“It takes a second to drop a bomb, but it takes decades to overcome its impacts.”
Recently in commemoration of the 100 years since the first use of chemical weapons in warfare in Ypres, Belgium, a rally was held in Halabja. In cooperation with the #Breathless Campaign, simultaneous demonstrations took place in Al-Ghouta, Syria and Ypres, where an international conference and a memorial for the victims of chemical warfare was taking place. The campaign called on international governments, especially European ones to take action against the horror of chemical warfare. Survivors of chemical attacks in Halabja and Al-Ghouta united in their condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in an open letter.
“We, survivors of chemical attacks from different countries, ethnicity and belief, know with whom the responsibility lies for the chemical attacks we have witnessed. It primarily lies with the ruthless regimes that drop these bombs on us; the same regimes that taught us for decades that we were enemies. Now we — Arabs and Kurds, people from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Kurdistan — sign this letter together knowing that our only enemies are those who do not hesitate to gas us.”
It has been 28 years since Halabja was attacked with chemical weapons. In 1988 the city was harshly targeted and repressed by Saddam’s regime. As part of his campaign against the Kurdish population during the Anfal campaign the city was targeted by sarin and mustard gas attacks, between 3,200 and 5,000 were killed or otherwise sustained lifelong injuries and illnesses. During the early 1990s through 2003 the city was controlled by the Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, who imposed a punishingly harsh regime, terrorised the local villagers, and stripped women of their most basic rights. Equality, expression and democracy were identified as enemy values.
In the years since the attacks, little has been done to help the survivors. The effects of chemical warfare are severe, painful and long-lasting. Survivors of the attacks suffer from cancer, skin, blood and bone diseases, infertility, and high rates of still-birth. These are devastating conditions, requiring constant and high level medical care. Not to mention the emotional and psychological toll.
In 2009 representatives of areas affected by the chemical attacks, founded ‘Spey‘ organization. The name means ‘white’ and is meant to stand for the color of gas attacks, but also to symbolize hope. Although the NGO faced some issues with its registration with local authorities, in 2012 they organized their first conference. Spey organization’s goals are to document the history of the attacks and develop a culture of commemoration.
Spey also works to coordinate regional activities and to strengthen citizens rights, and amplify their demands.