For the past few weeks, I had a chance to work as an AD on a docu-fiction film, One Thousand and One Apples by Taha Karimi. The story of the film is about ten men, the only survivors alive today escaping from the mass executions during the Anfal Campaign of 1988. Out of estimated 182.000 civilian mass murdered, some buried alive under the sands of Southern Iraq, only these 10 men are alive today to tell their stories as a witness to such a crime. The film is a love poem in tolerance, hope and reconciliation.
I had the honor to meet them, talk to them. In the next few posts, I will try to post each person’s unique story with documents and photos that are all part of the archives of kak Omer Muhamad and his one man effort to gather data Anfal many published in his magazine, Anfalistan.
The Kurimi Massacre: 28/8/1988
The Kurimi Massacre took place during the 8th stage of the Anfal Campaign, on 28/8/1988.
On August 8, 1988, a truce was announced between Iraq and Iran to end the long eight year bloody war between the two country. Ali Hasan Majid (Chemical Ali) took a chance to once and for all clear the border areas between Turkey and Iraq from the KDP’s militias, in a military campaign which is now known as the 8th stage of the Anfal Campaign.
The first stage of this campaign took place on 25/8/1988, attacking the villages in Badinan region and the border area with Turkey with Chemical weapons. The aim was to scare the population into submission, leaving their villages and livelihood into the various camps that were setup as a part of removing and re-populating the area.
After the Chemical attacks on 25th, on 28/8/1988, the ground forces moved into the area. Many of the villagers tired from moving and living in caves and hideout waved the white flag, surrendering to the Iraqi forces. The women and children were separated from the men, they were taking to the notorious Nzarki Qala (a concentration camp) and Mangesh Camp (re-populating camp). The men, 33 of them were told to take a walk outside the village, about 200 meter away from the village, within an hour, the massacre took place. Miraculously, out of the 33 men, 6 of them survived, one of them is Hashem Muhamad Rashed, and this is his story:
My name is Hashem Muhamad Rashed, I was born in 1963 in Sulaimani, dropped out of high school during the 9th grade. I was recruited into the Iraqi army, and not wanting to serve in an army fighting a useless war, I deserted the army and went to stay at my relative in Kurimi Village near Duhok.
In 1988, Kurimi village had 150 families living in it, located in Duhok province, it is only two miles from Mangesh Camp. After the chemical attacks on 25/8/1988, the villagers decided to leave the area for safety, into Turkey. Unfortunately it was too late, the road leading to the borders were closed by Iraqi soldiers. With the inhabitants of another village, that of Chalke, now numbering around 200 people, confused and tired, we decided to head back home into Kurimi and surrender to the Iraqi army and the Kurdish collaborators with them (Jash), that was the day of 28/8/1988.
It was around 7:30 am when we decided to surrender. At first, we all stayed together, Women, Children and Men. After searching us for weapons, they separated us into two groups, Women and Children on one side and the Men on the other. They separated us three times, creating various groups. Khala, who is my uncle but much younger than me ended up with the Children and Women, he was a young boy, two time he ended up with the Men, on the third time, we forced him to stay with the Women and Children, that is how he survived and is still alive today. They took the Women and the Children away, there were 33 of us left in the village, only the men. They told us to walk, taking us to the south of the village, in one line we walked one after another for about 200 meters. Looking into the line from right to left, I was the second one from the right, but coming from left to right, I was the last two on the line. We walked by a vineyard, while walking and seeing the grapes, I thought to myself “This is the end of us, we are going to be killed”. My cousin, Abduqahar, he was beside me, I told him that we were gonna be killed any minuets. The treatment we got from the officer and by the look in their eyes suggested they were gonna shoot us. Lots of movement, they keep coming and going, talking on their radios all the times, with a large army of Soldiers and Collaborators surrounding us on all side. We stayed by the vineyard for a while, they brought us water to drink, we were sitting on the ground all the time, waiting. After drinking the water, they told us to move downward the hill, this time I was the first in line, with my cousin Abduqahar second behind me. We walked downhill for a short time, then they told us to sit down again. During that time while sitting back at the vineyard, sound of heavy distance gun shots could be heard all around us, we only heard the sound, didn’t know what it was for. Above us, on top of the hill stood the soldiers, just as they told us to sit, in the process of sitting down, I looked up toward the top of the hill, I could see a group of soldiers standing above me but I couldn’t see the rest behind or beside them, they were about two of three meter above us, maybe more. Just as we were about to sit down, I heard a voice shout “Fire” in Arabic, that is when they started shooting into us.
They shot at us wildly, lots of bullets were fired. They changed the first magazine, shooting with the second magazine, the sound of the bullets seemed to be hitting bodies, making a horrifying sound. Sound of shouting and crying could be heard, my cousin Abuqahar shouted as a bullet hit him on the ribs, as we laid down facing the ground, he looked at me and said “I’m wounded!”, I told him that I was not hit. I could feel the bullets hitting the ground beside my head, dust and small rocks taking of from the impact of the bullets and landing on my head. Whispering, I told that nothing has happened to me and if I survived I will help him. A young man beside Abduqahar on the other side had many bullets in him, blood dripping from his body, he was already dead. They changed the magazines on the Kalashnikov for the third time, shooting more wildly into us, I was not hit yet. Then a brief silence as I heard the commander shouting “Enough, shoot them one by one, the mercy shot”. A Soldier walked down toward us, coming down the hill, I could hear his footsteps, he stood right above me, my head between his boots. They say that a soul is not easily taken away, but I felt at that second, that my soul was leaving my body, felt as if I was breathing my last breath. I heard a shot and felt as if I was electrocuted in my legs, felt as if my legs were falling a part from each other, then a sharp pain in heart. He moved away from me, toward Abduqahar, but he didn’t shoot him, maybe because he was all red with blood coming from the young man beside him. By the time he walked down the line, he had finished a whole magazine on the bodies, then he walked up the hill and way from us.
For a while I stayed in my position as the Soldiers retreated back to Kurimi, away from us as far as 500 to 600 meters, being down a hill, they could not see us nor can we see them. Then suddenly, they started shooting bombs and shells into the hill, maybe it was their tactic to bombard us, and then claim that we were killed during a battle, sound of heavy shelling and bombs. By now, with the summer grass being dry, the place caught fire. If I had stayed in my place, I would have burned alive and would not be here to tell you this story. As I tried to stand up, I saw Abduqahar, he was wounded on the chest, he could walk, I couldn’t. As he tried to help me stand up, Karim Naif stood up on the far side, he was alive, he had one bullet wound on his shoulder, as he had landed under a person beside him during the shooting. Abduqahar told Karim to try and stop the fire for it was indecent for a dead body to be burned. Karim did his best to stop the fire, using his bare hand, being a young man with no experience, he couldn’t stop the fire, his hands catching fires at times. He returned to help Abduqahar in carrying me away from the fire to safety. At that time, I thought that only the three of us had survived. I told them to go and leave me in my place, to return soon to rescue me. Abduqahar told me “If I make it to safety I will return and rescue you, if not, that mean I’m dead”.
I stayed behind, alone, I looked back into the bodies, I could see only black smokes, with a greenish fire setting alight the dead bodies. I stayed in my place for 20 minutes, then I tried to walk, I grabbed the ground with my fist, stood up, I was about to fall down again to the ground for I was very weak, but I hold my ground. I was wearing Adidas shoe, the cheap ones that were made in Iran, just as I put down my foot to the ground, blood poured out the of shoe into the dry yellowish grass. I walked painfully for 20 meters, away from the village, that is when I saw AbaBaker. He was also wounded, he had managed to escape by crawling on his hands away from the fire, he couldn’t walk. I asked him “What we should do?”. He told me to walk away and rescue myself, that Abduqahar and Karim will come back to rescue him. I walked away. I didn’t dare take the road for I was bleeding, to hide all traces of blood and footsteps, anywhere there were grass I would walk that way, for I knew the soldiers would soon count the bodies and know some are missing, then they would come searching for us.
