Interview with Nakhshin Saeed Osman
10/04/06 - Challawa village, Jaffati Valley, First Anfal
I visited the village of Challawa in the Jaffati valley with Kak Rewend Gharib Haladni, a young man who comes from this village. We went to Kak Khalid’s house and soon many other villagers gathered there. First of all the men came forward to talk and only when I asked for the women did they invite some of them to talk. I had already interviewed a few people when Nakhshin came. She had been ill in bed for over ten days and she particularly came to speak with me to ask for help. She was really angry. Nakhshin has survived two gas attacks during Anfal. First of all she was injured in the Jaffati Valley during the first Anfal and later in an Iranian refugee camp called Hawara Khol when Iraqi planes gassed the refugees. She has been severely ill and for ten years she was unable to have children. Now she and her husband continuously need hospitalisation and care but they are also very poor and they receive no help from anywhere. Throughout the interview there were a few attempts to silence Nakhshin who complained about the Kurdistan Regional Government for not helping her. Despite her ill health and the misery of years of poverty and illness Nakhshin is a vibrant woman who refuses to be silenced. She is a typical example of the gas survivors whose bodies keep turning against them and this causes great anger and fear.
- What is your name please?
- Nakhshin, your little sister (a Kurdish expression to show modesty).
- Your full name please.
- Nakhshin Saeed Osman.
- When were you born Nakhshin xan?
- Which village do you come from?
- When Anfal started where were you?
- We were in Iran, ask me about before that, when I was injured by the gas. (This is a common misconception. Some people think Anfal started in the Germian region in April because this is when people started disappearing on a large scale. They don’t realise that it started in February with the gassing of Jaffati valley in February).
- Anfal started in February 1988. That must be when you fled to Iran.
- I don’t know to be honest, I am illiterate so I don’t know when it started. But all the people here know that when people fled to Iran [in the first week of March] I had not gone yet. I was with my husband in Gandaran Mountain. These brothers here (referring to the men in the room) know where it is. We stayed there, only the peshmarga were left. My husband was with me with my brother in law and a few other men, our friends. One of them was martyr Ali Ahmed beg (a common way to refer to men who died in these battles is to call them martyr). Kak Khalid here knows him. He came to us and said if you decide to leave and take the family, please don’t leave me, I will come with you. Kak Ali left me and went outside and soon I heard a quiet explosion. I got up to close the door thinking it is artillery, to protect myself from shrapnel but the explosion lifted me up and its force threw me at the wall. I fainted but a pink dust entered the room.
- Where you in a cave?
- No, they had made a small house in the mountain. The pink dust came in and I fainted. When I woke up my husband was spraying me with water. He was spraying my face with water, he too had been affected. He told me to get up and go to Zindanan Mountain. But already my sight was blurred. My eyes were heavy and dark. I called kak Ali twice but he had died immediately. He was martyred, may he rest in peace.
- Immediately. That same moment he had died. My husband carried me on his back to Zindanan Mountain. When we got there, there was a group of peshmarga in late kak Latif’s house. We asked them for help. We were desperate, we had been in the snow all night. They gave us an anti-chemical injection with our clothes on. But they [the peshmarga] themselves immediately started feeling rough, they had inhaled the chemicals from our clothes. In the morning we climbed the mountain on all fours. Kak Khalid knows at the top of Ze there is a cave, we had two sacks of bread and sweets, we took them there. We had a donkey with us. My husband said: Let’s give this bread to the donkey, if he died eating it then we know we should not. The donkey just smelt the thing a few times but would not eat it. We threw it all away. We spent one night in that cave. Melting snow and rain was coming down on us. We spent that night in this way.
- Did you have any children?
- No, I didn’t. After that night we carried on walking on all fours, people helped us sometimes, holding our armpits. We were unfamiliar but we made it to Sira Merg, there were pasdars there (Iranian revolutionary guards). The pasdars held our arms till Galala. They brought an eye drop for me and my husband. They then put us into a tractor until we passed Galala.
-Apologies. I need to change the tape.
- You were saying that the peshmarga gave you injections and then you climbed the mountain.
- Yes, we climbed the mountain. When we got to Sira Merg the pasdars took us to Galala. We got on a tractor from there. After a while the tractor broke down. We stayed one night in that rain and snow inside the tractor, it was my husband and myself with an old woman, a man and my brother in law. We were hungry and thirsty in that tractor, under the snow. We spent that night that way.
