Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Chernobyl, Srebrenica.
Certain place names have become inextricably linked with the events that once happened there.
Halabja is one such place!
Many will know the story - on 16th March 1988, Saddam launched a chemical attack upon the city of Halabja indiscriminately killing approximately 5000 Kurdish men, women and children in a matter of minutes.
When the gases were released from the air, it was a lottery as to whether or not you’d survive. Some died instantly, others only after enduring agonising pain. Some survived, due partly perhaps to the whims of the prevailing wind and the fortitude of their individual immune system to the poison.
And it was one such survivor who on Friday showed us around the memorial which has been set up to commemorate the tragedy of that day.
Pointing to a photo taken by a journalist who had been one of the first Westerners to enter Halabja after the attack, he indicates the body of an 11-year old boy slumped over the back of a truck. “That’s me,” he says. “I lost my sight and became paralysed for almost a day after the attack, but amazingly survived.”
He then identifies the rest of the bodies in the photo – “That’s my mother, my brother, my cousin, my uncle. They all died”. We continue in silence to the next photo.
The memorial is staffed by several survivors of the attack, making the visit one of the most personal and poignant such experiences I have ever had.
I ask if any Iraqi Arabs from the south ever come to visit the memorial Halabja. “Yes,” he says. “Some of them are brought to tears to see what atrocities were committed in their name; some however just deny it ever happened and accuse us of falsifying the photos.”
He shrugs his shoulders and moves on to the next photo.
However this thought lingers with me, and I come to the conclusion that perhaps it is not so bad that the world associates the name Halabja so closely with the massacre that took place here 24 years ago.
People need to remember what happened and the horrors that unchecked evil is capable of, even if there will always be those who refuse to believe it regardless of the evidence.
Travel diary shared by Wild Frontiers