With a blood dripping down to the ground, leaving traces, behind me an army of Soldiers and Collaborators, ahead of me Abduqahar and Karim, maybe even safety ahead, I stood in my place for a second, thinking of what to do next as I looked over the yellowish grass covering the mountains.
I decided to walk, no matter how painful it was walking on a half broken leg. After a while I arrived at a small creek, it is called Bosai Sheri Cham, as I was about to get to the creek, I saw Abduqahar and Karim, I called them twice, they got scared at first from hearing my voice trying to hide, on the second calling they realized who I was. I arrived to join them, just as I sat down to relax, we could hear a distance sound of a chopper. We went into the trees to hide until the chopper despaired. Abduqahar and Karim went away for a short time to search, they brought back a horse, they put me on the horse as as we went looking for what we could find from the hideout places that the villagers had all over the mountains in case of emergency. We found a first aid kit, gathered some cloth to wrap up our wounds with. Abduqahar knew the area well, he told us about a good hideout place, the place was down the creek. As fast as we could, we cleaned the wound and wrapped it in clean cloth, cleaned ourselves by the creek. We heard a voices getting near, it was the sound of Sadiq, he had also survived but wounded like all of us. Sadiq was from the village of Chalke, a bullet had ripped apart half of his hand, Abduqahar had to use a knife to cut off one of his finger to pull out the bullet.
We dug a hole, hiding the bloody clothes in it.We stayed by the creek that night. Silence, moody and scary night it was, I could never forget that night. Death were everywhere, smell of blood. In the dark, the rocks and the trees seems to me like dead bodies surrounding us from all side. A terrible night it was. In the morning, Abduqahar went to the top of a hill looking down on Kurimi, to check the surrounding area, especially the troop movement. He was wounded like all of us, but he could walk better than any of us, he had a bullet in his chest, breathing hard at times. He came back and told us “The troops are still in their places, many tanks occupying the area”. We couldn’t show ourselves, we each had a tree branch with out, every time we would move, we would hide the traces of our footsteps. The area we stayed had a pond of water gathered in it, about two feet deep, trees and grass hiding us from the view with a big tree casting its shadow on us. I slept down by the pond, Abduqahar, Karim and Sadiq slept on both side of it. We were hungry, very hungry. Abduqahar went and brought back a few tomatoes and a sack of nuts. We divided the sack of nuts equally, each time a person would get 27 nuts to eat, no more than 27 so it would last us for a while, we didn’t know how long we were gonna stay.During the 8 days of the hideout, we also had two cantaloupe, we only ate on of them. One day Karim walked into a deserted village, brought back a few pieces of bread, he told us that a dog was eating the bread and he had to chase the dog away to get it.
From August 28 and on, a day after the crime, we had no more control over our destiny. We had no hope and that made all of us very weak, no more strength to do anything. Everyday until September 5th, Abduqahar would walk up the hill, come down and tell us that “The troops and tanks are still in their places”. I told them many times to leave and they should save themselves, but Abduqahar would not listen, “I would rather kill you here than leave you like this” he would say. We stayed by the creek for 8 days. Then on the 8th, troop movement, we heard a distance sound of soldiers coming toward us, they were talking in Arabic “Come, Come”, the commander shouting at them, at times sound of gun shots could be heard. That night we decided to leave the place, Abduqahar brought the horse. At a distance of 1 kilometer, we found a cave, it is called the Black Cave, we stayed in the cave that night. It was a dark night, rarely you could see anything, we had no more medicine nor food left, we had no choice but to get separated, Abduqahar and Karim decided to walk into a nearby village. I stayed with Sadiq.
After half an hour, I could hear sound of people talking. I told Sadiq that the troop had founded us and at any minutes they would come to get us. Not known to me, that morning, Abduqahar and Karim surrendered themselves up to the collaborators (Jash) in the village. Karim had come with them to show them our place, he shouted at us not to be scared, that the collaborators arresting us were from a known tribe famous for their honesty, they had promised not to harm us. They came into the cave, with them a pot full of meat, we had not eaten a decent meal for 8 days, it made us happy to see a pot full of meat, very happy.
