Iraqi Kurds

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Human Rights Watch

Whatever Happened to the Iraqi Kurds?​

It has been nearly three years since the chemical bombardment of Halabja, a small town on Iraq's northeastern border with Iran in which up to 5,000 civilians, mostly women and children, died a painful and well publicized death.

Despite the international outcry over this one infamous event, little was heard in the United States about Saddam Hussein's brutal treatment of his own people until his invasion of Kuwait last August 2. Even now, virtually no mention is made of the many other times the Iraqi government has gassed its large Kurdish minority.

Halabja was not the first time Iraq had turned its chemical arsenal on the Kurds. Thousands -- and most likely tens of thousands -- of civilians were killed during chemical and conventional bombardments stretching from the spring of 1987 through the fall of 1988. The attacks were part of a long-standing campaign that destroyed almost every Kurdish village in Iraq -- along with a centuries-old way of life -- and displaced at least a million of the country's estimated 3.5 million Kurdish population.

Since the outset of the Kuwait crisis, however, Halabja has become a leitmotif for Saddam Hussein's disregard of human rights, and a major rationale for the war. Although chemical weapons were not seen in action in the latest Persian Gulf war, no one is disputing that Iraq has them and is willing to use them. Yet, over the past three years the international community has done practically nothing to help the Halabja survivors, or the other tens of thousands of Kurds driven out of their country by Iraq's chemical warfare. Around 140,000 people fled the country in 1988 alone.

This newsletter traces the fate of the Kurdish refugees who have fled the Iraqi gas attacks.

Where Are They Now?

About 100,000 of those exiles are now spending their third winter in crowded, closely-guarded Iranian refugee camps, where food, heating, sanitation, schooling and work are all in short supply. Another 27,000 are living under similar conditions in Turkey. At least 1,500 have moved on to Pakistan, where conditions are not much better. A few thousand -- at considerable personal expense -- have succeeded in reaching the European Community, entering Greece from neighboring Turkey. Many have been jailed there for illegal entry, as have some of those seeking haven in Pakistan.

Faced with the meagerness of their life in exile, more than 10,0001 Kurds have returned to Iraq, where they have been forced to live in government-planned -- and policed -- "new settlements" bearing a striking similarity to the refugee camps they left behind. Estimates of how many Kurds are compelled to live in these newly built communities, distant from their original homes, range from a conservative million to more than 1.5 million. Even though they usually returned in response to repeated declarations of amnesty from Saddam Hussein, some of the returnees are known to have subsequently been arrested, executed or "disappeared."2

Iran and Turkey, though relatively poor themselves, have shown with other refugee groups -- such as the Bulgarian Turks and the Afghans -- that they can absorb large influxes of immigrants into their economy and society. Neither have done so for the Iraqi Kurds, even though (perhaps because) both countries have significant Kurdish populations of their own. All four of the principal countries of refuge for the Iraqi Kurds -- Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Greece -- have tried to unload the problem onto others.

Only two Western countries, the United States and France, have agreed to make a new home for appreciable numbers, and then only for a small fraction of those in limbo at Turkish and Iranian camps. A few dozen more have individually managed to find asylum in the West, either because of close family ties to those countries or by using smugglers and forged papers. Other than these, few of Saddam Hussein's Kurdish victims -- inside or outside Iraq -- are leading normal lives.

The Kurds and Kurdistan

The largest ethnic group in the Middle East without their own country, the Kurds now total between 20 and 25 million: a number equivalent to more than the entire population of Iraq, twice that of Syria and several times the number of Palestinians.

The Kurdish diaspora includes several hundred thousand people in the Soviet Union,3 100,000 in Lebanon, and large communities in Germany, Sweden and France. Fewer than 10,000 live in the United States. If the area in which they predominate and have lived for millennia were a separate country, Kurdistan might encompass as much as a third of Turkey, large parts of Iran and Iraq and a sliver of Syria.

That Kurdistan is not a separate nation is due, in part, to its abundant natural resources: two of Iraq's major oil fields, rich agricultural land, minerals and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres -- one of a series of post World War I agreements which dismembered the Ottoman empire and created the modern states of Iraq, Syria, and Kuwait, among others -- offered hope for a Kurdish state around the vilayet of Mosul. Britain later incorporated oil-rich Mosul into its mandate of Iraq.

