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Teresa Thornhill: Sweet Tea with Cardamom

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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This book is incredible.

She wore a loose-fitting, grey cotton suit with a pleated skirt well below the knee, the sort of suit that middle-class women who live in the West often wear. That sort of suit carries a message of secular respectability, of having grown-up children, a woman who knows where she comes from but has a modern, Westernised outlook.

Like most of the Iraqis I knew, Shireen still felt angry with the Palestinians for their insistence on seeing Saddam Hussein as a hero and their refusal to acknowledge the terrible suffering he had inflicted on his own people.Thornhill, p 4

I must see the films of Yilmaz Gunay (Thornhill, p 5). In one of the many sentences that took my breath away, Thornhill describes "a high wire fence stretched parallel to the road for as far as the eye could see: the Syrian border." I must see of Mardin city, Nusaybin,
Cizre, Silopi and Khabur.

Nusaybin was the first town on my map; from there is was about 40 miles to Cizre, another 12 to Silopi, the last town in Turkey, and then about eight to Khabur, just inside the Iraqi border. (Thornhill, p 5)

I take note of these details in the same way that a pilgrim may read the Torah while venturing to Jerusalem.

Somewhere between Nusaybin and Cizre the landscape began to change in an unforgettably dramatic way. We were coasting along at speed on the straight, empty road and suddenly, in the far distance, the silhouette of a mountain range began to loom through the haze. To begin with I thought the blurred bluish shapes were rain clouds, but within a minute they became stronger and I knew that they were mountains. I felt a childlike delight. My amp didn't give contours so I could only guess, but I felt sure that this must be the beginning of Iraqi Kurdistan. (Thornhill, p 5)

Vivid descriptions such as these bring the land so near that I feel I can taste it, hear it, see it and smell it.

The water was thick and pale brown, rippling in the white light; as we flashed past I thought that this must be just the way it looked 5,000 years ago; this is the rich muddy water of Mesopotamia from which civilization sprang. (Thornhill, p 6)

Thornhill mentions the towns of Shu'aiba, Kut, Najaf, Karbala, Mosul, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah. I have the same obsession to see these cities as the museums mentioned by Orhan Pamuk in The Museum of Innocence.

On the far side of a rusty metal suspension bridge spanning a narrow river, the mountain range we had seen from the distance rose against the sky in a long, craggy ridge. It was as stunningly beautiful as it was abrupt, like something in a dream. Not until the following day, when we were looking back at the ridge from the far side, did I reflect how inhospitable these mountains had been for the Kurds in 1991 and how many children had died trying to cross them. ... I glimpsed a field full of tents, the remains of one of the many refugee camps which were set up on this border following the exodus of Kurds from Iraq in 1988 after the chemical bombing of Halabja. (Thornhill, p 7)

We were greeted cordially by a group of absurdly good-looking, weather-beaten men who rose from the stools on which they'd been sitting in the sun smoking. They were dressed in the traditional Kurdish outfit of ginger-brown wool sharwal -- vastly baggy trousers and matching tops with colourful cotton cummerbunds wound around their waists -- and turbans on their heads; Kalashnikovs dangled from straps across their backs. They gave a cursory glance at our documents and led us into a dilapidated office for our first glass of Kurdish tea.


The tea was served in tiny, pear-shaped glasses -- piyala in Kurdish -- which sat delicately on painted saucers. It was sweet, pale and flavoured with cardamom. Our hosts sat down and drank with us, providing my first sight of what was to become a familiar image: a line of rugged, masculine Kurdish men in sharwal, cummerbunds and turbans, sipping tea with incongruous delicacy. (Thornhill, p 8-9)

Zakho is the first town in Iraqi Kurdistan when crossing from the Turkish border.

The Safe Havens policy had been co-ordinated from Zakho. The coalition of French, British, Turkish and American troops was still patrolling above the 36th parallel, flying over the area twice a day and enforcing a 'no-fly' zone in what they termed 'Operation Provide Comfort'. Token though it was, their continued presence was thought to be the main reason why Saddam Hussein had not yet tried to reoccupy Kurdistan. The office of the Safe Havens' Military Command Council was around the corner from where we were. (Thornhill, p 10)

Peshmerga was the Kurdish term for guerrilla fighter, which literally translates as 'those who face death'. (Thornhill, p 13)

Thornhill mentions the town of Chemchemal.

Women coming through the checkpoint from the GOI-controlled area were forced to take pills, and after they'd taken them were told that the pills would make them infertile; and men were made to give blood, and then afterwards told that they had contracted AIDS. (Thornhill, p13)

The town of Caritas.

"Don't wander far off the road: you may encounter land mines. Keep abreast of the news. Always ask your local guides about security conditions and follow their advice. And remember, south of the 36th parallel, there's absolutely nothing we can do for you!" (Thornhill, p 15)

Saddam's palace at Ashawa had been designed around a beautiful natural waterfall, a spot where previously Kurds had come for family picnics. He had appropriated the site in 1988 and built a 15ft high, 2 mile long stone wall around it. … Built of blocks of stone sandwiched together with a thick layer of cement, the wall snaked arbitrarily over the contours of the rough hillside, gleaming a creamy white in the sun. (Thornhill, p 18)

Ashawa was one of a series of palaces Saddam had built for himself and his retinue in the hills of the D'hok Governorate. In the late 1980s he had talked of bringing his Revolutionary Command Council to spend the hot summers here to escape the intolerable Baghdad heat. But the plan was never put into action and the palace had fallen into rebel Kurdish hands during the uprising.

The driveway swept downhill in a great curve and the palace came into view: a large, squat, hard-edged lego-mansion with white walls and a green roof, fronting onto an artificial lake. The water was an unnatural shade between turquoise and petrol blue. I looked up at the sky, trying to work out where the colour came from. But it was pale azure, and the hills which rose behind the palace were a sappy green. I wondered if the water had been tinted with a chemical.

"Those are the mountains we had to cross when we walked to Turkey after the uprising. … With my wife and children. It was very hard. Our baby daughter died on the way, she was five months old." (Thornhill, p 19)

The palace was sacked in March 1991 by Kurds and remains incomplete.

The walls were pockmarked with bullet-holes and heavily graffitied. I wanted to stop and try to decipher some of it, but was afraid of embarrassing our hosts. Some was obvious -- 'Long live the PUK' written in English -- but there were also sexually explicit drawings and writing in Kurdish and Arabic. (Thornhill, p 19-20)

At one end of the room a mosaic panel was set into the pockmarked wall. It was decorated in pale pinks and green, and some Arabic words were inscribed on it in gold: 'Al-hamdu-lillabi, alatbi akramana we anama aleyna.'

The construction of Ashawa had begun in 1988, the year of the Anfal and of the chemical bombing by the government of the Kurdish town of Halabja, towards the close of the Iraq-Iran war. Five thousand people were killed outright; many thousands more were injured. (Thornhill, p 20)

'They may not understand you, though,' he added, with a flicker of friendly mockery, 'you have a Palestinian accent and lots of the expressions you use are different from what we say in Iraqi Arabic.' (Thornhill, p 21)

There is another palace at Inishka.

'We want to remain part of Iraq and we want to make this very clear to the world; it is very important for us that foreign countries understand this. Syria, Iran, Turkey for example: we do not want them to think that we intend to set up a separate state. And we do not intend to do that.' (Thornhill, p 22)

The statement above is in response to Thornhill's query why the Kurdish peshmerga wear Iraqi military uniforms.

In 1988 the Kurds were subjected to a campaign of genocide in which up to 180,000 rural people were killed. The Anfal took place in the same year as the chemical bombing of Halabja; but, unlike Halabja, the facts of the Anfal remained concealed from the Western press until 1991.

The Kurds had been intermittently at war with [the] central government from the early 1960s until 1975, when a government plan to grant them autonomy was imposed by force. The Kurdish leadership had rejected the autonomy plan because it offer little of real advantage and excluded the oil-rich parts of Kurdistan. The Iraqi government response was to crush the Kurdish fighters through a deal with Iran whereby the Shah (and the CIA) withdrew their hitherto considerable support for the Kurdish peshmerga overnight. Thousands of Kurds were subsequently massacred by the Iraqi government.

While the Iraqi government was boasting of the new Kurdish autonomy deal and celebrating its defeat of the peshmerga, it embarked on a campaign of 'Arabising' the oil-producing regions of Kirkuk and Khanaquin by forcibly transferring their Kurdish inhabitants to the south and replacing them with Arabs. Then, in the late 1970s, the Iraqi army began evacuated and destroying Kurdish villages in the mountainous border regions. This was part of a scorched-earth policy aimed at clearing a tract of land 12 miles wide by 500 miles long along the borders with Turkey and Iran. Again the evacuated villagers were forcibly transferred, some to the south of Iraq and others to specially built 'collective towns' on the plains. Subsequently the border areas were heavily land-mined and designated 'prohibited areas'. The Kurds say that about 4,500 of their villages were destroyed by the Iraqi government in the combined ravages of the Anfal, the scorched-earth policy and resettlement programmes.

It was the commencement of the eight-year Iraq-Iran war in 1980 which allowed the Kurdish peshmerga to reassert themselves in northern Iraq. Many army garrisons in the area were either closed or reduced in size due to the need to send more and more troops to the front, thereby reducing the level of surveillance of control which the Iraqi government could exert over the Kurds. Between 1980 and 1987 many parts of Kurdistan became 'no-go' areas for the army and were effectively controlled by the peshmerga of the KDP and the PUK. At different points in the war, both Kurdish parties built alliances with Tehran and assisted Iranian troops in achieving military victories against Baghdad.

Middle East Watch, the US-based human rights organisation, describe this period in their report Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign against the Kurds as follows:

By [1986] the Iraqi regime's authority over the North had dwindled to control of the cities, towns, complexes and main highways. Elsewhere, the peshmerga forces could rely on a deep-rooted base of local support. Seeking refuge from the army, thousands of Kurdish draft-dodgers and deserters found new homes in the countryside. Villagers learned to live with a harsh economic blockade and stringent food rationing, punctuated by artillery shelling, aerial bombardment and punitive forays by the army and the paramilitary jash. In response, the rural Kurds built air-raid shelters in front of their homes and spent much of their time in hiding in the caves and ravines that honeycomb the northern Iraqi countryside. For all the grimness of this existence, by 1987 the mountainous interior of Iraqi Kurdistan was effectively liberated territory. This the Ba'ath Party regarded as an intolerable situation.