The collaborators put me on a horse, at first they were scared to be found out that they are helping us by the Iraqi army or spies working for the army, so they took us by the creek, told us not to move from our place. They left, later two of them got back with sugar and tea, told us they would not return anytime soon for the troops might suspect them. Now, I was alone with Sadiq. On September 6, toward the afternoon, heavy gun fires could be heard, Sadiq burst into tears fearing that Abduqahar and Karim were executed, they got shot. But the shooting turned out to a good news as Karim ran down the hill toward us shouting “I have good news, I have good news. general amnesty has been declared by Saddam”, the shots were for celebration. Three collaborator later came to carry me to the village, their Mostashar (commander of the collaborators) knew my relative, he treated us with dignity. They cleaned my wound, wrapped new clean cloth around the wound, then took us to Mangish Camp, we were now at the hand of the camp’s manager. Some of the spies in the place recognized us, we told the manager the truth, that we escaped from the Kurimi Massacre, he told us “No one can touch you anymore, for the word and amnesty of our leader, Saddam Hussien is the law of the land”
Later, they took us to a military camp in Batufa, then the same day they took us to Birsipi camp near Zakho. At the camp there was a Doctor from Baghdad, he cleaned my wound again, very respectable man he was. Next day they took us to Nzarki Qala concentration camp, that is where the real tragedy start. Everyday, just to torture us, they would take us up and down the stairs into the yard, back and forth, hundreds of people packed into little rooms like animals, no food to eat. The people told us many horrible tales of the time before the general amnesty, they told us that every day the guards would take the men out into the yard and smash their heads with bricks, like watermelon, just for the fun of it. Few men were left in the camp when we arrived. We stayed in Nzarki Qala for two days, then they took us to Bahraka Camp, with an Eva car full of us, packed to the limit, hungry and dirty, they drove us into Bahraka Camp through Duhok just to humiliate us, passerby standing on the sidewalks looking at us. The driver of the Eva was a Shia from south Iraq, he was a good man, knowing that I was wounded, he put me in front to sit beside him, he told me that we were lucky to be alive, I asked him why he is saying such a thing, “You are lucky, because you guys have been fighting Saddam for 20 years and he pardon you. But we, we are from the South, they don’t trust us, they give us guns with no bullets in it, when we face you in a fight, you shoot at us or we have to shoot at you, one has to kill the other but none of us want to kill the other one”, he showed me his Kalashinkove, it had no bullets in it. We started telling each other about our miseries.
We ended up in Jezhina Camp, we stayed there for a while. Then one day, hundreds of people from Erbil came to rescue us, I would never forget them for treating us in such a decent manner, they brought us food, they brought us everything, from a smallest item like a needle to large stacks of foods, if it not were for them, we would all be dead. At first the guards would not allow them to come to the camp to give us food, they would beat them, humiliate them, but they kept coming. That is how we were saved. The people took me to a hospital in Erbil. I stayed there for a week, most of the Doctor knew who I was, but they kept silent, even if that mean risking their own life. On September 29, I had a surgery on my leg, Doctor Muhamad Bajalani did the surgery, here is the tragedy of us the Kurds, he saved my life, but he was killed himself during the Kurdish civil war of the 90s, he is no longer with us. Later as I would visit Doctor Muhamad Bajalani for treatment, I would pay the fee, but then a little later he would send the money back to me. A decent man he was.
To make a long story short, I stayed with Abduqahar at Jezhina Camp until the uprising of 1991, we could leave the camp at times, I would go and visit my family in Sulaimani or relative in Erbil. We lived in a tent, I tried to work and build a decent house in the camp, left for Sulaimani in 1992. I got married in 1995, now I have a boy and a girl. I survived, I’m alive, but more than half the inhabitant of Kurimi are not, they were all murdered, mass murdered during the Anfal Campaign. That was my story.