From the recording Somewhere to Begin
As we wound our way from the city of Rania to the city of Halabja, our interpreter Sherwan turned to me and said, “Perhaps after your visit here, you will be inspired to write a song about Halabja.” I was in Iraqi Kurdistan, my second day co-leading a 22 member Echoes of Peace singing delegation. We were there as part of a developing sister city friendship and cultural exchange between the cities of Rania and Duluth, MN. Though unplanned, our journey coincided with the 25th anniversary of the chemical bombing of the city of Halabja.
Our visit to the memorial in Halabja, and our meeting with the people living there today, was by far the most profound and impactful moment of our journey. How does one convey in words the agony and inexpressible horror of genocide? How do we move people to recognize that it even happened?
On the final evening of our visit, our Kurdish host, Khalid, introduced me to his friend, the poet Hamid Qaladzaye. He shared with me his poem about Halabja. “Maybe it will inspire you to write a song.”
Here is the poem, shared with permission from Hamid. The next track is the song I wrote, inspired by this poem.
Address by Hamid Qaladzaye, Kurdish poet. Read by the author.
Translation below from the Kurdish language by Sherzad Hassan. Used with permission.
Before the suffocation of Halabja
The wind didn’t know
That its agony was so painful
On that day…it held the hands of the breeze and a gush of storm1
Hurrying towards Kani-Ashqan2
Late in the morning… the 16th of March3
It saw flocks of autumn butterflies
In the entrance of the city
All of them were fallen dead
Murmuring softly: Oh my offspring
I have been traveling so much...
Everywhere… here and there
From plains…mounds to hills
I remember so many times… in hidden places
Listening to “Habeeba and Nali”4
Trilling their lovely desires and intentions
While not knowing what a hell was there
To the right side… the storm dropped dead
It’s face to the ground
On the left side… the breeze dropped dead
Upon the corpse of a sparrow
From that day on the wind became the mother's martyr
And Halabja was the address
1 In the poem, Wind has two children, Shna and Bagzha (Breeze and Storm)
2 Kani-Ashqan is one of the beautiful quarters in Halabja
3 March 16, 1988 is the date of the chemical bombing of Halabja, in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing 5,000+ Kurds
4 Nali is one of the greatest Kurdish poets in history and Habeeba was his lover