To remember is not the same as to reconcile. This was the title of an article in my Dutch newspaper Trouw, at the time of the yearly remembrance of the end of the Second World War in the Netherlands. The discussion was whether victims who sided with the German aggressor should be allowed to take part in the ceremonies.
The country was split over the issue. Many did not want the former enemy to be present; others said it was a good way of reconciliation. But the National Committee that yearly organizes the remembrance activities said that they are not meant for the perpetrators.
“Reconciliation and remembrance are two different things. Reconciliation is a one-time thing. When that has been done, there is no reason to repeat it.” And it has been done, years ago.
I was reminded of this, when I heard about a play that had been designed for Kurdish children of around 5 years of age in Erbil. The play should teach them about what happened in Halabja, 25 years ago, when Saddam gassed the city and killed some 5,000 civilians.
The little kids were told to lie down as if they were dead – victims of the gas attack. This confused and frightened them badly. They had no capacity of understanding the tragedy they are acting out. What is dead? Who did it? Why? Why does gas kill people? they asked.
Why scare children at this young age with the violence of the past? And even worse: why instill the hatred against Saddam and the Arabs in general in this young generation?
The yearly remembrance of Halabja in March is the right moment for looking back. It is good to teach children in school about the violent past – mainly to help prevent this from happening again. But teachers and authorities should be careful, not to make it seem Kurds are the for-ever victims who need to revenge. The message should be that they survived. “What does not kill you makes you stronger” is a saying (and a pop song) that is very fitting for the Kurdish history.
Reconciliation should be part of this process; survivors prove they are strong enough to forgive. Have Kurds and Arabs ever publicly come together about Halabja, about Anfal, about the years of persecution – showed regret and forgiveness and declared it history, something to be deplored and never to be repeated? Or did I miss something?
It’s been done in South Africa and Rwanda. You only need to do it once. Reconciliation means: bury the burden, bury the hatred, bury the victims but do not bury the memory. Remember, to never forget nor repeat. But it needs to be done.
This blog has been published as a column in Kurdish in Kurdistani Nwe newspaper