Halabja Remembrance Day in Iraqi Kurdistan Date in the current year: March 16, 2024

Halabja Remembrance Day in Iraqi Kurdistan Halabja Remembrance Day, also referred to as simply Halabja Day, is a somber remembrance day observed in Iraqi Kurdistan on March 16. It honors of memory of thousands of people who died in the Halabja chemical attack carried out by Saddam Hussein’s troops in March 1988.

When Southern Kurdistan (part of Greater Kurdistan, a region in the Middle East populated by Kurds) became part of Iraq, Kurds were promised a number of national rights, such as the official status of the Kurdish language and the appointment of local officials. However, the Iraqi government failed to fulfill these promises and subjected Kurds to discrimination. This led to the emergence of the Kurdish independence movement.

In 1970, Saddam Hussein and Mustafa Barzani, a prominent Kurdish leader, signed an Autonomy Accord that established regional autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan. However, the relations between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdish Autonomous Region remained strained. Following the breakout of the Gulf War, Iraqi Kurdistan became a battlefield for the Iraqi and Iranian armies. Kurdish nationalists sided with the Iranian army, hoping to gain independence in the process.

To quell the Kurdish insurgency, Saddam Hussein initiated the Al-Anfal campaign. It was a genocide that resulted in the deaths of between 50,000 and 182,000 Kurds, as well as the destruction of numerous villages and towns. The Anfal genocide was led by Saddam Hussein’s cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid.

The Halabja chemical attack, also known as the Halabja Massacre or Bloody Friday, was one of the biggest massacres against the Kurdish people during the Anfal genocide. On March 16, 1988 – two days after the fall of Halabja to the Iranian Army and Kurdish militia – Iraqi aircraft dropped chemical bombs with mustard gas, sarin, tabun and VX on the city’s residential areas.

The chemical attack resulted in the deaths of around 5,000 people, most of them civilians. The death rate was especially high among children, since poisonous gases are denser than air and thus tend to sink to the ground. Between 7,000 to 10,000 people were injured and/or suffered long-term consequences of the attack.

Initially, the Halabja attack wasn’t widely publicized, since many countries and international organizations supported Iraq in the Iran—Iraq War. Some American officials even went as far as blaming Iran for the attack. However, Human Rights Watch conducted a two-year study of the massacre in the early 1990s and proved that the attack was carried out by the Iraqi Army. In 2010, the Halabja massacre was officially recognized as an act of genocide. Ali Hassan al-Majid was found responsible for the attack, sentenced to death and hanged.

In addition to Halabja Remembrance Day, Iraqi Kurdistan has other observances commemorating the victims of the Anfal genocide, such as Anfal Genocide Memorial Day (April 14) and Remembrance of Chemical Attach on Balisan and Sheikh Wasan (April 16).

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Halabja Remembrance Day in Iraqi Kurdistan, observances in Iraqi Kurdistan, observances in Iraq, Al-Anfal campaign, Anfal genocide