In the spring of 1987 Saddam Hussein appointed his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, as Secretary General of the Northern Bureau of the Ba'ath Party. Al-Majid was granted sweeping, quasi-presidential powers over northern Iraq and given the remit to 'solve' the Kurdish question once and for all. From March 1987 until April 1989, al-Majid master-minded both the chemical attacks on Halabja and dozens of Kurdish villages, and the Anfal campaign. One of the most hated men in Iraq, al-Majid came to be known by the Kurds as 'Ali Anfal' or 'Ali Chemical'.

The term Anfal comes from the Qu'ran, where it has the meaning of 'the spoils of war', in the context of jihad or holy war. Saddam chose it in order to give a spurious veneer of religious legitimacy to the campaign -- spurious since the Kurds are Muslims.

The campaign was carried out in eight phases, each one directed at a different area of rural Kurdistan. The operation began in the southeast and gradually moved to the northwest; seven of the eight areas were ones under PUK control. The campaign began with a massive military assault by the Iraqi army on the PUK headquarters at Sergalou-Bergalou in the Qara Dagh on the night of 23 February, 1988.

Each separate Anfal< or phase, lasted about two weeks, the last one being concluded in early September 1988. On 6 September the regime declared victory by announcing a general 'amnesty' for all Kurds. Kurdish human rights organisations say that by then 182,000 people were dead.

Each phase of the Anfal generally began with a chemical attack aimed at both villagers and peshmerga bases, followed by a military blitz against the latter. Shortly after this, ground troops and jash (the Kurdish collaborator militias paid by the Iraqi government) would surround the area and round up the terrified inhabitants. The countryside was then combed for fugitives by the jash (although in a few cases conscience-stricken jash saved lived by spiriting people away to safety across mountains). In the town, secret police went house to house hunting for hiding villagers.

Once rounded up, the men and boys above a certain age were separated from the women, children and elderly before all were herded into covered army trucks and driven away. Most were taken to Topzawa military camp near Kirkuk, where they were counted and their names recorded. In most cases the women and children were then trucked on to other camps; thousands of elderly were held in Nugra Salman, a former prison in the desert of southern Iraq. Both groups were held in appalling conditions and many died of starvation, abuse and disease. Those who survived were eventually released in the 'amnesty'.

A different fate awaited the men and boys, few of whom were ever seen again. From the available evidence it appears that they were sent before firing squads in large groups and buried in mass graves outside the Kurdish areas. Middle East Watch interviewed a small number of survivors who would have died this way but who escaped by extraordinary chance. One 12-year-old boy, named Taymour, described being driven with his relatives and fellow villagers to a remote area of desert in southern Iraq where large pits had been dug in the sand. The exhausted captives were made to stand along the edge of the pits, whereupon firing squads shot them. Taymour fell into the pit with his family but was only lightly wounded and managed to crawl out later under the cover of darkness before the bodies were covered with sand. He was taken in by a Bedouin Arab family and eventually returned to Kurdistan to tell his story.

Although mostly women and girls were sent to camps, in a few cases they went before firing squads in the same way as the men. In Taymour's case his mother and sisters were with him: they did not survive.

The locations of three mass graves have been established through the testimony of survivors, but all are within the Iraqi government-controlled parts of the country and thus cannot be investigated. This leaves the widows and families of the men who disappeared in the extraordinarily difficult position of not having any conclusive proof that their men are dead, although there can be no real doubt about it.

When the surviving Anfal prisoners were released in September 1988, they were barred from returning to their villages, which were no declared to be in 'prohibited' areas. In fact, little remained of the villages since the army had been given the task of razing them to the ground, destroying homes, schools and clinics, concreting wells, looting possessions and slaughtering all domestic animals. The effect of the Anfal upon the rural Kurdish life was, as intended, utterly devastating.Thornhill, p 25-28

I want the world to know the above information. The entire world.

When we turned back towards the hotel the rays of the sun were still hitting the walls of the citadel, turning them gold, although the streets below had fallen into shadow.

[The Kurdish parliament] had been built by the Ba'athists, to house the 'Kurdish National Assembly' set up under the Autonomy Law of 1974. The Assembly, he said, had existed as a 'face' only. 'The Iraqi government used it for propaganda, to show off to foreign visitors who were brought here by Mercedes … it had no powers.'

The new parliament was the result of the election of May 1992. It had been an election by party list, in which only parties with more than 7 per cent of the vote were allowed to put up MPs. One hundred and five MPs had gained seats, of whom 50 were PUK, 50 were KDP, four were Assyrian Democratic Movement and one was an independent Assyrian. [There were women, including Nahla Mohammed and Galawesh Abdul Jabbar, p 31]Thornhill, p 30

There were polished marble floors, a graceful staircase with wooden bannisters that spiraled up through the centre of the building and smiling, gentle people who welcomed us as if we were visiting dignitaries.Thornhill, p 31

There are fourteen committees (Thornhill, p 32).


Committee for Economic Affairs

Juridical Committee

Decides which Ba'athist laws to abolish and to redraft new laws to take their place (Thornhill, p 34). Laws in Kurdistan were a continuation of Ba'athist general, criminal and commercial law, excepting Saddam-style nonsense such as capital punishment for party deserters.

Committee for Health and Society

Tends to Anfal widows.

Social Commission

Trying to reform the Ba'athist interpretation of the Sharia law (Thornhill, p 35). The Sharia, the Islamic code of family law, still applies, so our personal status code is the same as in Baghdad. But it only applies to Muslims, as you know. The Assyrian Christians, for example, have their own personal status laws.

There is the Shireen Palace hotel in Arbil.

For festive occasions Kurdish women wear colourful bloomers which peep out beneath a long, often gauzy overdress, typically with voluminous sleeves tied at the wrist and a bolero waistcoat or jacket on top. Bright colours and fabrics that glitter and shimmer in the sunlight are traditional, so that women look like beautiful tropical birds. (Thornhill, p 39)

'The PUK has five women and two mullahs [Muslim clerics]; the KDP has five mullahs and two women!' (Thornhill, p 40)

Ever since the weeks after the war, when the papers were full of stories told by Iraqi men who had been liberate after years in government detention centres and about women and children being tied to the front of government tanks as they charged the rebels during the uprising, my mind had been wandering in those subterranean prisons and wondering what happened to women there.

Just before leaving London I had read Kanan Makiya's Cruelty and Silence, in which he spoke of finding an index card for an employee of Iraq's General Security organisation in the security building in Sulaymaniyah which gave the man's 'activity' as 'Violation of Women's Honour'. (Thornhill, p 41)

'Do you miss your husband a lot?' I found myself asking her. 'Of course.' She lowered her voice and as I leaned towards her, I saw that there were tears in her eyes. 'He was a very good man and I loved him a great deal.' She looked up at me. I wanted to put my hand on hers, but was too shy. 'Sometimes,' she went on, 'when I feel really bad, I sit down and try to write. Not exactly poems, just little pieces. And other times I paint.' 'Does it help?' 'Oh yes, it helps. Sometimes it is the only thing that can make me feel all right inside.' (Thornhill, p 44)

The following quote came earlier in the book, but for the purposes of this review I believe it is best placed after the preceding quote.

I caught a sudden glimpse of the burden these women carried, with their domestic responsibilities and their role as MPs, and I felt ashamed of having thought them frumpish earlier. (Thornhill, p 37)

The following is the story of Roopak Murad Khan, a woman who survived the Anfal.

'My name is Roopak Murad Khan. My family is from Jalamord, a village two to three hours' drive from Chemchemal. We were captured in the Anfal in the spring of 1988. One day when we woke up, the village was surrounded by army and jash. We tried to escape, but we couldn't go very far, because we were surrounded. The jash were people from our village. All the families of the jash had their own vehicles and when they were rounding us up the army allowed these families to escape.

'I was with my husband, one of my two daughters and her husband, his mother, my son and his wife, and two grandchildren, both still babies.

'The army put us in trucks and drove us away. We stopped at a military fort in Tahla, where soldiers wrote down our names and we were put into new vehicles. By the evening we reached the military camp at Topzawa. At sunset they divided us into three groups: young women and children; young men; elderly men and women.

'My daughter and daughter-in-law were put into the first group, with their babies, as was my son-in-law's mother. My son and my son-in-law were in the second group.

'My husband and I were locked up in a hall in the camp with the other old people. There was no food and no water, and we hadn't eaten or drunk anything all day. They wrote down our names, but they wouldn't tell us what was going to happen to us. We thought, "This is Saddam, he will throw us into the river or shoot us!" …

'The next day at 6 a.m. they put us old people into a big bus without windows. I saw give buses altogether but I don't know who was in the other ones. We still weren't given any food or water.

'At sunset we arrived at Nugra Salman prison, in the south near the Saudi border. It's four hours from the nearest town, Samawa, and is like a military camp. There was a big courtyard surrounded by long two-storey buildings with windows very high up. There was a gate at either side of the courtyard, used by the police.

'They took us to the first floor of one of the buildings. They wrote down our names again and herded us in and locked the doors. We could sit on the floor, but there wasn't enough space to lie down. We slept leaning against each other. And we were still not given any food. By now we had gone two days and nights without food or water. We were tired of being alive!

'The next morning they wrote down our names yet again. They gave us one piece of bread each, three times that day, and warm water to drink. It was unspeakably hot inside the building. The one window was very small and it was closed. After two more days, people started to fall sick.

'We stayed at Nugra Salman for quite a few months, living on three pieces of bread a day and warm water. There were no sanitary facilities … It was a kind of torture. They told us we had come here to die and would not be going back home.

'The guards were police and security men, and all of them treated us badly. The worst one was a man called Captain Farouk. He wore green fatigues and had three stars on his shoulder.

'At noon they used to bring us down to the courtyard and make us stand in the sun for two hours. It was terribly hot. First they would make us sit facing the sun and not allow us to move. Then they would beat us. They beat the men first, but they also beat women. One old woman was flogged to death with a cable, for nothing.

