An Interview with the Anfal survivor, Taimour
Preamble: Kanan Makiya's Account of His Meeting With Taimour.
As far as anyone knows, Taimour 'Abdallah, from the
village of Qulatcho, is the only human being to have experienced
firsthand the innermost workings of the Anfal campaign and to have
lived to tell of it. This much I already knew in London, although I
did not really know what the Anfal campaign was about, or if the
boy's account could be believed; it had been such a wooden and
stilted interview. The Anfal was at that point just a name for me,
one that kept on cropping up in the copies of the secret police
documents which I had been given and which maybe had something to do
with large numbers of Kurds disappearing in 1988. Many survivors had
witnessed the attacks on their villages or other rounding up
operations inside northern Iraq. But only one person 'disappeared'
and by a miracle 'reappeared' to tell us what had happened to him.
Our meeting took place in an abandoned army barracks a half-hours'
drive into the mountains that surround Sulaimaniyya. Bombed out
buildings with blackened windows perched on a mountain with
unobstructed visibility in every direction. The setting was as
remarkable as the base was awful--surrounded by walls, barbed wire
and security checkpoints. Taimour's life since the March uprising
had been organized around the fact that he was and still is a prime
target for assassination by Saddam's agents. It became obvious the
boy had been turned into a symbol, the servant of a cause, a living
monument to the suffering of the Kurdish people.
Taimour was very quiet and passive throughout. In the sixteen hours
that I spent in his company, he never spoke unless he was spoken to;
he always answered politely, but in monosyllables, showing no
emotion whatsoever. Was he suppressing them because of the trauma?
Or was he expected to behave like a hero and heroes don't cry? Maybe
the setup of being interviewed in these unfamiliar surroundings by a
foreigner was not conducive to the expression of emotion by someone
who was after all still a child. He had been dressed up to look like
a miniature version of a Kurdish peshmerga. Each Kurdish
organization has its distinctive sash around the waist, its own
favorite tailors and clothing styles.
The privacy that I desperately needed could not be arranged here. So
I had to head back with Taimour and a big escort of armed men to
Sulaimaniyya. We arrived at a house in the city center, and after
the customary hospitalities and endless cups of tea, late in the
evening, a private room was arranged and the interview finally
started. But the electricity went off all over Sulaimaniyya. It went
off and on again for the rest of the evening. Everything that could
go wrong did that day.
As a result, I was nervous and upset. Who could have foreseen so
many people hanging around? The idea had simply been to sit down
with Taimour and a tape recorder. I had not anticipated such
complications. I mention this because the build-up of tension inside
me might have affected the interview. I expected too much from him,
wanting every little detail of what had happened. Perhaps I came
down too hard on the boy.
The interview began with my telling him that I was born in Baghdad
but lived abroad and had come thousands of miles to talk to him. I
said that I wanted to hear everything, including the memories he
still lived with. "Don't feel that there is any detail which is not
worth talking about," I remember saying more than once. I said all
this just before the interview began, as though he wanted nothing
other than to relive in infinitesimal detail everything that he had
gone through. All this must have contributed to frightening the boy.
'Who is this man? What does he want of me? What am I going to get
out of this? Why should my story be of interest to him? What is he
going to get out of it?' All through dinner and breakfast the
following morning, I saw him stealing glances in my direction.
Whenever I turned to smile back, or acknowledge his look, he would
turn his face away as though he hadn't been looking in the first
place. Taimour had good reason not to trust another human being ever
I think the boy did not want to talk to me. Circumstances had thrust
him into a nightmarish, cruel world. Maybe he had never even known a
real childhood. But the boy had been told he has to speak to this
stranger who had come from far way and is useful to his people's
cause. He had been fitted up for the occasion and probably given a
dress rehearsal or two in what to say or not to say. He didn't want
to talk, but he was expected to, and this is a culture where
everyone does what is expected of them. Such lessons are drilled
into children from very early on.
Taimour began by spitting out his story in one short spurt, adding
nothing to what I didn't already know from that first videotape that
I had seen in August. I had not come all this way to hear a canned
speech. Feeling the tension build up in myself, I started all over
again, digging for the detail myself with short, pointed simple
questions, no longer relying on the boy. After a while, a rhythm
began to be picked up and I felt I was getting somewhere. How did he
feel? I don't know. Taimour, I think, was not expecting anything
remotely like this. Did his eyes glisten? Once or twice I think he
said things he didn't want to say. The thought still preoccupies me.
I remember pressing on relentlessly, stopping only because of the
damn lights which kept on going out all over Sulaimaniyya.
What follows is a transcript of the interview, eliminating
repetition and that initial spurt along with a few digressions. I
have changed the odd word, and the location of small sequences of
questions here or there, only for purposes of making what Taimour
was saying clearer to the reader.
The day the army took you from the village, do you remember it well?
What were you doing?
Before the arrival of the army?
Yes, before the arrival of the army. What were you doing?
The army didn't come to our village.
(Kurdish units employed by the Iraqi army, the Jahsh, came to
Taimour's village and not the Iraqi army.)
Who did they take?
Everyone. Men, women, and children.
Did any fighting take place?
(The Jahsh took Taimour and his father, mother and three sisters,
along with everyone else in the village, to the Fort of Qoratu
passing through the village of Melasoura. My line of questioning was
intended to find out what a normal day in Taimour's life was like
before the Anfal operations came into his life. He either didn't
understand me, or he didn't want to answer the question. At this
point in the interview we were speaking in Arabic. A bit later on we
shifted to Kurdish at his request, via an interpreter, because he
said it was easier for him. His answers have been retranslated from
his own words, not as screened through the interpreter.)
The Jahsh said they would escort us to [the village of] Kalar, but
they lied, and they took us to [the Fort of] Qoratu instead. We
stayed there ten days until they sent us to the prison of Topzawa in
How did they send you there?
By big military cars. The ones called IVA
('IVA' is the locally used acronym for lorries of East German
manufacture which are widely used in the Iraqi army.)
How many lorries?
No, no, a lot. Around 30 or 40.
Were there tanks?
How did they take you?
They threw us in the lorries and they took us.
Were there any orders? An officer, for instance, who shouted
something, who called the people to come and enter the car?
Something like that. Do you remember anything that was said?
They said nothing!
How did you know what to do?
The only thing they said was: 'Enter the lorry.'
Did they say why you had to enter the lorry?
Didn't they give any reason for what was going on?
All right. They told you, "Come on, get in the lorry." Then what
We got into the lorry.
How? Family by family?
Yes, family by family.
Did they break up families?
How many people were loaded into each lorry?
I don't know.
How many were you in a lorry?
Well, it was full.
Were you seated or standing?
We were sitting.
What happened to the stuff, the furniture, the livestock, and the
wagons that you brought with you?