Halabja massacre survivor dies from his wounds in US

Mohamad Aziz Halabjayi, 57, was a living reminder of the devastating effects of mustard gas used against Kurds in Halabja
Mohammed Aziz Halabjayi died on March 18, 2021 of injuries sustained in the 1988 attack on Halabja. (Photo: @BayanRahman/Twitter)
Mohammed Aziz Halabjayi died on March 18, 2021 of injuries sustained in the 1988 attack on Halabja. (Photo: @BayanRahman/Twitter)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Mohamad Aziz Halabjayi, who survived the 1988 chemical weapons attack in Halabja and was treated in the United States since 2001, died from his injuries on Thursday in the city of Nashville, Tennessee.

On March 16, 1988, Iraqi aircraft launched a chemical weapons attack on the city of Halabja, killing some 5,000 people and injuring 10,000 more. Mohamad Aziz Halabjayi, who died aged 57, was one of the survivors, suffering from the effects of mustard gas for the rest of his life.

“When I met him two years ago, I thought he had less than a year to live,” pulmonologist Dr. Aaron Milstone told the Reporter, Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s weekly newspaper, in 2007.

“I am very impressed with how well he has done. His prognosis is difficult,” she said at the time. “We are hopeful that with supportive care and antibiotics we will be able to keep him stable so that he can maintain a good quality of life and not require transplant for another two to five years.” 

Halabjayi in fact survived for another 13 years and managed to keep the story of Halabja alive in the US.

Mustafa Mzory, his neighbor, told Kurdistan 24 that Halabjayi “used to carry his gas tank everywhere he goes and he made sure to attend Kurdish gatherings in Nashville as much as he can.”

"He lived most of his life with a gas tank because of the Halabja chemical attack.”

"Our condolences go out to the family and friends of kak Mohamad Aziz Halabjayi who passed away today in Nashville. As a community and a larger displaced diaspora community, it’s important that we ask ourselves how we can contribute to the research, efforts and advocacy for victims of the Halabja Massacre,” the Nashville based non-profit organization Kurdish Professionals said on Thursday.

“While this has been heavily politicized, we must act and encourage those in our communities who are in healthcare, research and politics to demand more efforts in providing treatment, healthcare and closure to these victims,” the organization said on Twitter.

Nashville has been home to North America’s largest Kurdish constituency since the mid-1970s and boasts an estimated 18,000 Kurdish residents, a figure that has earned it the nickname “Little Kurdistan.”

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) representative in Washington, DC, said Halabjayi survived the massacre but suffered lung damage all his life.

“He made a home in Nashville where he sadly died today. He is pictured at the KRG USA Halabja genocide conference 2018 with his oxygen tank.”

Remziya Suleyman, a Kurdish human rights activist in Nashville, told Kurdistan 24 that Halabjayi “made it a mission in his life that no matter where he was or what conversation he was having to bring up Halabja and the Kurdish cause.”

“He courageously shared his story in numerous public events on Halabja and genocide. The Kurdish community in the US will forever be indebted to him for all his sacrifices.”

Halabjayi “is a reminder of how this tragedy continues to haunt the people of Halabja,” said Yerevan Saeed, who is originally from Halabja and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Carter School of Peace and Conflict Resolution in Virginia.

“His death does not speak only to the profound psychological impact the Iraqi attack has left on the people of Halabja, the denial by the Iraqi state to take responsibility and do the right thing by offering a public apology to Kurds for its past genocide. Sadly, Mohammed was denied justice by Iraq neither seeing remorse nor reparations for him and his family who suffered greatly,” he told Kurdistan 24.

Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly