Halabja

Halabja (Kurdish: هه‌ڵه‌بجه‎ Helebce), is a city in Iraqi Kurdistan and the capital of Halabja Governorate, located about 240 km (150 mi) north-east of Baghdad

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Halabja (Kurdish: هه‌ڵه‌بجه‎ Helebce), is a city in Iraqi Kurdistan and the capital of Halabja Governorate, located about 240 km (150 mi) north-east of Baghdad and 13 to 16 km (8 to 10 mi) from the Iranian border.

The city lies at the base of what is often referred to as the greater Hewraman region stretching across the Iran-Iraq border. The Kurds in the city of Halabja generally speak only the Sorani dialect of Kurdish, but some residents of the surrounding villages speak the Hewrami dialect. 

 

Early history

Halabja has a long history. The cemetery includes the tombs of several historical figures, such as Ahmed Mukhtar Jaf, Tayar Bag Jaf and Adila Khanim. In August 2009, three 17th century tombs were discovered in the Ababile district of the town.

 

This suggests that the town is somewhat older than indicated by some sources, which claim that it was built by the Ottoman Empire circa 1850. However, modern developments date from the early 20th century. The post office opened in 1924 and the first school opened the following year. The Qaysari Pasha and Hamid Bag bazaars were built in 1932. Electricity did not reach the city until 1940.

 

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were many British soldiers stationed in Halabja. During World War I, Adela Khanum saved the lives of several British soldiers, resulting in the British honoring her with the title Khan Bahadur, Princess of the Brave. She was also responsible for the building of a new prison, setting up a court of justice, of which she was the first president and building a new bazaar.

 

Chemical attack

The Kurdish peshmerga guerrillas supported by Iran, liberated Halabja in the final phase of the Iran-Iraq War. On March 16, 1988, after two days of conventional artillery attacks, Iraqi planes dropped gas canisters on the town.[5] The town and surrounding district were attacked with bombs, artillery fire, and chemical weapons, the last of which proved most devastating. At least 5,000 people died as an immediate result of the chemical attack and it is estimated that a further 7,000 people were injured or suffered long term illness.[6] Most of the victims of the attack on the town of Halabja were Kurdish civilians. 

 

The attack is believed to have included the nerve agents Tabun, Sarin, and VX, as well as mustard gas. Though, according to the former senior CIA analyst Stephen C. Pelletiere, Iraq did not have the nerve agent used in the attack, but did have mustard gas which was used in the Iraq-Iran war, and therefore the accusation of the Iraqi Armed Forces to be the party responsible for the massacre could not be validated. It is occasionally suggested that cyanide was also included among these chemical weapons, though this assertion has been cast into doubt, as cyanide is a natural byproduct of impure Tabun. The attack on Halabja took place amidst the infamous Anfal campaign, in which Saddam Hussein violently suppressed Kurdish revolts during the Iran-Iraq war.

 

Before the war ended the Iraqis moved in on the ground and completely destroyed the town.[9] In March 2010, the Iraqi High Criminal Court recognized the Halabja massacre as genocide; the decision was welcomed by the Kurdistan Regional Government. 

 

Kurdish autonomy

In the mountains to the west of Halabja, a militant Islamist group, Ansar al-Islam, occupied a small enclave in the period of 2000-2003. The area was overrun by Peshmerga forces from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), with U.S. air support, at the beginning of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The town has remained a center of Islamism in the Kurdistan region, however.

 

Just before Kurds gained some autonomy over the Iraqi Kurdistan region in 1991, which included Halabja, a new town was set up where some former Kurdish refugees later relocated. The new town called Halabja Taza (or New Halabja) today has an estimated 9,000 homes 

 

The Kurdistan Regional Government made some concentrated reconstruction efforts after 2003 in the old town and began rebuilding some of the bombed-out homes in Halabja, and paving new roads. A memorial was also constructed for the victims of the chemical attacks. However, residents of Halabja have complained about the continued lack of basic services and necessities.[12] On the 2006 anniversary of the gas attack, violent demonstrations erupted in Halabja. An estimated 7,000 demonstrators protested against priorities in reconstruction, claiming that officials were not sincerely addressing the problems of the gas attack victims. Road blocks were set up and the gas attack memorial museum was set afire. Police fired at protesters killing one 14-year old boy and wounding many others. 

 

Today

In 2008, plans were announced to construct an international airport for the city.

In June 2013, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) recognized Halabja as a new governorate in the territory of Kurdistan region. On January 1, 2014, The Iraqi Cabinet agreed to make Halabja the nation's nineteenth province, but the decision will not be official until it is approved by the Iraqi parliament.  On 13 March 2014, Halabja was officially approved by the KRG, as the fourth province in Kurdistan.

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[i] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

 

There are several restaurants and cafes in the old town of Halabja, especially near the museum and monuments. Mostly Kurdish dishes are served. Halabja Museum - The symbolic and unique architecture of this building is alone enough to visit, but of course the harrowing history of the worst chemical attack ever is told inside. Many startling photos and displays from the genocide are portrayed within; English signage is also present. A cafe in the back of the museum serves light refreshments and tea.

Halabja Cemetery - This cemetery primarily houses the burial remains of the victims of the chemical attacks. Some have individual tombstones, others were placed in one of two mass burial sites. Ask a local to show you the way.

Market - There is a small market bazaar with many local products for sale.
Halabja Memorial (monument) commemorates one of the worst atrocities of the Saadam Hussein era, a gas attack in March 1988 resulting in 5000 deaths. The monument is maintained mostly by survivors and family of the victims, and is used to display documents, pictures and films. The initiative for this monument came from President Jalal Talabani and it was supervised by Prime Minister Dr. Barham Salih of the Kurdistan Regional Government to see its opening on 15 September 2003. The vision of the Halabja Monument is to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. Their mission is to work for peace, for the rehabilitation of the survivors and defending the rights of the families of the victims.

Halabja Stadium is a sport complex with indoors halls and swimming facilities. The stadium was built in 2010 and has a capacity of 10.000 seats.
Halabja is still recovering from the horrific genocide that took place in the 1990s. As a result, there are very few hotels, and none with online bookings or contact information. It may be best to consult with a regional travel agency prior to arrival in Halabja. Some tourists choose to stay in nearby Slemani.
Most visitors to Halabja arrive by bus from Slemani, about one and a half hours drive away. Another option is to take a private taxi, although that could be quite expensive. And, of course, if you have your own vehicle or rental, that is a third option.
Within the town of Halabja, most people travel by foot. A few taxis are also available.

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