Monday, 26 March 2012, 08:33 GMT
Ribbons for Halabja


Sazan M. Mandalawi

The Kurdish GLobe
By Sazan M. Mandalawi

Someday soon, somehow, all these dreams must come true.

Tonight I sit on my bed, far away from family, relatives and friends, far from everything--and certainly very far away from Halabja.

One night twenty-four years ago, little children went to sleep with no clue that the next morning at around 11 a.m., the first breath of oxygen they inhaled would kill them instantly. Tonight, I sleep on the eve of March 15 feeling depressed, almost suffocating on the air I breathe.

The Halabja massacre took place a year before my birth. My father always told me that 35 young girls with the name of Sazan died in the chemical attacks of Halabja. A year later, when I was born, when Dad held for the first time a tiny baby girl, he said he remembered the 35 little ones who lost their lives. He named me Sazan and dreamed for me to regain the lost rights of those 35 young girls.

Tonight, in preparation for tomorrow's commemoration, I am cutting ribbons and making sure that each is equal in size to the other, turning one end onto the other and then pinning the center. I worked on these for a few hours, making the most I possibly could to give out at our little ceremony and to anyone else I see at university.

But each clip of the scissors through the thin, silky, black ribbon feels like a stab in me. I feel guilt. What have I done for Halabja? What have I contributed in the rebuilding, in healing of wounds, in lending a hand, in making children smile? I still haven't lived my father's dream in giving back to the 35 girls whom I was named after.

I remember a visit to Halabja once with our university friends. Kak Harman, originally from Halabja, led us on a trip to his family home. We sat down in a circle in the yard around his elderly father. Kak Harman told his story as if it happened the day before, leaving out no details. My colleague was lucky to live, but many of his relatives and friends were martyred. I recall looking at my colleague's father as he spoke, an elderly man as strong and resilient as him had tearful eyes.

Halabja, I realize, is the weakness of every Kurd. No man is strong enough to talk about it without tears; no mother can speak of Halabja without her chin quivering before her head falls into the palm of her hands as she begins to cry.

You may wonder how this affects me. While I'm a Kurdish girl on the other side of the world chasing my dreams, I feel Halabja is my family. Those who left are my brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts. I am living my life today, but they paid the high price. Martyrs whose souls I pray for. But there is a ghost over me, and every year at this time I am reminded that I have done nothing.

We all owe something to Halabja. We all have the obligation to contribute, to pay back in the many ways that we can. It is our duty to stand up, talk, shout and take action to bring the life to Halabja and its people, a life and future that it deserves.

With each ribbon I cut, I have a dream. A dream for the best schools to educate children in Halabja, a dream for the government to support local production, a dream for the new generation born with physical defects as a result of the attacks to undergo surgery for free, a dream for every father in Halabja to sleep without worrying for the future of his children. As I pin the last ribbon for tomorrow, I dream that one day I can make the souls of those 35 girls proud of me and of all Kurdish girls who live after them. For me, right now, cutting black ribbons seems like I am only fooling myself. But I know that, if by tomorrow one new person knows about the massacre of Halabja, then it means something grand.