Mourning Halabja on Screen: Or Reading Kurdish Politics through Anfal Films

Edith Szanto
  • Review of Middle East Studies, April 2018, Cambridge University Press
  • DOI: 10.1017/rms.2018.3

The depiction of the 1988 Anfal Campaign against the Kurds in Kurdish films

What is it about?

Towards the end of the decade long Iran–Iraq war, Saddam Hussein launched a deadly attack against the Kurds, known as the Anfal Campaign, killing more than a hundred thousand. One of the largest acts of genocide occurred on 18 March 1988 in the Kurdish city of Halabja. On that day, sweet-smelling poison gas was poured over the city, killing at least five thousand. Since 2001 Kurdish moviemakers have memorialized the tragedy of the Halabja massacre by producing cinematic dramas and narrative documentaries. These films are part of a discourse of authenticity and a politics of culture that permeate the Kurdish independence movement. This essay proposes that Halabja films can be divided into three stages: the era of consolidation, 2000 to 2009; the golden era, 2009 to early 2014; and the fall which followed the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Each era reveals new attitudes towards politics, society, and the massacre.

Why is it important?

This article explains the changing role of Anfal in Kurdish memory.

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The following have contributed to this page: Dr Edith Szanto