'Then they would bring a tank of water into the courtyard. We were given buckets and told to queue up to collect water. And as we queued, they beat us, both men and women, with sticks and rubber cable.


'Many people died at Nugra Salman: I think about 1,500. I don't know how many people were there altogether, but there were a lot of two-story buildings like the one my husband and I were in. I think there were several thousand of us there altogether.

'At first we were all old people, but later they brought in people who had left Halabja after the chemical attack in the flight to Iran and had come back to Iraq when an amnesty was announced. They were arrested at the border. They were people of different ages, men, women and children.

'The guards told us that we had been arrested because we were peshmerga supported and deserved to be tortured. They referred to the peshmerga as "the saboteurs".

'They tormented all of us in different ways. Sometimes they took the men away to be interrogated. When they returned they didn't tell us what had happened, but we saw that they had been tortured.

'One day when I went to fetch water, they beat me with a stick and injured my right arm. And because I had to sleep on the concrete floor without covers and didn't eat properly for all that time, I lost the use of both my legs. I don't know if it's a kind of rheumatism … I've been to see several doctors in the last five years, but they've not been able to help me. Before all this happened, I could walk well. I used to walk down to the river in my village when I was taking care of the cows.

'One thing I remember: when people died, the body was left for 24 hours, then we would tell the police, who allowed our menfolk to take the body out of the building and bury it in a shallow pit and cover it with sand. Dogs used to come and dig up the bodies and eat them.

'Another thing I forgot to tell you: the main gate of Nugra Salman had written on it "This place is hell" in Arabic. It was written up there so that people saw it when they arrived.'


'After we had been there for several months, there was an amnesty for Anfal prisoners. The police who guarded us heard the government announce it on the radio. They told us that because of the amnesty, they were going to release us. We were happy to hear that we were going to go home and from that point on they stopped beating us. The next day they began bringing vehicles and taking prisoners out in groups, in big buses with windows and seats. My husband and I were taken out in the last group, 40 days later.

'It was raining at the time we were released. It was autumn. I don't know exactly how long we'd been in Nugra Salman, but it must have been about six months.

'They took us to the town of Samawa, where we stayed for three days in a special centre which had been prepared for us, like a hospital. We were able to wash and the men shaved and they gave us good food to eat. The idea of this was so that it wouldn't be obvious from our appearance what had happened to us. They didn't want our families to find out and they told us that anyone who told what had happened would be executed.

'From Samawa they took us back to Topzawa for one night, in a big convoy of buses, to the same military camp where we were separated from our children. The next day we were driven to Chemchemal, where they took us to the courtyard of a government building and wrote down our names again. Then they told us we were free to go. Free, that is, to go anywhere other than to our own villages, which they said were now in a "prohibited area".

'We had no money. We sat in the courtyard until a relative came with a car and picked us up. He knew we we there because word had got out about the amnesty and everyone had seen the convoy.

'The relative took us to a town called Teynal, near Chemchemal, where my husband's brother lived. We stayed there for one month, then we came to live in this house in Arbil, with my husband's nephew and his family. We did try to go to our village at one point, but we were turned back by the army. Now, since the uprising, people are going back to the village. My husband went once, he found the whole place had been bulldozed into the ground. He couldn't even recognize the site of our house!

'When I got out I wasn't ill, just weak from the lack of food. I had a gash in the skin of my arm, where they had beaten me … I still have stiffness in my fingers from that beating, to this day.' She lifted her left arm and slowly moved her wrinkled brown fingers.

'I haven't seen my daughter since the day we were separated in Topzawa, after we were captured in the village; nor my son, nor my son-in-law. I haven't seen any of them, not his mother, nor my daughter-in-law, nor the children.'Thornhill, p 47-52

Roopak still wanted to find her lost relatives.

'Please, can you make some enquiries about what has happened to my children? Can you try to find out where they are?'Thornhill, p 52

After Qasim was killed, thousands of Communists were executed in Baghdad. There were a lot of women in the CP then; we worked in our own separate section. We were in groups of six, and when security was very difficult, groups of three. During the repression in 1963 our role was to help hide the men, to prepare safe houses, carry messages, organize demonstrations and so on. (Thornhill, p 54)

A group of peshmerga went to arrest a man who was in the jash. A woman peshmerga went into the man's home first. His wife jeered at him because he was being arrested by a woman. (Thornhill, p 57)

A soft red band ran along the flat horizon of the airfield, its colour bleeding gently into the pale blue sky above, promising a warm day and clear, pure light. It was just like the dawns I used to love in Palestine and Cyprus, and as I stood in the queue, swaying from lack of sleep, I whispered to myself, 'I am back in the land of beauty at last.' (Thornhill, p 61)

During the flight one of the Kurds came over and chatted with us. His name was Sami Jabbar, from Halabja, and he had been in the UK for eight years. He had been a peshmerga in Kurdistan and was now working as a computer programmer for a big firm in North London. He was on his way to Kurdistan for his first-ever visit home, impelled by the fear that if he didn't go soon his again mother might die without seeing him. Sami cracked jokes at first, but in the course of the next few hours began to admit to deep ambivalence about going home. He and his wife had left Iraq secretly in 1985, via Iran, and he was uncertain about how safe he would be in Kurdistan. (Thornhill, p 62)

I want to see what Thornhill saw, to observe the same nuances and be able to capture them on paper, such as when she describes a boy "sucking his teeth in the idiosyncratic Kurdish gesture that means 'no'" (Thornhill, p 63).

We had come through the hilly contort and were spinning along on the long, straight stretch of road beside the Syrian border at 75 miles an hour. Shimmering flashes of silver lay on the road ahead like pools of water, (Thornhill, p 63)

A gaggle of young men were crowding round the Turkish immigration post and child hawkers were strutting around in the road with their beat-up polystyrene ice boxes trying to sell Pepsi-cola and Fanta. Few places are quite as male as a Middle Eastern border, and Sarah and I got our fair share of stares, but the formalities went smoothly and we changed cars into a local taxi for the quarter mile ride across the bridge. (Thornhill, p 63)

I sat on a sofa beside the doctor and Burhaan collapsed on an armchair. The Liverpudlian tried to chat with him but Burhaan had clearly had enough and wasn't going to make conversation with anyone. His trousers looked damp and he was clutching at his crotch as if worried his colostomy was about to overflow. I wished they would drive him home to his village without further ado, but instead they offered us tea and asked if we had had any problems on the road from Diyarbakir to the border. (Thornhill, p 65)

After Saddam cut off electricity to parts of Kurdistan, the water pumps were useless and Teresa was advised to be careful not to eat in restaurants (Thornhill, p 66). "This was alarming. I hadn't anticipated having to be that careful and it would be impossible to never eat in a restaurant. I wondered if Dr. Pali was a bit of a worrier."

[After discussing assassination attempts on foreigners as recent as ten days prior to her arrival.] I saw my own situation as very different from that of aid workers who had committed themselves to remaining in Kurdistan for long periods of time. Right now the thing that bothered me most was not being given a cup of tea. (Thornhill, p 67)

The PUK guesthouse was only one street away, a white-washed villa set in a tiny garden with a pomegranate tree. There was a swing-seat with a canopy under the tree and a rickety table at which a group of PUK officers were siting smoking. A path of baked earth had been trodden across the lawn to the door. (Thornhill, p 68)

I sensed it would be pointless to ask for a clean sheet in this all-male environment where water had to be fetched from the river. … The air was hot and stale. Torn mosquito mesh curled back from the curtainless window, which looked out over a low wall onto a strip of sandy wasteland. Rather exposed, I thought, and imagined diving to the floor if somebody fired a shot through the window. A metal fan with three blades was fixed to the centre of the ceiling. I tried the switch on the wall, just in case, but nothing happened: the fan hadn't moved for a month. I looked at the blades hanging impotently from the ceiling and felt uneasy: their immobility brought home to me Saddam's massive power and the Kurds' extreme vulnerability. (Thornhill, p 68)

I am not good in excessive heat and I wondered vaguely how long I would be able to cope without fans and with only very limited supplies of water. … 'Why have I come here again and how on earth am I going to survive for eight weeks?' I wondered. 'What if I'm not strong enough?' I had been feeling very tired even before leaving England. 'One swig of dirty water now,' I thought, 'will lay me out completely.' (Thornhill, p 69)

The second part of the book has such distinctly English anecdotes, likely as it concerns more recent events whose flavors had not yet been drained by time.

Dusk is a busy time in Kurdish cities and the streets were crowdd with people: dozens of young men walking arm in arm, talking and calling out to each other, and the black triangular figures of women covered from head to foot in abayas, the long cloaks traditionally worn in public. They walked in twos and threes, carrying wicker baskets and dragging small children by the hand. (Thornhill, p 69)

There were palm trees growing near the water, their foliage a deep green in the dusky light. The water too was a strong, bright green. For a moment I was delighted by the beauty of the fast flowing water, the glowing rock and the seemingly ancient palm leaves which hung so utterly still in the warm air; then I took in that the mud at the water's edge was crowded with barefooted women and children, filling old tin cans with water and carrying them away on their heads. (Thornhill, p 70)

Teresa was 36 years old in September 1993. She must be 52 or 53 now.

'Is torture ever used nowadays?' … 'Why, no. I was imprisoned and tortured for four ears myself, how could I ever wish torture on other people?' 'Of course not,' I replied. I was feeling sharp enough to see that there was no logic in his comment. (Thornhill, p 71)

Hauntingly, Thornhill then mentions Amnesty International's revelation that torture and ill-treatment was in fact practiced by Kurdish security services during the time period Thornhill was in Iraqi Kurdistan.

There is a waterfall at Sharanish.

I woke at 4 a.m. to a bright moon shining on my bed and tiptoed downstairs to the loo, past the sleeping bodies of the men, curled childlike under blankets with their Kalashnikovs on the floor beside them. ... When I came back up to the roof I stood at the parapet and looked down at the moonlit streets. It seemed strange that such a vulnerable city could afford to go to sleep. A cock was beginning to crow and I wondered if I should stay awake. But the next time I opened my eyes it was 8 o'clock and the sun was warm on my face. (Thornhill, p 81)

They stayed at the Shereen Palace Hotel. Of two female MPs at the time, Kafia Sulayman was Minister of Tourism and Municipalities and Hero Talabani was an ex-peshmerga active in the Kurdish Save the Children and married to Jalal Talabani, leader of the PUK. Saajda was co-ordinator of the Arbil branch of Zhinan, the Union of Kurdish Women.