- Had you all been injured by the gas?
- Yes we had all been injured. We were blind and lame, all of us. We had no food or water, no shoes, no clothes. On the next day a car took us to Bana in Iran. Just before the town there was a camp, we spent a night there. On the next day they took us into town to the Haji Waisi mosque. [When] they held my hand to take me in I fainted by the door [because] I had been hit by the gas 6-7 days before and I had spent a few nights in the cold and snow. The heat in the room made me faint. They put me in a blanket and took me to the first floor of the mosque where there was a pool. They had sterilised the pool and they put me in that pool three times a day. They did not allow me to be indoors, I wasn’t allowed to be near a fire, the heat made me worse. In was not supposed to be near hot steam.
- Did they give you any medication?
- Only the drops. I didn’t have any relatives with me, I was illiterate, I had no one to take me to the hospital. After that they took us to a family in Bana. That good woman washed me three times a day, morning, noon and evening. The cold water made me wake up a little. Then they took me to the camp near Bana, on the border. We were there for 6-7 nights and people kept walking out, out of fear [of Iraqi planes bombing]. I was unconscious most of the time, I could not move. I had no energy. One day they gassed us there too. We got much worse.
- Did you manage to get into the shelter?
- They dropped the gas then we went to the shelter. Now my shoulders are aching all the time, my arms. I have been in bed for ten days now (she opens her scarf and shows me her neck): I don’t dare to look up (she touches her neck). They still have not done anything for me. Neither for me nor for my husband, neither Parti (Kurdistan Democratic Party) nor Yeketi (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan). No party has spent one dinar on me. This is my medical record (she puts it before me), these are hospital reports. They have not done anything for me yet. These are all the pills I take. I have taken so many of these pills and injections. So far they have not done anything for me or my husband. Kak Khalid and the others know we are always ill. The only reason that I don’t go into hospital is because of my children. They still don’t set up a doctors board to see me as if I am not a Kurd. Obviously I am an Arab. If I wasn’t an Arab they would do something for me. At least they could pay for my trip to the city, they could pay for the car or the hospital. I have an old husband, he was born in 1945, we have four children and he cannot work. It has been fifteen days he is ill in bed.
- When you were gassed in the camp, were you injured again?
- Yes. My eyes were affected again and my skin. My body was injured and I was taken to a hospital in Seqiz and Khana. They gave me medicine and injections. I brought back all the medical reports with me when I came back to Arbat. People told me that if Saddam finds out about these documents, he would kill me. I had organised all of them in a cloth folder, putting them in different corners, all the problems I had. In fear of being caught and found out I burnt them.
- When did you come back?
- (She faces the others and asks them:) Which year did we come back through Arbat?
(A man answers: It was 1991)
Nakhshin then looks at me:
-I still have the document they gave us when we returned. In fear of reprisals I burnt all my medical documents. (This must have been after the September Amnesty in 1988 because in 1991 people returned to the No Fly Zone which was not under Iraqi control anymore. The man is probably confused about the year). From Arbat they took us to Bainjan, they arrested my husband and my brother in law. They threw me out in the south of Bainjan, I fainted. I had no one with me. One of my uncles came and found me, he carried me on his back to Bainjan. I was not conscious.
- How many children did you have then?
- I had none.
-So it must have been 1988 still when you returned.
(A man interrupts: I think it was 1989)
- Okay the Amnesty was in September 88 so you came back a few months after that. So you burnt your stuff when you came back after the Amnesty?
- Yes. I burnt them in fear of Saddam Hussein. They told me if he captures the documents on me he will hang me and this and that. So I burnt them in fear. I had kept all the documents until then.
- Where did they take your husband and the others?
- They arrested them and said they are of conscription age so they made them become soldiers. He was sent to Ziqar.
- Your husband and who else?
- My brother in law, Kak Abubakir. (She continuously blows her nose and then she looks up). Now the water in my head is very low. Once they operated my head through my nose. I keep having to blow my nose. My nose water is low. I feel ashamed of myself amongst people because I keep having to blow my nose. They still have not done anything for me. It has 15 days I am ill in bed and my husband, kak Khalid knows, he was born in 1945, he is also ill in bed. We have not received one Dinar from any party or government. No salary, no help. How come those who were Baathists are having a few salaries now? Why don’t we have anything? I swear to God when martyr Ghareeb (the father of my guide kak Rewend) was in the Jhilwan mountain the peshmarga gave one pot of flour to two women, they gave me one pot to bake alone. I said, Kak Latif, why do I get one pot on my own when they other women get one between two? He replied, these friends know that he used to call everyone ‘my son’, he laughed and said: I don’t know my son, I don’t know what to say.
- Was that to bake bread for the peshmarga?
- We were baking bread for the peshmarga during the Daban battle. After the gas I fell really ill, everyone knows here, I could not have children for a long time. I went to many doctors in Iran and here. I went to many doctors. Finally thank God one doctor helped us and God helped us and we were able to have four children.
- You had your children when you came back here?
- Yes I was here.
- When did you return to Challawa?
- After the uprising.
- After 1991.
- Yes after the uprising.
- You talked about the mosque where you stayed in Iran, how many nights were you there?
- I was not inside the mosque, I was outside it. I was not supposed to be a in a warm room.
- Who helped you those few days in the mosque? Who washed you and gave you food?
- Iranian women in Bana. My husband was worse than me, both of us. Now [when] he sits in a car he turns to a corpse and people have to hold his armpits to bring him back. Recently he went to the city to meet Tofiq Haji Salim, (she looks at the host): Your son was one of the people who helped bring him back, how did you bring him back? (With great difficulty, he answers). Then he came home and he has been in bed for ten nights. I have been in bed for 10-15 days and I swear by the Qura’n that is in this house, not one person has knocked on our door. I have left a little child at home right now, if she runs out no one will notice. (She blows her nose and goes silent for a while then she turns to the host): Kak Khalid is our neighbour, I don’t need to explain it to you. He is aware of everything.
- What is your income? Do you have a flock?
- Our flock, we have 6-7 goats. We share the goats with my brother in law. The time of sharing is gone but we have no other choice. You look after a goat for a year and for the next year it will have two lambs one of them is my brother in law’s and the other is ours. That is not good.
- How old are your children?
- My first child is ten years (She looks doubtful and looks at the other woman: Do you think he is ten? The woman replies that he is not). No, he is not ten. Two of them are in the second year primary school and two of them are really small, one of them is breastfeeding. (The men start arguing about the age of her first son: some say he is seven others say he is eight).
- So you had no children for a long time?
- I had no children for a long while... It got to a stage that even if I did not have any children this thing would have killed me. It is embarrassing to say this in front of you but they took out so much black stuff from my womb, as large as your handbag. It was like dry mushrooms inside my womb. They took it out and threw it away.
- So you had an operation.
- Yes. They operated me 2-3 times. Each time I nearly died and lived again.
- Do they say that it was caused by the chemicals?
- Yes it is because of the chemicals. Now it is as if I have no head. Kak Khalid knows, he is our neighbour, since we were gassed this headache has not left me. Kak Smko knows better than kak Khalid. They all know.
- Thank you, I don’t have any questions left. If you have anything else to tell me please go ahead.
- Other questions, I just want to say that even our village has lost out on a lot. You can hardly call this electricity (the villages have dynamos which provides few hours of electricity a day). We have no electricity, no water, no paved roads. We are losing out. Even our village is like an Arab village. You look at the people and you feel sorry for them. (She goes silent and looks around, checking their reaction.)
- Do you have any other shortcomings here?
- Now if they open a hospital for us. I hired a car and took the children to Qala Chwalan hospital, we are suffering.
(One of the men who does not approve of her speaking out tries to quieten her: Okay, thanks for your time and for talking.)
-May you see no pain, I also want to thank you. You are very welcome here. But I want you to take my questions to the relevant authorities. I swear to God they have not done anything to help me. This is it (she pushes the documents forward again), I was gassed. My father in law too... O (she smiles) I forgot to talk about him.
- Please go ahead.
