan area has been depopulated, thousands of villages have been destroyed and a state of martial law has been implemented.
Forced Relocation by the Iraqi Ba’ths
In Iraq in 1970, after almost a decade of fighting, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Mustafa Barzani, reached an agreement with Baghdad on autonomy for Kurdistan and political representation in the Baghdad government. By 1974, key parts of the agreement were not fulfilled, leading to another outbreak of hostilities. By the end of the 1970’s, 600 villages were destroyed and 200,000 Kurds were forcibly resettled to other parts of Iraq.
Kurdish Genocide in Al-Anfal Campaign
During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980’s, the Iranians provided support to the Kurdish guerilla forces in their battle for independence in Northern Iraq and to open another front to divide Iraqi military operations. The Iraqi military largely put down the Kurdish rebellion. But Kurdish guerrillas joined with Iranian units in carrying out attacks on the Iraqi military. The Iraqi military responded by conducting ground attacks by army units, aerial bombing, destruction of villages, concentration camps, mass executions and chemical warfare targeting the Kurdish population. This was called the Anfal Campaign by the Iraqis and Kurdish Genocide by the international community.
In March of 1988, Iranian troops and Kurdish guerrillas took control of the Iraqi military base in Halabja. Two days later, the Iraqi Air Force fired rockets and napalm into Halabja’s residential areas followed by a poison gas attack. Some 3,000-5,000 innocent civilian Kurds, mostly women and children, were killed and 10,000 or more severely injured. It was the most brutal gas attack since poison gas was outlawed after World War 1 in 1918 and an act of horrific barbarity never before committed.
Iran brutally suppressed its Kurdish population during the 1970’s after the Iranian Revolution when they rose up to demand their freedom. Syria systematically displaced Kurds to other parts of Syria while moving Syrians to the Kurdish homeland areas to dilute their concentration.