The following concerns the July 1983 capture of Barzani men from the collective towns, as told by 27-year-old Awaz,

'It was night and we were asleep. In the morning we found the whole area had been sealed off. Special Forces soldiers woke us and told the men to gather in Qushtapa for a meeting; they said they would start shooting if they didn't come. There were Popular Army people there as well and two helicopters hovering in the sky.


'We women followed the men. The helicopters fired at us and four or five women were injured. One lost her foot.

'When we got to Qushtapa the men were loaded into civilian buses with the windows curtained over ... and ... we haven't seen them since.'


'Two months later ... the Popular Army came back and this time they took the sick and the disabled men, and even men who were blind or mentally ill. They went from house to house, searching the beds to see if the people sleeping in them were men or women.

'For the next two years we had no water or electricity: the supply was cut off by the government. They surrounded us with military posts, and there were tanks and armoured personnel carriers in Qushtapa, and foot soldiers patrolling al Qadissiya and al Quds. The troops stayed until the uprising in 1991.'

'Were any women sexually harassed by the soliders?'

'No, not as far as we know.'

Something in Awaz's face shut down as she said this, making it impossible for me to pursue the subject.

'So how did you cope after your husband was taken?'


'I was only 17 when my husband was taken. After they took him, I went out to work in the fields, on the tomatoes and cucumbers. The older women cared for the children and the younger ones went out to work. To begin with I found it very hard to have to work and I was always crying for my husband. When he was alive, you see, I never went out. I stayed at home with the children and did the housework and the baking, that sort of thing. I was very happy in those days!

'But the field owners were good to us. They weren't Barzanis, but they were Kurds and they treated us well. My friends still work in those fields. I have asthma, so I stopped working three years ago and now I stay at home. In those days the pay was enough to feed the children, but now it isn't -- prices are so much higher. We have had to sell furniture to buy food. Some of our women are even working in factories in Arbil...' (Thornhill, p 85-86)

Thornhill speaks to another widow and asks if there is anything she'd like to ask,

Why is it that nothing has been done to discover the fate of our men? We have spoken so many times to journalists, and foreigners have come and taken our photo, yet still we have no news of our men! Why? (Thornhill, p 86)

There is a saying in Kurdish which translates as 'Everything a woman does is shameful.' According to Shanaz Baban, a Kurdish woman academic whom I met later on, the behaviour of Kurdish female children is monitored from early childhood and they are assiduously taught to avoid behaviour which could bring shame upon their families. It is not only overt sexual behaviour which is disapproved of. To speak loudly, to laugh a lot, to dress immodestly, to look a man who is not a relative in the eye, all of these are shameful acts for girls and women in traditional Kurdish society.

Virginity at marriage is seen as absolutely essential, but public suspicion about a woman's behaviour and morals is almost as bad as actual 'misbehaviour'. Thus a woman can lose her good reputation merely by being seing alone in the company of a man to whom she is not related.

A woman's reputation for sexual purity can be destroyed both by conduct in which she is a consenting party and by conduct in which, in the West, we would say that she is not, such as rape or sexual assault. Masoud explained the reasoning behind this as the belief that there is no such thing as illicit sexual activity to which the female partner has not consented. 'Is rape possible if the woman does not consent?' he asked me. 'We believe it is not possible. If there is rape, the woman has consented.'

In the most traditional circles, the ultimate penalty for a woman whose conduct has damaged her family's honour is death. 'Honour killing', as it is called, still happens in traditional, mainly rural, communities in Kurdistan. At the other end of the social spectrum, in urban communities and among the educated, attitudes are more relaxed and punishment for conduct which brings shame on the family is more likely to be restriction of the woman's freedom of movement.

The Iraqi Ba'ath party was very clever at exploiting the ideology of honour and shame to the full as a means of humiliating its political enemies. The stationing of large numbers of Iraqi troops and security men in the collective towns of Qushtapa after the Barzani men had 'disappeared' was probably aimed, at least in part, at damaging the honour of the remaining men of the Barzani clan and thereby deeply demoralising them. (Thornhill, p 87-88)

After the Barzani men were all deported and disappeared, a Barzani woman who had been the head of her family killed her daughter who had been raped to protect the men's honor and for her God and religion (Thornhill, p 89-91). Thornhill remarked, "I wondered then if the woman had referred to Islam because she thought a foreigner might accept it as an explanation." Acknowledging that her daughter had not wanted to be raped and realizing 'May God kill the man!' the woman nonetheless killed her daughter. Her daughter had been distraught and begged her mother not to kill her for the sake of her children; she had told her mother herself in fear that somebody else would.

'It was seven days after she told me about the rape. I killed her here, in my house. Her younger sisters were very upset and they cried. But I had to make the decision about what to do. I did it because of my religion. We are all going to die eventually ... and I am the head of the family now.' Her tone was philosophical. ... 'The government were very pleased that I killed my daughter. And the police, too, said that I did the right thing; so did the people. Honour is a great thing! Kurds, government, everybody was pleased with what I did.' Masoud turned to me and muttered, 'Now she is talking rubbish, I don't believe she told the government or the police about what she did. She is trying to make it seem better.' (Thornhill, p 91)

When Thornhill departed, the woman suddenly was embarrassed that she had nothing to offer her. Thornhill tried to assure the woman it was alright and even attempted a smile.

'Only foreigners were dark glasses,' he has said. 'If they see dark glasses, even when they don't see you, they know it's a foreigner.' He hadn't needed to explain whom he meant by 'they'. (Thornhill, p 95)

That is good to know.

When lunch was ready Saywan and her teenage daughter brought a couple of rugs which the men unrolled on the floor. A white plastic sheet was laid between them and the woman spread the food upon it. There were three large plates of rice, some small bowls of stewed okra in tomato sauce, a plate of chicken joints, bowls of finely chopped tomato and cucumber salad and folded sheets of wafer-thin home-baked bread. (Thornhill, p 97-98)

I didn't doubt that if anything happened they would risk their lives trying to protect me. As time went on, and I became more fond of them, that prospect bothered me increasingly; but there wasn't much I could do about it. (Thornhill, p 99)

[In Sulaymaniyah] we pulled up outside the familiar rose garden of the Abu Sana hotel, where I had stayed the previous May. But the Abu Sana was full Friday being the night for parties and weddings, so we made bookings for the following night and checked into a smaller hotel near the centre of town calle the Funduq Salaam, the 'Hotel Peace'. It was a four-storey 1930s-style oblong box of a building, with a large, dark, dirty lobby and a garden at the back with tables and chairs set with stained white table cloths. (Thornhill, p 100)

The manager replied in English to my question in Arabic. I always found that slightly unnerving: it was like a rejection, a refusal to allow me to have any power in the exchange between us. (Thornhill, p 101)

Red Security Building

Regarding the Red Security Building in Sulaymaniyah,

People were tortured in cells in the basement, hundreds of women were raped in the 'Raping Room' and many people died there. During the uprising it was stormed by the people of Sulayminyah and in the course of a long battle the security personnel were all either killed or driven out. Now, two years later, the basement cells were full of water and unusable, and 230 refugee families from Kirkuk had made their homes on the ground and upper floors.


The building itself was of pinkish-red concrete and the women and children were dressed in bright dishdashas and headscarves in greens, yellows, blues and dark pinks. The building was crawling with people. (Thornhill, p 107)

A Kirkuki man in Sulayminayah,

I came back from the [Gulf] war zone four days before the uprising started. I was in Chemchemal when it began. When the government tried to come back [to Sulayminayah], the peshmerga were still in control of the town and the government troops surrounded it. There was a big battle. I got my injuries in a TNT explosion, a building that was blown up. It wasn't just my arms, it was my head as well. I was evacuated to hospital in Sulayminiyah: my family were here already. The doctor told them one night at midnight that I would be dead by 3 a.m. -- but I didn't die! After 12 days in the hospital, I began to get better. When I came out of the hospital, everyone was fleeing from Sulaymaniyah, so we went too. We went to Iran and spent six months in a camp. (Thornhill, p 111)

The dining room at the Abu Sana was a vast, gloomily-lit hall with four rows of tables running the length of the room, which was as long as the building itself. It could easily seat a couple hundred people, although the most I ever saw there was about 30.


The most unforgettable thing about the Abu Sana was the carpeting. The floors throughout the entire hotel were covered in what looked like artificial grass, as used on greengrocers' stalls in England to display fruit and vegetables. But unlike the brilliant green on greengrocers' matting, the Abu Sana carpets were the pale yellowy-green of a field in summer which had been over-pastured by sheep. In the mornings as I walked down to breakfast I would see the sharwal-clad cleaning women bent double with their dustpans, brushing the horrible plastic strands. (Thornhill, p 113)

Souq in Suleimani

'Choni?' I asked playfully. 'Chaki? How are you? How's things?' (Thornhill, p 113)

The souq in Sulaymaniyah was roofed over, a warren of alleyways dimly lit by roof lights and, when the current was on, electricity. I walked close behind Mohammed, unable to forget the specific warning I had heard that souqs were dangerous places for foreigners, but equally unable to resist the fascination that all souqs hold for me. (Thornhill, p 114)

The stalls on the outer fringes near the street sold fruit. Black grapes we in season now and pomegranates and huge dark green watermelons. One trader had hacked a watermelon in half and was selling it by the dripping red fleshy slice, offered on the point of a dagger knife for a quarter of a dinar.

Further in we passed strings of plastic shoes hanging from the roof like onions, alongside clusters of handmade wicker baskets and wooden spoons. In the twilight beneath, women's headscarves were laid out on a trestle table: black wool squares embroidered with gold thread, spangled with green and purple sequins or hung with gilt tassels. The stall holder emerged from a dark corner and watched patiently while I fingered them. I chose one with tassels for 75 dinars.