That unfulfilled promise set the stage for the Kurds' current plight. As a sizable and frequently rebellious minority group in countries largely populated by Arabs, Turks or Persians, the Kurds -- an ancient, Aryan people with their own language akin to Persian -- have been perceived as a significant threat by every central government in the region. In modern times, Syria, Turkey and Iraq have all tried to dilute Kurdish claims to a homeland through massive relocation programs. Those countries and Iran all greatly restrict the Kurds' ability to teach, speak or write about their customs and history in their own or any other language.

With respect to cultural repression, Turkey may be the worst offender. Turkey bans Kurdish entirely,4 even though many of the country's Kurds only know their own language. Until recently, the government officially pretended that the Kurds -- approximately 20% of the population -- did not exist. All Kurds have to adopt Turkish names. The official explanation was that they were "Mountain Turks" who had forgotten their Turkish roots.

Two Decades of Persecution by Saddam Hussein's Regime

Discrimination of the kind described above has, not surprisingly, provoked periodic Kurdish uprisings throughout the region, leading to further repression and persecution.

In early 1970, two years after the Arab Baath Socialist Party seized power in Iraq, Kurdish rebels won several concessions from the state, including the right to autonomy in some of the predominantly Kurdish northeastern provinces and Kurdish representation in the cabinet.

Despite the "March 11" agreement, however, the Baath government excluded the Kurds from real power and persisted with other practices aimed at minimizing the Kurds' role in national affairs.5 Fighting, which had begun in 1961, resumed in 1974; but this time with the secret backing of the United States, Israel and Iran. Tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians sought refuge in Iran during the course of heavy combat.

However, when the Shah of Iran and President Saddam Hussein signed a border agreement in Algiers in 1975, the United States abruptly withdrew its support for the Kurds and the rebellion collapsed. Many thousands of Kurdish fighters and their families were forced to flee to Iran to escape the pursuing Iraqi army.

Baghdad responded vengefully to the end of the uprising, deporting some 250,000 Kurds -- not just the peshmerga families6 -- to southern Iraq.7 Because of outrage both within Iraq and in the West, the government later relocated most of the deported Kurds to resettlement camps in the north, closer to the Kurdish cities. In 1983, 8000 men and young boys from the Barzani clan, which had led the fighting, were taken from these camps by soldiers. What happened next remains one of the great unsolved mysteries. All are presumed to have been massacred.

Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, stepped up his campaign to obliterate the ethnic character of Iraqi Kurdistan. Between 1975 and 1989, the government razed more than 3,000 villages and several large towns including Halabja and Qala Diza.8 By the close of this systematic campaign, Iraq had probably uprooted over a million people.

The operation reached a crescendo in 1987 and 1988, after Kurdish rebels took advantage of the long-running war between Iraq and Iran to reclaim 23,000 square miles of their mountain homeland. It was then that Saddam Hussein first began using chemicals weapons on his own people.

I: Chemical Bombings

According to scores of Kurdish eyewitnesses, the bombings of Halabja on March 16 and 17, 1988, were not Iraq's first use of chemical weapons on Kurdish targets. One commander with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) saw Iraqi warplanes drop poison gas "five or six months" earlier.

It was in the Bargloo area, 20-30 kilometers from the Iranian border, where the PUK had its headquarters at the time. Two or three commanders died five minutes later without injury. I was only about 20 yards away. I had a mask and protective clothing on.9

There are other, unconfirmed reports of chemical bombings as early as April, 1987. Credence that they took place is lent by the fact that the PUK commander in Bargloo says he was already wearing protective clothing -- and therefore knew to expect a chemical attack -- when his headquarters was hit. In another example, a Kurdish medic treated dozens of chemical weapons victims from Saosenan, a Kurdish village near the Iranian border, shortly before the attack on Halabja:

In this village, 300 or the 400 inhabitants died. They brought the injured to us. They had blisters and burns on their bodies and some had lost their eyesight. Our medical supplies were hopelessly inadequate.10

Besides the fact that the victims had no shrapnel or bullet wounds, the medic says, it was easy to rule out conventional weapons:

I saw aircraft dropping something. The sound was different. In the aftermath, some people lost sight and had problems breathing. It was obvious these were not ordinary weapons.

