While the Saddam-era regime is long gone, remnants of its victims still remain. Only eight months old, a small girl by the name of Maryam lost her identity to the Halabja chemical attack on the Kurds 30 years ago. Despite her quest to learn the truth behind her identity, her name and parents still remain a mystery to this day. She had found closure 3 years ago through a DNA test but has since discovered that the results were incorrect. Now she has given up on her search, feeling lost in a ever changing world without an identity. Maryam recently conducted an interview with local Kurdish media to tell he story. When asked if she wanted to attempt the DNA tests again, she replied, “No I won’t. I am tired. I no longer trust them. I cannot do it anymore. I no longer have faith. It is better if I live alone. Every Kurdish individual is my family. This is my fate.” She added that, “Saddam’s chemical [weapons] did not kill me, but all the pain from these DNA tests killed me.”
By the numbers of the Halabja Victims’ Society, there are roughly 179 children from 73 families reported missing during the events. A meager 8 children have been reunited with families since the chemical attacks happened. On top of that, another 10 people have come forward but are still attempting to achieve identification like Maryam.
The chemical attacks by the Saddam regime took place in the Kurdistan region from 1980-1988, Saddam felt the Kurdish region was a hub of resistance that posed a threat to his empire in the South. Halabja was one of the worst cases of the dictator’s atrocities. The city was hit on March, 1988, a barrage of rockets and rained down on the cities citizens, exploding in the streets. This resulted in plumes of colored smoke erupting in their wake that spread throughout the area. Citizens who servived said that faint smells of flowers, apples and eggs were experienced while people dropped in place; other died in fits of laughter like something out of a horror movie as the chemical cocktails entered their lungs. Nearly 10,000 Kurdish citizens were wounded and another 5,000 killed during the chemical rocket attack that day.
Many families were separated in the ensuing chaos that day, Maryam was transported to Iran where she was raised for a short time by her blind mother (a fellow survivor), they later became separated. “In the beginning, I was not Maryam. The Maryam known as Maryam Barootchian died in the year 1988 in Iran. She would have been my older sister in Iran. Her parents gave me her name after she passed away,” Maryam said reminiscing. Maryam did not discover she was adopted until she was 18 when her adoptive father told her on his death-bed. She added that, “I felt different from the Persians. Of course if you were to tell me that I was from Halabja or Sulaimani, I would not have known in which part of Kurdistan they are. I was oblivious to the four parts of Kurdistan. When the DNA test was done for me, my body was frozen [with shock]. I was proud to know that I was a Kurd, that I was different from the rest of the kids I was playing with. This was my difference.” Eventually she discovered what became of her city of birth, “I could not believe it. Why would 5,000 people be bombarded with chemical weapons? Just because they are Kurds? Because they are a different nation? Are they not humans? I could not believe it.”
Eventually Maryam decided she had to discover the truth and set about to find it. She said, “After my Iranian father, may his soul rest in peace, died, I had no one left standing by my side. When the issue of inheritance came up, some social issues surfaced because I was a child from an orphanage. I was in a Persian city in which Kurds and Sunnis were despised. Some said I was the child of an orphanage, and said only God knows whether I am a bastard or not, and if my parents had loved me I would not have been thrown away into the orphanage. I was 19 or 20 years old, and I was a university student then. In four years, I visited 24 Iranian provinces. Wherever there were Kurdish refugees and Kurds in Iran, I went there.”
Her quest has taken her through many families over the years and continuous uncertainty, “I had no emotions. There was no compassion left in my heart. They took me into six different families six different times. For example, one day I would be the sister of a person with 99 percent accuracy, then after one week they would tell me they had made a mistake and I became the niece of another man. I had no trust left. I was honestly very anxious. It was two days before the end of the week in a test in Sulaimani they told me that my parents were no longer alive. I did not expect anyone [to be my family]. Then on August 18, they told me they had found my mother.”
Eventually tests came back and a reunion was held for the world to see via a live broadcast, but this too was incorrect. “I came back with a belief, after 27 years of waiting, after so much effort. Unfortunately, they did this to create a beautiful scenario. But I was not an international actress, able to handle this scenario,” she stated during the interview.
While she has given up on her search, she has not giving up on speaking out against similar atrocities of the modern age. She concluded with, “When the attacks of Halabja happened, communications were not that strong. Now there is social media, and it is very strong. The silence of the international community [concerning the chemical attacks in Syria] is a great crime. The person who is silent but is aware of the situation is the main culprit. You [Western powers] are a strong country with a strong parliament. Can’t you make a decision to stand against the regime of Bashar al-Assad? Or the Turkish regime? They are themselves the criminals. I hope this occurs to them in their own houses and their countries. This is my prayer, as I am also injured. I am a victim of chemical attacks, and I have lost my family because of it, and I am yet to find them after thirty years.”