There was chiffon in puce and mustard and lemon yellow, gauze in orange and green, lurex in emerald green and peacock blue and purple, satin in red and gold. In rainy Britain these fabrics would look cheap and tawdry, but here with the strong sunlight they were perfect for making the women's clothes at affordable prices. (Thornhill, p 115)

At the Swedish Save the Children in Sulaymaniyah,

Paintings by the children were pinned up around the walls, quite a few of which showed scenes from the Anfal and the uprising. In one, aeroplanes were dropping huge black bombs on a village and people were lying bleeding on the ground. Behind the village were V-shaped mountains, on the sides of which stood stick-figure peshmerga holding Kalashnikovs. In the next picture a black helicopter hovered above a house which was engulfed in red and orange flames. Stick figures stood beside the house, their arms raised in gestures of terror.

'Nowadays we try to discourage the children from painting Anfal scenes,' the teacher said quietly. 'We think it's time their thoughts moved on to happier subjects. It's been five years now.' (Thornhill, p 117)

'What do you tell them about the fate of their parents?'
'Often we tell them that their mums and dads are in Baghdad.' (Thornhill, p 117)

Children were seated around a table spooning rice and something in a tomato sauce into their small mouths. … Their large eyes focused on us so that they appeared to be all eyes, spoons and mouths. (Thornhill, p 117-118)

I didn't really want to talk, I just wanted to sit and watch Mohammed and the curly-haired boy. It was as if all Mohammed's pain about the Anfal was going into the love he was offering to this child. (Thornhill, p 119)

Zhinan is the Union of Kurdish Women.

The Sulayminayah branch of Zhinan … was a lively place, housed in a pleasant modern building that had once been a Ba'ath party guesthouse and had its own rose garden and lawn. The rooms were set up now as workshops and classrooms and thronged with a healthy social mix of women, some in headscarves and dishdashas, others in skirts and blouses, along with a couple of foreign volunteers in jeans and T-shirts. A small bunch of educated women ran it, providing literacy classes and craft workshops where Anfal widows and other poor women came to learn a trade such as weaving or dress-making and were then given help in setting themselves up in business. (Thornhill, p 120)

The Sulaymaniyah branch of Zhinan was largely propelled by Nazaneen and to a lesser extent by her friend Sirwa (Thornhill, p 120). Sirwa "was a small, lean woman with a delicate bone structure and prominent, beautiful eyes; her skin had the coarseness which comes with heavy smoking." (Thornhill, p 121) Naza developed income-generating projects for Anfal widows and immersed herself with foreign NGOs in order to provide ideas, funds and actualizations that would help the women of Kurdistan.

I was bewitched by Nazaneen's beauty from the first time I met her. She was 46 years old, with the energy and physical presence of a woman in he prime. She was magnificent looking, with a full, goddess-like figure, a large nose, arching eyebrows and a head of luxuriant chestnut hair.

I was also fascinated by Nazaneen's self-confidence and independence. She was single and, besides being a leading light in the Kurdish women's union, Zhinan, she trained teachers at the Sulaymaniyah Institute of Education. She lived with her sister Drakushan in a small house next door to their brother and his family.


'Naza', as she was known to those close to her, wore respectable, rather middle-aged Western clothes -- high-necked blouses and full, calf-length skirts -- as a woman of her age and position had to, in her society; but her exuberance bubbled through and she was attractive in spite of them. In a previous life, I thought, she must have been a cabaret singer, for when she was in a good mood she would burst into song at the slightest excuse. Frank Sinatra and Doris Day were her favourite singers. She would seize the hand of the nearest person, twirl rapturously around in the centre of her living room with her skirts flying out in a circle, and sing, 'If I give my heart to you, will you handle it with care?', closing her eyelids on the high notes and finishing by gazing into the other person's eyes. (Thornhill, p 126-127)

At Zhinan, Thornhill interviewed Sahad, a 34-year-old survivor of: imprisonment from the end of 1982 to the start of 1983 in the Tawara'a security building outside Sulayminyah; an Iraqi chemical attack on a town in Balisan valley in 1988; and nine childbirths (Thornhill, p 121-124). "Sahad saw it all in acutely political terms and made it clear that her commitment to Kurdistan was what had sustained her and seen her through." (Thornhill, p 121)

When I arrived at the Tawara'a … they beat me with an iron rod. Then they gave me electric shocks on my arms and legs. They beat me on my back with an iron bar which had nails sticking out; and on my buttocks and my arms. They also hit me on my chin with a knife…

They gave me tablets -- something like valium -- and water to drink. Then they would start to torture me again. They tortured me about 15 times altogether, over several days. … They were asking me for information about the peshmerga … I didn't tell them anything, in all that time!

When they were going to torture me they would take me to a big room with special equipment. They made me take all my clothes off. One time they put something like a giant pair of scissors round my neck, and said, "Give us the names of the peshmerga you know.

Sometimes they touched my breasts, even bit them. And they used electricity on me, I still have the marks.

Sometimes they doused me up with valium so that I fell asleep. I didn't feel anything, but when I woke up I realised that they had raped me. … All the time I was thinking of the day I would be free!

I was kept in a room with a lot of other other young women. … In the end all eight of them were executed, all except for me. I kept saying I knew nothing and in the end they believed me.

When they gave us food it had shit and pee in it. They threw it into the room I shared with the other women and shut the door. We ate it, but we were sick afterwards. When we asked for water they gave us pee to drink.
We were not allowed to wash at all. My hair and body became very dirty. And I couldn't walk because my body hurt so much.
Then one day they just decided to release me. They took me out in a car and dumped me somewhere far from Sulaymaniyah. I walked all the way home. (Thornhill, p 122-124)

The chemical attacks took two of Sahad's daughters, left two with chronic illness and worsened the lingering physical pain from her torture (Thornhill, p 124).

You know, my husband is angry with me about what happened to me in prison. He knows the reason I was arrested was that I was working with the peshmerga, but when he is feeling angry about his own situation, having no money and no job, he says bad things about me to my face. He says I have damaged his honour. (Thornhill, p 124)

I am a peshmerga! As a peshmerga, you put your hand in the fire but don't feel the pain. If you feel the pain, you are not a peshmerga. (Thornhill, p 125; interview with Sahad)

Thornhill was invited by Naza to a wedding,

The peshmerga had taught me to dance the Kurdish dibka back in May, and I remembered the footwork. The tricky thing was the shoulders: they were meant to rise and fall rhythmically, as if you were a marionette. (Thornhill, p 129)

Jwan was working in a Kiruk hospital as a nurse when the Republican Guard descended on 28 March 1991. At the hospital,

'When the Republican Guard found me I tried to defend myself. I shot a lieutenant, causing him flesh wounds in the arm and chest. Then I ran and hid in a storeroom in the basement of the hospital. Two or three of the people who had been working with us in the hospital were informers. So when the Republican Guard came, they already had my name and those of three others -- all doctors -- who had managed to flee. The security people would have had my name anyway, as someone who was organising to kill supporters o Saddam. I had been doing political work with the PUK since 1983, when I was 14.

'While I was waiting in the store room, absolutely terrified, I heard my name called over and over again by the soldiers as they began to search the hospital looking for me. Eventually one of the Republican Guard officers found me, but he told me he would help me to escape and that I should wait for him to come back. I waited, but an hour later I heard soldiers shouting that they would kill all the people in the hospital if they didn't find me, so I decided to go out and give myself up.

'When the officers saw me they began to taunt me with every bad name they knew. There were about a hundred Republican Guards in the hospital by then. A big group of them took me upstairs to the canteen and began to insult me. They showed me an execution order with my name on it which had been drawn up in Baghdad. They called me a "bitch", a "coward", a "spy"; they said I was a "prostitute" and had "sold myself to the enemy". I thought I was finished, that they were going to kill me there and then.

The Commanding Officer came up and asked me if I realised I was going to be raped. I told him he could not destroy my honour in the way he thought, that my honour was in my land -- Kurdistan. The verbal abuse when on and eventually I began to laugh at the soldiers. I thought my life was at an end and suddenly I wasn't afraid anymore. The officers told the Commander that they were going to kill me, but he said "Don't do that, I am going to take her to Ali Hassan al-Majid as a present"

'I was taken to the back of the canteen and left with two officers to guard me. After a while the two officers took me to a store nearby. One of them was very good to me. He was an Arab from Mosul and he said he would help me escape, if I promised not to give his name if I got caught. That night I was left alone to sleep and nobody interfered with me. The Mosulawi had said he would help me to escape at 7 a.m. the next day, but it didn't work out like that.

'In the owning I was taken back to the Commanding Officer, in a little office in the hospital. He asked me why I was so pale and said I must be feeling ashamed of myself. I replied that I was pale because I had given blood to the peshmerga. I said I was not ashamed. I was very happy because Kurdistan had had a great victory.

'After a little while the Commanding Officer took me out into the road outside the hospital. There were dozens of officers there and he asked me questions in front of them. Meanwhile, some of the officers were preparing their guns to kill me, but he told them, "Don't' kill her yet, we're taking her to Ali Hassan al-Majid."

'Some of the officers slapped my face and hit me on the head with their guns; others called me horrible names. I began to feel very weak. The Commander said, "Aren't you afraid of what they're going to do to you?" Again I replied that my honour is my land. He went on: "You Kurds shouldn't be making revolution, Saddam Hussein is a very good man. Why do you rebel?"

'I replied, "Because in Kirkuk we are not allowed to speak Kurdish, there are no Kurdish schools, we are not allowed to use Kurdish in any of the offices."

'Then I told him that if he had finished saying what he wanted to say to me, I had something to say to him. I raised my voice so that all the officers could hear, and shouted: "You are going to remember this day and you are going to tell your mothers and sisters about this, about what you did to me, a brave Kurdish girl!"

'After that I was taken back inside and left in the reception area of the hospital. I was unguarded so I decided to run for it. But after I had gone about 100 years, two military cars came speeding towards me from each direction. They caught me, saying that they had let me run away so that they would have the fun of catching me, and took me back to the hospital.

'The soldiers asked me where in the hospital I worked. I told them that I worked in the premature baby unit and they took me there. There was one dead baby left in the unit, but nobody else. I was left there with three soldiers to guard me. After a while, one of the soldiers said that he would help me to run away if I had sex with him. I spat at him, saying, "You can sell yourself if you want to, but I'm not selling myself!" The solider pointed out that if I refused his offer, he could kill me with a single shot. He added that he would tell the other officers that I had insulted Saddam Hussein, an offense which is punishable by the death sentence. I replied that I wasn't afraid, I had already insulted Saddam in front of the other officers. The solider said he would fetch someone else who would know what to do with me. After a few minutes he came back with the lieutenant I had wounded and two other officers, and they began to beat me up.

'They hit me all over my body, using their bare hands and their army whips, which were leather whips with thongs. The lieutenant said that I had insulted his honour by shooting him, because I was a girl. They bent my right thumb backwards and my wrist broke; I was in so much pain that I fainted.

'Next they brought ECT equipment from the psychiatric ward and wired me up to it. They gave me electric shocks to my head, at very high voltage, several times. Each time I fainted, and each time they held perfume under my nose and threw cold water on me. The lieutenant and the two officers tortured me all day on the Thursday and through the night until the Friday morning. They hit me on the head with a cable until my eyes began to be affected.

'Then they made me undress to my underwear and tied me to a chair. First they burned my legs with cigarettes -- look, I still have faint marks on my legs.'

She raised her dishdasha slightly and pointed to a mark on her left calf.

'Then they took off the rest of my clothes and the lieutenant raped me. The other two officers held my legs and my arms were tied to the chair. The lieutenant raped me four times and while he was doing it the others took photographs of me. When he finally stopped, I passed out. I don't know if the others raped me as well.

'When I came around I was lying on the floor, freezing cold, with my hands still tied to the chair. It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon and I was alone. Somehow I dragged myself over to a heater which we used to heat milk for the babies. I managed to light it to warm my hands and to burn the rope round my wrists. My hands got burnt a little, but I got myself free.

'At that moment, I wished I was dead. I felt terribly weak, not having eaten anything in two days, but all I wanted was to get out of there. I hadn't yet begun to feel the pain.

'I found some clothes belonging to a friend I used to work with and put them on. Then I opened the door, which led to a back staircase to the basement, and began to creep down the steps. When I opened the door at the bottom, by a strange chance I saw the officer who had offered to help me the first day. There were only a few Republican Guards left in the hospital by now, because most of them had gone on to attack Arbil and Sulaymaniyah.

'I told the officer that I was to be handed to Ali Hassan al-Majid when he arrived in Kirkuk that evening; so he should either kill me or help me. The officer took me to an office full of medical files and told me to stay in there and not open the door till he came back. After a quarter of an hour a soldier came, sent by the officer, with a spare Republican Guard uniform for me to put on. I put my hair up in the cap so that I looked like a man. Then he lead me outside through the basement of the hospital to a door into the yard outside. The solider told me to get out of the grounds, take off the uniform and throw it away. So that is what I did; I had my friend's clothes on underneath.

'The officer had said the Republican Guard were advancing towards Arbil and Sulaymaniyah and that it would be safest for me to go to Baghdad, where no one knew me. The uprising had ended in Baghdad by now, the government were in control of the city and things were relatively calm compared to the situation in Kurdistan, so I decided to take his advice. The people of Kirkuk had mostly fled eastwards in front of the advancing Republican Guard and I saw almost no one on the way to Baghdad.

'I found out later that when Ali Hassan al-Majid arrived in Kirkuk, he knew about me and asked where I was. Luckily by then I was far away. (Thornhill, p 133-137)

Jwan's skull had been broken, her left pupil was paralyzed and she was pregnant. She felt chronic dizziness and fell down stairs, causing a partial miscarriage. She went to Gokhlan, a town where she heard her friend had fled to, and sought sought out her friend Zozik. In Gokhlan she found her brother and was accepted by him. She later went to Iran for an abortion and three months' rest. Hero Talabani helped her regain her confidence. However, she was still ostracized and held in low esteem for having been raped.

'Two days after we got back to Gokhlan, I met my brother. When I saw him, I collapsed. I was worried about what he might do to me, because he would feel his honour had been compromised by what had happened to me. Zozik had said that if my brother tried to do anything to me, he would defend me. But in a way I wasn't afraid of my brother trying to kill me, because I was feeling so awful that I didn't care what happened to me.

'My brother asked my friend what had happened and he told him everything. In fact, my brother's reaction was to blame himself, because he had left me behind in the hospital when he left with the group of peshmerga. To my relief, he didn't blame me for what happened at all.

'My brother raised some money and we went to Sanandaj in Iraq, where I was given a dilation and curettage operation. Afterwards the doctors gave me some drugs to take and told me I needed to have three months' rest.

'When we got back to Gokhlan I was feeling really bad, so depressed and worthless that I decided to kill myself. I went to a high place in the mountains and tried to throw myself into a ravine, but Zozik stopped me.

'After this I went to Hero Talabani for advice, because I was in such a bad way emotionally. She suggested I go to Penjwin and work with Dr Runak, a woman doctor in the hospital there. I lived with Dr Runak and her family and she did her best to give me support; Zozik got a job in the hospital as a medical assistant. He and Dr Runak were very good to me and gradually I began to regain my confidence.

'It was at this time that I started giving myself pethadine injections as a sedative. Zozik tried to dissuade me, but I couldn't cope without them.

'After we had been at the hospital for about 15 months, Zozik and I got married and moved to Sulaymaniyah.


She was sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees, rocking herself gently to and fro. 'My relationship with my family has suffered a lot. My mother is always asking me what happened. All I have told her is that I was beaten on my hands and on my legs. One day I told a male relative the whole story, and he said, "Tell her, she is your mother and she will understand and forgive you." But I can't tell her. I can't even look at her!

'To begin with, I always felt ashamed when I saw people I knew. I wanted to be far away from everyone I had ever met. After a time, before I got married, I wrote a letter to my family and told them that I felt it was better that I shouldn't live with them any more. One of my sisters suspects what happened and keeps askin me. She says I have changed a great deal. I'm not afraid of her, because we're very close. Many times she has cried and asked me to tell her, saying it's better if I tell her so that if anyone says anything against me she can answer them back. But I haven't told her.

'My family are back in Kirkuk now, so I don't see them very often. They have told the security people that they have disowned me as their daughter: they had to do this to protect themselves. They have to stay in Kirkuk because, as Kurds, they have no right to sell their house and shop, and if they left they would have nothing.

'I still give myself pethadine injections. When I can't get it, I feel bad and I get headaches.' She got up, opened the wardrobe and pointed to a pile of empty plastic phials on the floor. 'I must have given myself about 100 injections.

'Sometimes I wake up at night and can't get back to sleep and so I go outside and sit in the street till I feel better. I never sleep the whole night through; I wish I could. Every night for the first year after it happened, I saw the face of the lieutenant who raped me, lunging towards me in the dark.'

She was clutching her knees and rocking herself again.

'Nowadays I live in fear that my husband will leave me. His family are putting him under so much pressure.'

She paused and rested her chin on her knees. Her eyes were focused on the floor.

'My mother-in-law was very good to me until we got married. But she is a very traditional woman and she can't accept what happened to me. The thing I want most in the world is for her to forgive me.' (Thornhill, p 133-140)

Afretan is the women's organization of the KDP,

I was struck by so many posters of a male leader on the walls of a women's organization. The office was dark and there was something about the way the Afretan women dressed -- very conventionally and respectably, with a lot of the strong mustard yellow which is the KDP colour -- which made me sense that their organisation existed mainly to support the KDP role in the nationalist struggle rather than to promote the interests of women. (Thornhill, p 141)

Torturers, whether they are Iraqis of Israelis, use their knowledge of where women are most sensitive emotionally and psychologically. They know that 'shame' is a powerful weapon to use against women. They know that if they rape a woman she will feel dirty and worthless and that that feeling may never entirely leave her for the rest of her life, however much she washes her body and even if she doesn't fall pregnant with the rapist's child. (Thornhill, p 142-143)

The streets of Sulayminayah were empty as we slipped out onto the road which goes southeast to the small town of Said Sadez and then divides, one branch going to Halabja and the other to the mountain villages of Biyaara and Tawella. Both villages had been destroyed during the Iraq-Iran wry and the inhabitants had been forced to flee. Now people were moving back and re-construction was getting under way. (Thornhill, p 143)

[In Said Sadeq] donkeys were pulling carts and traders were laying out quantities of purple Halabja grapes on cloths on the ground, next to piles of green and purple figs and huge red tomatoes. I opened the window and caught a breath of fresh air, mingled with a whiff of frying meat. (Thornhill, p 144)

'Why don't you stay here, Teresa, in the countryside?' He was murmuring into my ear, very low so that no one else could hear. 'I'll build you a house, and buy you a cow and some chickens and a donkey…' I smiled. At that moment I felt I could happily spend a year here, sitting out in these early morning fields, painting. (Thornhill, p 144)

It was funny, I thought, how older Kurdish men rarely eyed me up but rather would fuss over me as if I were a rather fragile child and they my grandmother. Perhaps it was the legacy of feudalism and the sight of Sirwa and me in our Western dresses reminded him of some middle-class Kurdish house-hold he had worked in as a boy. (Thornhill, p 145)

[In Tawella] the hills up here were brownish green, round and dotted with ancient trees and the remains of old stone buildings. As we rounded the last bend before the village, Sirwa pointed out the tree-like figure of an Iranian soldier standing on the ridge opposite: that was the border, no more than 3 miles away. (Thornhill, p 146)

Tawella was a thriving village of 5,000 people, built on a hillside with a stream running down the middle beside he road. Everywhere you looked you saw the legacy of war: breeze-block walls tilting at precarious angles under roofs that had cracked and collapsed in the middle; piles of rubble and buildings that had lost their top story or one of their walls. But equally, everywhere you looked you saw the work of rebuilding being carried on with energy and love. There were people everywhere and, unlike in Biyaara, we saw women and girls squatting outside their houses baking bread and cooking on open fires. The displaced people of Tawella had started to trickle back here in 1991, so there had already been two years of reconstruction. Traditionally the houses were built of stone and timber with a mud and straw roof, but concrete was being combined with the old materials to build the new homes. (Thornhill, p 146-147)