In some quarters, there remains a dispute over whether Iraq -- or both Iran and Iraq -- were responsible for the chemical bombings. Most of those pointing the finger at Iran as being the guilty party, despite the enormous propaganda advantage it made of the incident at the time, cite a recent study by the U.S. Army War College, an army-funded military research institute. The study states that:

Iraq was blamed for the Halabja attack, even though it was subsequently brought out that Iran, too, had used chemicals in this operation, and it seemed likely that it was the Iranian bombardment that actually killed the Kurds.11

However, the authors of that internal study, leaked at a time when the Bush Administration was strenuously resisting renewed Congressional efforts to introduce comprehensive trade sanctions against Iraq, cite no authority for their key allegations. In an earlier footnote, the report even notes that Iraq admitted using poison gas at Halabja.12

II: Halabja

What distinguished Halabja from previous, unrecorded incidents was not only the magnitude of the bombardment, but also that journalists were flown in by Tehran to photograph the carnage in the captured town. Because of those pictures, no one could deny that many had been killed by poison gas.

The facts as best they can be reconstructed are the following:

The war between Iran and Iraq was in its eighth year when, on March 16 and 17, 1988, Iraq dropped poison gas on the Kurdish city of Halabja, then held by Iranian troops and Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas allied with Tehran.13 According to the testimony of survivors, the chemical weapons employed in Halabja were dropped from airplanes well after the town had been captured by Iranians and Iraqi Kurdish rebel forces allied with them, and after fighting in the immediate area had ceased.14

The city's 70,000 or so inhabitants, many of whom were refugees from outlying areas, had already been pounded for two days from the surrounding mountain heights by conventional artillery, mortars and rockets. Many families had spent the night in their basements to escape the bombs. When the gas came, however, that was the worst place to be since the toxic chemicals, heavier than air, concentrated in low-lying areas. Between and 4,000 and 5,000 people, almost all civilians, died either at the time or shortly thereafter.

Hewa, a university student, survived by covering his face with a wet cloth and taking to the mountains around the city. He says that Iraqi warplanes followed, dropping more chemical bombs. "I got some gas in my eyes and had trouble breathing. You always wanted to vomit and when you did, the vomit was green.15 He says he passed "hundreds" of dead bodies. Those around him died in a number of ways, suggesting a combination of toxic chemicals. Some "just dropped dead." Others "died of laughing." Others took a few minutes to die, first "burning and blistering" or "coughing up green vomit." Journalists noted that the lips of many corpses had turned blue.

Hewa and his brother made it to the Iranian border at about 2 a.m. on March 17. Iranian helicopters took them and 48 others to a hospital at Bawa, an Iranian Kurdish town. Later, they were taken to Tehran for further examination. Hewa was in the hospital for four days. After leaving the hospital, he went back to Halabja to look for his family, without success. He was told that those who took refuge in the mountains were taken by government forces.

III: Subsequent Chemical Gas and Conventional Attacks

According to various press and personal accounts, Iraq continued to use toxic weapons sporadically through the summer, as the fighting between Kurdish guerrillas and Iraqi forces helped Iran keep the war at a stalemate.16

The day after Iraq signed a cease-fire with Iran on August 20, 1988, Iraq's Republican Guards turned on the Kurdish rebels with a vengeance. The heaviest chemical bombing came on August 25. Survivors painted a grisly picture of noiseless bombs producing yellowish smoke smelling of "bad garlic" or "rotten apples"; of people, plants and livestock dying instantly as dead birds and bees fell from the sky. The bodies of the dead burned and blistered and later turned blackish blue.17

Within a month, Iraqi bombs and bulldozers had destroyed 478 villages near the Turkish and Iranian borders, killing 3,496 people according to the Kurdistan Democratic Party.18

The true count may never be known because of the chaos that followed. Tens of thousands of people, many of them women and children travelling on foot, fled for the borders, sometimes a journey of several days through the mountains. The Republican Guards were not far behind, harrying the refugees and continuing to use chemical weapons.

