Summerville’s Martin helps to verify history
It’s late morning when the bombs begin falling; they seem much quieter than normal. There’s a sweet apple odor in the air.
Goats and sheep start collapsing. Birds start dropping from the air. Stabbing pain begins in the eyes, vomiting and tremors start…confusion. There is a dusting of white powder on the ground and smoky clouds overhead.
Grandparents, children, mothers and fathers fall ill and die in the streets.
Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, and, of course, Auschwitz-Birkenau. These names are familiar to most Americans. The concentration camps of the Nazis where heinous crimes of genocide took place.
Halabja, Kurdistan, Kirkuk, Barzani, Germian, Khoshnawety…most Americans have no idea what these are.
They are where the little-known genocide – al-Anfar – of Saddam Hussein took place.
The U.S. knew Hussein would use chemical weapons as early as 1983, according to documents recovered. He used them with the knowledge of the United States, according to recently declassified CIA documents, in reports published in the Washington Post. The United States, under Ronald Reagan’s presidency, turned a blind eye because it suited its goal, which, at that moment, was the downfall of Iran.
Today, thanks to the efforts of Summerville’s Lee Martin Jr., and his company Imani Lee, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) will go before Congress to request that the United States officially recognize Hussein’s actions as genocide.
The UK recently officially acknowledged them as such and Sweden has long acknowledged it, opening its doors to Kurdish refugees. Other countries have as well, yet the US has been loudly silent on this.
Hopefully, no more.
Martin and his team have translated more than 100 documents that detail Hussein’s deliberate attempt to eradicate the Kurds through chemical warfare. It is these translated documents that the KRG plenipotentiaries will take to the U.S. Congress in their bid for U.S. recognition.
Martin and Imani Lee
Martin grew up in Summerville, graduated from Summerville High in 1980, SCU in ’74, worked in D.C. for Senator Strom Thurmond, interned at the White House and worked at the Pentagon. He started his own business in San Diego that began as a technology business but has morphed into international translation.
“I come from a family of entrepreneurs,” he explains. “My dad ran Martin & Sons Electronics here, my mother and a brother are authors, and after working in corporate America for a number of years I wanted to branch out. I was doing a lot of international travel. I met my wife, Bahar, in 2006, we married in 2007. Bahar speaks a number of languages and we began to focus on translations.”
Bahar was born in Kurdistan and speaks Kurdi/Kurdish, Arabic and is fluent in English.
“I understand Farsi and Turkish,” she adds. Both have the same roots and similar words the way the romance languages such as French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and Italian are similar.
When Bahar was in school, she says, they were only allowed to take one lesson in Kurdish and had to take all the rest in Arabic. Then, she says, Arabic and Kurdish were the main languages. Today, she says, it is Kurdish and English.
Bahar Martin is the vice president of Imani Lee. Soft spoken but with a gentle backbone of steel, Bahar erases any preconceived ideas of what a Middle Eastern woman is like. Eloquent and decisive, she explains bits of the history of the Kurds during this time.
She was, she says, there in Kurdistan, when Hussein used the chemical warfare. She was not, fortunately, a victim of the attack.
Family and friends were though. Her brother was blinded by the chemicals. People who managed to survive discovered their children riddled with birth defects from the gas, if they were able to have children at all. She speaks of the time with compassion and resolve. She is an impressive lady.
The Imani Lee Company is equally impressive. It has done translations for the U.S. Department of State and for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which Allied Forces then carved up, the Kurds hoped to be recognized as an independent country. This was not to be – the Kurds were denied a nation-state – and the area identified as Kurdistan, by the fiercely independent Kurds, sits within the boundaries of numerous countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the former Soviet Union now Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Kurdistan is governed locally by the KRG but in compliance with the governments of the countries in which it sits. Since the Gulf War, Kurds have had a de facto independence in a northern autonomous zone created by Gulf War coalition forces.
An estimated 4 million Kurds live in Iraq, making them the country’s largest ethnic minority. They are part of the 25 million Kurds in Kurdistan. They are a non-Arabic, largely Sunni Muslim people although many religions are practiced and accepted in today’s Kurdistan.
In the early ’80s, after the U.S. supplied satellite intelligence to Hussein on Iranian troop movements, Hussein was able to subvert an attack on Iraqi forces. Once in control of Iranian troops, he turned his attention to the Kurds because of their support for Iran. Enlisting his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid to run the al-Anfal campaign – nicknamed “Chemical Ali” because of the number of chemical attacks he waged for Saddam – Hussein proceeded to do his best to destroy the Kurds.
On March 16, 1988, he dropped poison gas bombs on Halabja. This was the beginning of al-Anfal – which translates from Arabic to “the spoils of war” and was used by Hussein because in the Qur’an, chapter 8, it is discussed what Allah demands happen to nonbelievers. Apparently that equated to nonbelief of Hussein’s regime and not just Allah.
It is estimated that approximately 5,000 were killed by the chemical weapons in Halabja that day, launching Hussein’s effort to subdue and eliminate the Kurds. Ultimately, more than 182,000 Kurds were either killed by chemical warfare or, those surviving the bombs, being driven out of their villages (which were then leveled) and into the desert where they were shot and dumped in mass graves.
There is an irony that Hussein was found guilty of all of this during his trial (in which the U.S. actively participated) and sentenced to death. Al-Majid was also sentenced to death for his role. And yet, the U.S. has never formally recognized this genocide.
Genocide, by definition, is the deliberate and systematic destruction in whole or in part of an ethnic, racial, caste, religious or national group. What happened to the Kurds fits the definition.
Is the American lack of recognition because of its tacit acceptance of what was happening in Iraq because it was expedient to the government’s self-interest?
According to Agence France Presse, the BBC, Washington Post, RBS, Foreign Policy, The Independent, International Herald, AP and Ambassador Peter Galbraith, Human Rights Watch and the CIA itself, documents prove that America knew full well what was happening to the Kurds.
Imani Lee and the KRG
The binder that the KRG will present to the US either at the end of the current session or at the beginning of the new year, represents just one of a multi-faceted project that Imani Lee has been contracted to do for the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The company has been assigned five cases. Case 1 was The Halabja Case, translating documentation of the attack on Halabja. Case 2 is the al-Anfal case which is divided into eight phases: The First Anfal, known as the Anfal of the Valley of Jafety, Feb 23 – Mar. 19, 1988; the Second Anfal, known as the Anfal of Qaradagh, Mar. 22 – April 1, 1988; the Third Anfal, known as the Anfal of the Germian district April 7-20, 1988; the Fourth Anfal, known as the Anfal of Koya and Kirkuk, May 3-8, 1988; the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Anfal, known as the Anfal of Khoshnawety and Balakayaty, May 15 – Aug. 26, 1988; and the Final Anfal, known as the Anfal of the Badinan district, Aug. 25 – Sept. 6, 1988.
Case 3 is the Barzani Case where, in 1983, more than 8,000 Kurdish men and boys of the Barzani tribe were killed in an attempt to rid the Kurdish communities of adult males of military service age.
Case 4, the Faylee Case, where large segments of the Faylee Kurd population was forcibly deported to the Iranian border by the Iraqis. In April 1980 the first killings and deportations began.
Case 5, Germian Case, a town where Iraqi forces decimated the Dowda area in Germian during the 1988 Anfal genocidal campaign against the Kurds.
Thousands of documents will be translated by Iamni Lee teams. The translations are done by translators who were all former members of the Iraqi military and have also served as translators for the U.S. military. This is necessary because of the usage of myriad Arabic military terms. They are overseen by Arabic linguists who serve as editors. The same documents are translated by multiple teams to ensure accuracy. Then the translations undergo what is called a harmonization process, where the teams come together and compare translations, working together to come up with the best English word to describe something. The translation then goes through two more English editors for review. Another member of the team is Huner Anwer, project director, Dialogue Institute at Temple University.
The KRG delegation is composed of a Kurdish judge, Iraqi Parliamentary representatives and the Kurdistan Judges Union.
The group – KRG and Imani Lee – met Tuesday, Nov. 19, in Washington D.C. to go over the binders that will be presented to Congress. Karwan Zebari, director of Congressional and Academic Affairs, KRG, said: “We have two bill sponsors: Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D, Maryland 8th District and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R, Tennessee District 7. (Nashville, TN has the largest Kurdish population in the U.S.) The KRG delegation will present the binders to the bill sponsors Fri., Nov. 22.
The bill – HRES-422 – was introduced Nov. 19 and is a non-binding resolution – so the U.S. is only recognizing the act of Kurdish Genocide and has no ongoing financial obligations.
Once Congress officially acknowledges the genocide, the binders will be available to view in the Holocaust Museum, in D.C. says Martin.