'In Kurdistan the rich, and the big politicos, they're all the same. All bourgeois!' He jerked his head disgustedly in the direction of the important-looking guests seated across the garden. 'These so-called "ministers" and "MPs". They sit in their big houses and in smart restaurants eating the best food money can buy, while we peshmerga go out and give our lives for the Kurdish cause. ... And d'you know what the staff in the hotel get paid? We asked one of the waiters, you own't believe it. Five dinars a day! That's all!' Five dinars was the equivalent of 10 pence. If they worked seven days a week it would come to 150 dinars a month, or a dollar -- which would scarcely keep you alive in present conditions in Kurdistan. ... 'And board and lodging. But now, you can't call it "lodging". They have to sleep in the corridors, haven't you seen them, Teresa, sleeping on the floor in the corridors in the mornings? ... And look, here on the bill.' Omar picked up the bill for supper and held it out to me. 'Ten per cent added on for service, right? Should go to the workers, shouldn't it? But does it, hell! It goes straight into Abu Sana's pocket. That, Teresa, is democracy for you in Kurdistan!' (Thornhill, p 150-151)

'Thirty years of war,' she [Sirwa] kept repeating. 'From 1961. In the sixties and seventies, the Kurds at war with central government. Then the Iraq-Iran war, fought on our doorstep [in Halabja]. Then in '88 Halabja, in '90 the Gulf War, in '91 the uprising! We used to wish just to survive ... Just to stay alive, that was enough. But now, since this freedom, we want it to go on! We want to stay with this freedom for as long as possible.' (Thornhill, p 153)

In the uprising in '91, on the third day, Nazaneen and I went to the Red Security Building to see what had been going on there. This was after the peshmerga had taken control of the building. When we went in we saw so many horrible things. We saw the execution room and we saw the isolation cells and we saw the torture tools and we saw many items of women's underwear, here and there in different parts of the prison, in the yard and in the corridors, everywhere. Many people had been in before us, but we saw womne's clothes in every part of the building. And we saw blood on the walls. Till now sometimes at night I dream of it. I often have bad dreams. (Thornhill, p 160)

I was taken to a prison in Ba'qouba, an hour's drive from Baghdad. They held me for 15 months, until March 1982, without any family visits and without taking me to court to be sentenced. ... They fed us, but the food was very bad and often we couldn't eat it. They used to give us half a roll and soup for breakfast. They used to give us lunch at five in the afternoon, when we'd had nothing since breakfast. Dinner was at 1 a.m., by which times most of us were asleep. Then they would change the mealtimes suddenly, to confuse us. The toilet was next to the room we were in, and the smell was terrible. I think the conditions in that place were specially designed as a kind of psychological torture. The worst thing was when they let us get very, very hungry and then brought us food which was bad. Most of us were in poor health. Our skin turned yellow and sometimes we vomited due to the smell from the toilet. We got head lice. The only way to wash was using the water pipe in the toilet. In the winter it was very cold, so we were glad to be crowded together, but in summer the heat was terrible! There were no fans and all we had to drink was the water from the pipe in the toilet. (Thornhill, p 174-175)

Mohammed took out his pack of Aspen, gave one to the driver and took one for himself. This was a regular ritual on every long taxi ride; it was unthinkable in Kurdistan to smoke without first offering your cigarettes around. (Thornhill, p 180)

The ridge ran almost the whole way to Shaqlawa and for an hour my eyes wandered over the sunlit rock face, delighting at the way the stratum of pink blended seamlessly into the stratum of yellow-gold below. I wished we coudl stop and spend a couple of days exploring on foot, but nobody walked for pleasure in Kurdistan and the lower slopes were likely to be littered with unexploded land mines. (Thornhill, p 181)

The following is an example of peshmerga security checkpoints,

'Here is Touz and the peshmerga are in the mountains, far from the government. But by night the peshmerga are in control of Touz, it's only by day that the government are in control. So the peshmerga do their operations by night, on the main road, outside Touz. There's a checkpoint controlled by the peshmerga. ... Just like any checkpoint: they stop the cars, they ask for ID. If it's just a Kurd and the ID is in order, they let them go. If it's Military Intelligence personnel, they take them in. ... They carry two IDs. One is normal, the other one says Military Intelligence. If the driver is Arab and he shows the normal ID, they ask for the other one.'

'And if he doesn't produce it?'

Mohammed smiled. 'They search him.' He patted himself under his arms with both hands and down his body.

'And if he's armed?'

'They take the weapon off him. The peshmerga at the checkpoint are all armed. They take what they want.'

'And if they find he is Military Intelligence?'

'They take him, they question him, they beat him.' (Thornhill, p 185-186)

The following is an example of peshmerga operations,

'Imagine a Ba'athist officer, let's call him "Wathban". Married with a child. He comes home in the dark to his nice house, by car and with a gun in his hand, but without guards, and he finds himself surrounded by four peshmerga whoa re hiding in the garden or just outside in the shadows. And as he opens the door already there are two guys inside who have frightened his wife and who immediately disarm him and tell him they are taking him away. Wathban pleads with them, "Don't kill me, dont' take me, please, please, my wife, my child!" by they take him and they march him through the night to their base far away in the mountains. ... Four, five, six [hours] -- it depends.' Mohammed drew on his cigarette. 'When they reach the base they take him into one of their buildings and lock him in the outhouse, and then they interrogate him.'

'Do they hit him?'

'If he doesn't talk, sure they do.'

'What with?'

'With pieces of wood -- but he talks, because he's terrified; and they take his ID off him and keep it, because later it might be useful; and then they send an old man to Touz, to the government, to say, "We've got Wathban and whom are you willing to exchange him for of our peshmerga prisomers?" And eventually a deal is agreed, adn the peshmerga get their money or their prisoners, and in the middle of another night they release Wathban and send him off to walk back alone the four- or five-hour walk into Touz....'

'Why didn't they kill him?' I was fascinated and wanted to understand it all, however horrible.

'Sometimes they do. If Wathban had been a big guy in the security police, for example, they would have killed him rather than doing a deal.'

'Whom else might they take when they go on operations in Touz?'

'Sometimes they take men who are jash, and then they don't kill them, because after all they are Kurds, but they hold the families to ransom for large sums of money. The families get the money off the government, because the government are behind the jash, and have it brought to the peshmerga in the mountains, and in the same way as with Wathban, the jash get released.' (Thornhill, p 186-187)

The following is an example of a peshmerga raid,

'Let's that there is a nuqta, a military post [near Touz]. All around it is a barbed wire fence, and then landmines and hen more barbed wire. See? In the centre are eight or so government soldiers, camping out in tents. There's a guard outside on one side of the circle, and on the far side is a path without mines, which they use as their way in, with another guard. ... So the group of peshmerga -- four or eight of them -- creep up on the post and wait till the soldiers are asleep, and then they approach by the path, and kill the guard -- either by shooting him, or, better, with a knife, because it makes no sound -- and then they can get really close to the soldiers and they either kill them or disarm them and take them prisoner. ... And then they capture all the weapons and ammunition which is in the nuqta. In one operation which I was involved in we captured all the soldiers alive and marched them off through the night into the mountains. And when we got within earshot of the village, far, far from Touz, we fired into the air with a special rhythm to let the villagers know that the operation had been successful.' (Thornhill, p 188)

The following is an account of the 1987 chemical attack on Sheikh Wisan by a woman named VIan,

'The planes shot at us and dropped their bombs and it went dark with black smoke. I left the children on the balcony with my husband and jumped down to the ground, a drop of more than 10 feet.

'Someone told me that my cousin Hashem's house had been hit directly by a bomb. I went there and found he was injured with shrapnel in his back and left buttock. As I arrived the skin on the back of my right hand had begun to burn and peel. I sat down on the ground and took Hashem's head on my lap. He had been heavily contaminated with mustard gas, and the skin of my leg and hand began to peel while I was sitting there.


'While I was sitting with Hashem, my husband sent a message that the girls were crying and he couldn't comfort them and would I come back. I didn't go straight away, but he sent a second message and I went. When I got home, one of our relatives was there, saying, "Let's go to the city." But my husband was against the idea. He said, "I'm not going back to the city, if I go the government will be sure to arrest me."

'I had started to vomit before I reached the house. Now my husband tried to take care of me but I couldn't even lie down. He tried to get me to eat but I was vomiting a lot. Then he said, "Let's leave the village," and he picked up the girls and we set off. It was dark everywhere, with the thick black smoke from the bombs. As we reached the edge of the village my husband began to vomit too and there was blood in it. Our eyes were affected by the gas, but we could still see. But before we reached the edge of the village we both collapsed, unable to walk any further. We lay where we fell with the children, on the ground. I told my husband that I could feel my feet touching the body of a strange man, but he said, "It doesn't matter, this is not the time to worry about shame."

'We lay on the ground all night, till sunrise. The children vomited, but were not as ill as we were. In the morning a message was brought from the head of the jash, that he was coming to take care of us and that he would not be handing us oer to the government. He would take us to a special place and people from nearby villages would be sending tractors and trailers to collect us.

'I said to my husband, "What shall we do?" He said, "You and the girls go with the jash and then maybe you can go on ot Arbil to stay with your parents. I will stay here, because I'm afraid of what the government will do to me if I go." He insisted he would not come down the valley with us. He said, "If the government are dropping chemicals on us, they won't stop short of killing us or burying us alive. It would be madness for me to go down to the city." He was an underground activist and had reason to fear the government, but I never saw him again.

'I had blisters full of water on my burnt skin, and one on my belly which was very big and painful. It was so painful that I nearly passed out. As I lay on the ground I heard someone saying they thought I was dead and someone else saying, "No, she's not dead." They lifted me onto the trailer with my daughters.

'The tractor pulling the trailer drove off, taking us away. On the journey my skin was burning and very painful and it was peeling, but by the time we arrived I could no longer feel anything. I heard someone saying, "She's the daughter of so-and-so." A man came and lifted me out of the tractor. He tore off my clothes and dressed me in a new dishdasha, then put us into another vehicle. Everyone else in that vehicle died, except me and my daughters. I was blind by now, but I could hear the sounds of the people dying all around me.

'I don't know what happened to me during the next two weeks. At some point I lost the baby I was carrying, but I don't know when or how it happened. All I know is that when my sight began to return, I was no longer pregnant. I found myself in a prison cell with just two small windows high up. My children were with me and there were two mothers of peshmerga also in the cell. We were in the Red Security Building in Sulaymaniyah.'