- I forgot to tell you that when we left him (she wipes her nose), when we went to Zindanan mountain, my father in law who was elderly and had also been injured by the gas... when we went blind we could not take him with us. We left him. So when the filthy Baathists came they shot at the elderly and killed one of them. Then my father in law and his sister and a few others, Kak Khalid and the others know, they put them in a helicopter and took them to Dukan. From there they took them to Nugra Salman [the elderly people’s prison on the border of Saudi Arabia]. (She wipes her nose). [When he returned] he told us that in Nugra Salman they were put into a room, may it be far from you, he said that they slid in shit. He said they didn’t have water for 6-7 days at a time. They would bring a water tank into the courtyard and made people line up for the water like animals, the old, the ill, the young, those who had been affected by gas... they told them to bring containers for water. He said that when they took their containers to get water the soldiers would beat them by cable. Some managed to get away but others fell into the shit and filth. He was in Nugra Salman for a while (she wipes her nose). They had beaten and tortured him so much that he went blind. He became blind, disabled and lame there. They gathered the disabled and ill and released them (probably referring to after the amnesty). So we went to the big Mosque in Suleimaya. He was one of them. When we saw him we nearly didn’t recognise him, he was all black, his skin was all black. We carried him back here. About a couple of months later he too died and became a martyr. He did not survive all the torture.
- What was his name?
- Muhammad Khidir Smail.
- Do you know when he was born?
- His ID card is at home, I don’t know which year he was born. (A man says: 1929 or something like that.) His ID card is at home, if you like I can go and get it.
- It is okay. Where did you leave your father in law and the others behind?
- In the same place where I was injured by the gas.
- So you left and they could not walk with you?
- No, they could not.
- How many of them were there?
- It was my father in law (A man says: There were six of them). Where they six? (Yes).
- How many of them were killed?
- One of them was killed here and the others were taken by plane to Dukan and then they took them by car till Nugra Salman. There they were tortured and abused for a while and beaten. They did not handle it. They went blind and disabled. They brought them back and threw them in the mosque in Suleimanya.
- This is after the amnesty, right?
- Yes, yes. My father in law did not survive the torture and he died and even for his loss they have not compensated us. They have not given us the Anfal salary that others get. Neither is he accepted as a martyr. Now when I look at my own house and my furniture I feel that even my home is not like an ordinary home. I have no money, no salary, no young husband who could work for me, no grown up children. My father in law was Anfalised and they have not done anything for us, I was gassed and they haven’t done anything for me, my husband was gassed and they haven’t done anything for him. So I am not a Kurd. Find me one person who does not have an income. Those who were Baathists, those who were Jash, even their children have a salary and they mock people like me. And I have been ill in bed for 15 days and no one has knocked on the door to help me. These are all my neighbours (she points at them sitting in a row). Isn’t it true Kak Hamid? (Yes, he replies.) No one comes to my door. Years ago we were gassed but even now people don’t dare to come close to us. When I fall ill they tell each other: Don’t go, she smells of the chemicals. They think they would catch it from me. Now my head is numbed from pain, I don’t feel my shoulders.
- Is this the village women who say so?
- Yes, there is no compassion and pity anymore in the world, if you don’t have a sister or a mother who cares about you. I don’t have any of my relatives here.
- Don’t you have any relatives?
- I only have my God.
- What about your brother in law, is he here?
- Yes but it is as if they don’t exist. This will be on TV so I don’t care if he hears it.
- This is not for TV.
- I swear to God, I have not seen my brother in law’s wife in my house for 15 years.
- Do they live in this village?
- Yes they live in this village. I have not been bad to them ever, I raised my brother in law anyway, he was this small when I raised him. (A man tries once again to quieten her: Don’t talk about those, these issues are not relevant to them.) I found him a wife and he is worse than the others. Now my request is I want to know why the medical group won’t help me? I am just waiting for my children to get a little better. When they do I have to go into hospital again. I know I will be hospitalised. I have no money. Can I go on borrowing money forever? Borrowed money needs to be paid back. (A man walks in and says: Have you finished?)
- Many thanks to you for talking to me, it is all very useful.
- Thanks to you, welcome here, on our eyes. Despite all my problems I warmly welcome you.
(I switch off the camera and we talk informally and then she asks me to switch the camera back on):
- Please go ahead.
- I just want to say that despite my illness and problems, inequality and heartbreak I have always taken part in voting. Whatever brings doom to Saddam I will do it. I don’t go for salary but anything that would lead to Saddam’s extinction I will do it. Thank you for coming here, welcome to our village.