Time to recognise Kurds are victims of genocide, too

Kurdish refugees fleeing Syria now find safety in Iraq (Photo: AP)

Kurdish refugees fleeing Syria now find safety in Iraq (Photo: AP)

In August, the Prime Minister gave an interesting response to a question from the campaigning Harlow MP, Robert Halfon, about intervention in Syria.

Among other things, Mr Halfon is the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, and he asked the Prime Minister about the Halabja massacre in March 1988, when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurdish people with horrific consequences.

“Does he not agree,” said Mr Halfon, “that there is a humanitarian case for intervention, especially given what happened in recent history in Halabja in 1988, when 5,000 Kurds were killed with mustard gas?”

David Cameron replied: “I applaud my honourable friend for always standing up against genocide, wherever it takes place in the world. It may well be that the fact that no action was taken over Halabja was one of the things that convinced President Assad that it was OK to build up an arsenal of chemical weapons.”

The response was interesting not just because the Prime Minister was prepared to make the link between international inaction over Halabja and the events in Syria, but because he used the G-word to describe what happened 25 years ago in Iraq.

In February, Parliament voted to recognise the Kurdish genocide and survivors have been campaigning for the UK government to issue a formal recognition.

The UK High Representative of the Kurdish regional government, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, has now written to Mr Cameron to ask him to clarify whether he now recognises the Halbja massacre as genocide.

“If that is the case,” she wrote, “it will be warmly welcomed by the people of Kurdistan and all those who believe in the protection of human rights.”

I believe the Jewish community, like Robert Halfon, should fully support this campaign (not least because Saddam’s murderous “Anfal” operation also targeted Jews).

I understand the importance of recognising the unique horror of the Shoah and do not agree with those who believe a Genocide Day should replace the annual Holocaust Memorial event.

But I do not see how a recognition of the Saddam’s genocidal attack on his own people detracts from the suffering of the Jewish people under Hitler.

I have long thought that schoolchildren should study Halabja alongside the atrocities of the Nazi era in order to understand that this is something that can always happen again if good people do not remain vigilant. I hope Ms Rahman receives the response she and her people deserve.

Last updated: 2:45pm, October 10 2013