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Taking Stories From the Genocide Against the Iraqi Kurds to the Commons

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The current campaign to win formal recognition of the Kurdish genocide is nearing its finale in Britain. Last week, leading supporters of the all-party group on Kurdistan urged a business committee, which allocates time, to endorse an historic parliamentary debate on the Kurdish genocide and its contemporary relevance.

Nadhim Zahawi, who told the Committee that his father fled Iraq because "his only crime was to be Kurdish and not willing to join the Ba'ath party," said that Britain has been heavily involved with the Kurdish people going back to Sykes-Picot, but more recently with Sir John Major who saved the Kurdish people with the no-fly zone and Tony Blair who is seen as the liberator of the Kurds.

Robert Halfon said unless the genocide is recognised internationally, people cannot be brought to justice. Meg Munn said that the debate would have a wider resonance given events in Syria. Fabian Hamilton cited good cross-party support for a debate. Jason McCartney, who served as a Royal Air Force officer in the no-fly zone in Zakho, said it would be a fitting tribute to have the debate on the 25th anniversary.

UK High Representative Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman had also told the committee how the Swedish and Norwegian parliaments recently debated the genocide and the Kurdish community is wondering why Britain had not yet done the same.

She added that "The genocide brought unimaginable suffering to our people: families were torn apart, sons and fathers killed en masse or simply buried alive, women and children bombed with poison gas. We believe that this suffering needs to be acknowledged, not just by us Kurds and Iraqis, but by our friends too, so that the victims' families and the survivors can reach closure and a message is sent out to any other regime oppressing its people or considering using chemical weapons. Imagine how heartened the survivors who are now British citizens would feel to be in the chamber, listening to such a debate."

Such a debate would also focus on the UK Government's current position that it prefers to follow judicial precedent rather than take the lead itself. One hopes that this position will change and it was heartening to see Baroness Morris, Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council and also the UK's trade envoy to Jordan, Kuwait and the Palestinian Territories, carry out a pledge given in Erbil to support the e-petition.

The respected Conservative politician went to the recent Genocide conference in Westminster to do so in person. She then said "Genocide is the worst crime that can be committed by humanity and it is our duty as a civilised society to remember and honour the victims. The genocide of the Iraqi Kurds was a profound tragedy. When we travelled to Kurdistan in August 2012, we saw with our own eyes the graves of martyrs and were able to understand the devastating impact of the Anfal campaign. The chemical attack on Halabja, which has come to symbolise the entire genocide, was just one savage act among many in the genocide against the Kurds. We hope that our parliament in the UK can lead the way in Europe and at the United Nations to recognise the genocide against the Kurds and we would encourage everybody, whatever their faith or nationality to sign this e-petition."

Such support is very welcome but let's be under no illusions. It may take time to shift the British Government's position. A debate, which allows Parliament to give its formal support, would be very useful in this process.

The Chair of the business committee said the MPs' presentation was "fantastic" but it is not a done deal. The reasons for this are purely logistical. The committee approves such bids in principle but then waits for the Government to release the free slots. The result won't be clear for a while.

What is clear, however, is that the advocates of recognition of the Kurdish cause are in a stronger position than they have been for many years as we begin a year of anniversaries.

Another sign of this growing support and interest recently took place near Westminster. A packed audience, including MPs, visited Soho for the world premier of Hide and Seek, a debut short film from a young Kurdish film maker, Namak Khoshnaw, who works for a Kurdish television channel.

The marvellous film is based on a true story and powerfully dramatises the Kurdish renaissance from the aftermath of the first Gulf War via liberation to today. It may be a contender for one or more film awards.

My strong hope is that the personal stories in this film and from so many Kurds who suffered under Saddam Hussein will echo around the Commons in the near future and inform the debate about the tenth anniversary of the Iraq intervention. Watch this space.