'After we had been in Sulaymaniyah about five weeks, a Kurdish nurse came to me. Her name was Fenig. I offered her my gold earrings and a ring if she would take a message to my family. She started to cry and refused to take the jewellery. I asked her to phone my father in the cigarette factory where he worked in Arbil.

'Shortly afterwards my father came to Sulayminayah, but they wouldn't let him see me. They only allowed him to see my daughters. When I asked the girls who the visitor was, they said it was their grandfather and that he was crying. Fenig said he had wanted to take us home, but the security people said he could not because we were to be treated like peshmerga.

'After my father came to the security building and asked for me, the authorities said they would deprive me of food for six days and torture me with electricity to make me tell them how I had sent the message to him. Fenig had to take me to the torture room, but I wasn't tortured. Afterwards Fenig brought me sweet biscuits and crumbled them up and fed them to me. Back in the cell I was sharing with the two mothers of peshmerga, she secretly brought me ointment for my skin. My whole torso was burned from my chest to my hips. She was allowed to peel off the burnt skin but was forbidden to give me any real medical treatment.

'Meanwhile, as I found out later, my father had gone to the head of the jash in Betwatar near Balisan and asked him for help. He took him some gifts and said he must help him to get his daughter back. The jash head sent his son, Anwar Beg, to the security building in Sulaymaniyah. When he arrived he pretended to be my uncle and the authorities called me in. I was very frightened, because I didn't know him and I thought perhaps I had been called in to be given electric shocks.

'Before they called me in, the authorities gave me a clean dishdasha because the one I was wearing was covered in blood. My skin was very dry and had begun to bleed a lot. I said to Anwar Beg, "I will die if you don't save me!" The authorities were very angry, and asked me again who had sent the message to my father, and reminded me that my detention was meant to be secret. They threatened to beat me and to tear the flesh from my body unless I told them how the message had reached my father. I was terrified, but I said I didn't know. I couldn't tell them that the nurse, Fenig, had sent the message.

'Anwar Beg told me that he would prepare a document and send it to the First Army Battalion and that after three days I would be released. That night, after Anwar Beg had left, Fenig came and told me that there were three men from my valley who were still alive, two from Balisan and one from Sheikh Wisan, and did I want to see them? The room where the men were being held was next to our room. Fenig said that when the guards left, I could see them. I thought it would make me feel better, so I agreed.

'When I was in the cell I had a cage over my body, which the nurse had brought me, because my burns made it unbearable to wear clothes. She had been forbidden from washing me, so my skin was still saturated with the chemicals. My hair, which in those days I wore in long plaits down my back, was caked with chemicals and very dry. That night when the men came to visit me, all I had over me was a dirty dishdasha, but the shame was gone -- everything was finished, I felt I was dying -- so I showed them the burns on my body.

'One of the men, Hoshit, was from Sheikh Wisan. I told him I was dying. He said, "No, Vian, you are not dying, you are in good shape. I am very tired, maybe I am dying." His lips were very dark.

'Hoshit said, "I am worried about my children, I don't know where they are and haven't had any news of them." Poor Hoshit: the skin on his lips and inside his mouth was damaged and peeling; and his testicles were badly injured.

'The two men from Balisan were in better shape than Hoshit. Their lungs had been affected, like mine. The next morning I asked Fenig to give me a dishdasha and take me to see Hoshit, because I wanted to talk to him again. Fenig said he had been taken to a different room and I began to cry. Every day for three days I asked to see him and every time when she said I couldn't, I cried. Eventually Fenig admitted to me that he was dead. He had died after he had come to see me, that same night. When I heard this I became afraid; I thought it was the end. I told Fenig that I too as going to die there, but I didn't want to die in the Security Building...

'After that the two men form Balisan came and left me a message saying that if Anwar Beg's son came, I was to inform him that they too were prisoners here, because nobody outside knew about them. One day my mother came to the Security Building and was allowed to see me. I put the message from the Balisan men in my shoe before I walked over to meet her and I managed to give it to her. She passed the message to the families of the two men and they tried to get Anwar Beg to help them.

'Three days after my mother's visit, without any warning, we were all released -- me and my daughters and the two men from Balisan. When we came out of the building into the sunlight, we were blinded and our eyes became very painful. We wanted to rent a car to take us back to our families, but as we were standing in the street, a boy who had a shop called us in and gave all of us new clothes. He gave my daughters traditional Kurdish outfits. Then he brought a car and paid for it himself and took us all to Ranya. One of the Balisan men's relatives was living in Ranya, so we went to him. I was very ill when we arrived. They cut my hair and washed my body in warm water. All my skin peeled of and it was so painful that I went numb. I was having great difficulty breathing. The water hurt my belly and thighs a lot.

'The family in Ranya helped me so much. There were lots of boys in that family and they cried when they saw the condition I was in. They took me to the hospital in Ranya, although it was forbidden for me to go there. The hospital treated me secretly, giving me injections which helped my breathing. The family gave me liver to eat. They said, "We'll do anything for you, just tell us what you want." They desperately wanted to help me. I thanked them, but I wanted to go to my father's house in Arbil. So they rented a car and took me to him.'


'Many members of my family had died in the chemical attack. In my uncle's household, in Sheikh Wisan, there were 18 people. All of them died except for him. Another uncle had two wives and seven children, and they all died together in Sheikh Wisan. My father and mother were in Arbil at the time of the chemical attack, so they were all right. My cousin and one of my brothers and my uncle all had survived as well, because they were peshmerga and not in the area at the time. My two sisters, Sarzan and Sozan, survived, but all the rest of my family were dead. After the attack, my father took in the children of other people who had died. My father now has seven orphans whom he cares for in Arbil.

'For the last six years since the attack I have been living between Arbil and Shaqlawa. Sometimes I stay in Arbil with my parents, which they like because they can take care of me, sometimes I come here to my father-in-law's. I prefer it here.'

The two girls were sitting with their mother, one crouched against the wall listening and watching, and the other at the foot of the bed.

'What are their names?' I asked.

'Runak and Rayzan. Runak is in the third class of primary school and is top of her class. Rayzan is in the same class, because they are so close in age.'


'All I want is to be better. Can you help me to get medical treatment in the West?'

(Thornhill, p 190-196)

At first glance he appeared strong but his complexion was sallow and he moved about very slowly. He had himself been badly affected by the chemicals and had lost much of his former strength. Some time after the attack he and a peshmerga friend had undergone fertility tests in a hospital in Iran and had found their sperm counts to be very low; the friend had been impotent for two years after the attack. (Thornhill, p 197)

Speaking of Balisan valley, whose caves had been used by the peshmerga,

The [Balisan] valley floor was wide and lush, planted with rice and fruit trees, with a small river running close to the road; behind, the hills rose up broad and chunky like the Yorkshire hills. The lower meadows were pale yellow, covered with dry stubble and lightly scattered with dark green young trees: it was obvious that there had been a scourge and the trees were struggling to re-establish themselves. In winter, Sherzad said, the hillsides would be covered in snow. (Thornhill, p )

Speaking of Sheikh Wisan,

The present-day village was a scattering of houses separated by rough ground. There were piles of stones and mounds of earth with weeds, scrub and animal droppings, heaps of concrete blocks -- the remains of walls which had collapsed in the bombing -- and, here and there, craters where bombs had landed. Sherzad told me that prior to 1987 the houses had stood close together and it had been a big village. Now, although quite a few families had returned, at best it was a sprawling hamlet.

The houses were built of mud and thatch, with roofs made from a base of wooden poles laid horizontally, with mud and straw packed down tightly in between. When it rained, Marywan said, the people got up on the roofs with a big smooth stone and rolled the turf to get the moisture out; that way the houses stayed dry all winter. (Thornhill, p 198)

Regarding dancing,

There was something wildly sexual and abandoned about the way the men suddenly start to lift and drop their shoulders and swing their hips as they pranced back and forth, on the cue of a speeding-up of the music. (Thornhill, p 201)

In the middle of the plain, a city of tall blocks rose up in numbed indifference. Dyarbakir [sic] was said to have grown in the last eight years from 350,000 to well over one million inhabitants, due largely to the Turkish government forcibly transferring Turkish Kurds out of their villages into the city. There had been a frantic construction campaign, with cheap flats being flung up to create new suburbs. Later I learned that there was no work for the displaced villagers and that they were obliged to spend the little money they had earned selling up their goats and chickens on buying one of the flats, the walls of which then became the horizon of their new world. It was not difficult to imagine their misery. (Thornhill, p 207)

I took a room in the Karavanserai, a famous old Ottoman hotel used by travellers to and from the East from the time when Dyarbakir was an important staging post on the caravan routes. It was a graceful stone building constructed around a courtyard. A series of arches fronted both storeys, forming a portico on the ground floor and a gallery above.

After I had put down my bags it was a relief to sit at a table in the courtyard and take in the fact that the day's travelling was over. I looked around at the shapely trees and shrubs, and the green creeper travelling down the grey stone walls. The sun was warm on the top of my head, but it was a mild, sweet, late October sun. Half a dozen people were sitting at white tables with pale blue and pink table cloths, drinking coffee and beer but making almost no sound. In the centre of the courtyard chunks of water melon were displayed around the central column of a stone fountain like slabs of flesh; a jet of water spurted softly from the top. It was strange to find myself in such a comfortable environment. The Karavanserai was in the heart of Dyarbakir at the foot of the Byzantine city walls and, although the people in the street outside looked poor, the hotel guests clearly had money. (Thornhill, p 207)

Beside the city walls, I found a long straight street with small square shops selling headscarves and rugs, and a fruit market in the middle of the road. Men in Druze-style trousers hobbles bow-legged up and down, and boys sold bananas and grapes from wooden barrows. (Thornhill, p 207-208)

Istanbul looked and smelled as squalid as only a Western city could. As the taxi drove me round Laleli in search of a cheap hotel, the Saturday night streets seemed to be crowded with half-dressed young people getting drunk, getting high, getting old fast by living badly. (Thornhill, p 209)

She slept in the Hotel Visa in a small overpriced L-shaped room; the hotel was owned by a Kurd from Mardin.

Thornhill, Teresa. 1997. Sweet Tea with Cardamom: A Journey Through Iraqi Kurdistan. Pandora.