Nerve gas wafting over the Turkish border "devastated honey farms and killed wild flowers and trees," according to a fact-finding delegation of Turkish parliamentarians.19 Two teenagers who made it to Iran said they saw planes dropping poison gas that killed "more than 3,000" people huddled in the Bassay Gorge in Iraq, about 25 miles south of the Turkish border. The next day, "thousands of soldiers with gas masks and gloves" entered the gorge, dragged the bodies into piles and set them on fire.20

Soldiers cut off about 40,000 other Kurds trying to flee and transported them to detention camps. Reports on these people are scant, since few Western journalists or other foreign delegations have been allowed into the Kurdish region of Iraq, and then under close supervision. Kurdish political sources say that most were initially put in the Bahrka camp near Erbil, and that they and others were later moved to guarded townships around Kurdish cities such as Suleymanieh. The KDP has documented the names of 439 Kurdish men who were rounded up and have disappeared, like the 8,000 Barzanis in 1983.

Turkey's Government Under Pressure

By August 29, 1988, thousands of Iraqi Kurds had reached the Turkish border, only to find their passage blocked by Turkish troops. For two days, as their numbers swelled, Turkey refused to let them in.

Relations have never been good between the Turkish government and its own sizable Kurdish population, who form the vast majority in the country's southeast region near the Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian borders. Since 1984, Ankara has been trying to suppress a guerrilla war by the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), a Marxist-oriented group seeking an independent Kurdish state. At least 2,600 people have died in the conflict, according to regional governor of the southeastern provinces, Hayri Kozakcioglu.21 Not only the PKK but all Kurdish political groups are outlawed in Turkey.

At the very end of August, after several parliamentarians from the Social Democratic People's Party (SHP), the leading opposition party, flew to the border to make their own report, Prime Minister Turgut Ozal bowed to growing domestic and international pressure and announced he would open the border "on humanitarian grounds."22

For several weeks, the refugees camped on the ground in several sites near the Iraqi and Iranian border. The Turks provided them with food, but no tents or blankets for at least a week. Since most escaped on foot, few had any clothes other than what they wore. The night air in the mountains was already cool and many were still suffering from the effects of the chemical attacks.

From the outset, Turkey tried to pass on the problem to other countries. Even before it officially opened the border, the army began trucking refugees involuntarily to Kurdish towns in Iran.23 Within a week after offering them safe haven, the government had loaded about 2,000 Kurds onto buses and lorries. Turkish soldiers guarding the group "beat us to try to get us to go," says one refugee who refused to get aboard.24 Journalists at the scene also reported that many of the Kurds were coerced into leaving.25

Over the next six weeks, the numbers leaving for Iran climbed to at least 20,000. Journalists reported that Turkey had smuggled many of them over the border without even notifying the Iranian government.26 By mid-October, some reports indicated that cold more than coercion had become the driving force behind the refugees' decision to go peacefully to a third country.27 Most of those leaving had been quartered in two tent camps near Yuksekova, a region with 13,000 foot mountain peaks and winter temperatures falling well below freezing. However, refugees also told a Financial Times correspondent that Turkish soldiers had "urged them to move on down the road (to Iran) if they did not want to return to Iraq."28

By the end of the year, approximately 36,000 of those in the original exodus to Turkey, estimated at over 60,000 people, remained. Since then, a few hundred have moved on to Syria with the help of the Turkish government, according to Akram Mayi, a leader of the camps in Turkey. According to Mayi, another 4,000 to 5,000 have made their way illegally to Greece. A similar number moved back to Iraq on their own in late 1988 and early 1989. That leaves about 27,000 people still in three Turkish refugee camps (Diyarbakir, 11,000; Mardin, 11,300; and Mus, 4,600), all in the Kurdish southeastern part of the country.

I: The Kurdish Refugees' Status in Turkey

In strictly legal terms, Turkey considers the Iraqi Kurds "guests" rather than "refugees" as defined by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocols ("Convention on Refugees") -- the main international law dealing with those fleeing persecution. Turkey has signed the convention, but with the significant stipulation that it only apply to people fleeing from Europe.

The ramifications for the Kurdish exiles are enormous. If they were "refugees" and not "guests," they could settle wherever they wanted in the country. The government would have to issue travel documents allowing them to go abroad and to move freely within Turkey and would be obliged to "make every effort" to expedite naturalization proceedings.29 Turkey would not be able to restrict their employment opportunities any more than it does for other resident aliens and would have to provide elementary-level education.30

If they were recognized refugees, they would also be under the protection of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR has been given only limited access to the camps on a discretionary basis. It has no authority to collect or distribute badly-needed relief supplies or to protect individuals from mistreatment or refoulement (involuntary repatriation) to Iraq.

As it is, the Turkish government has provided the refugees with basic food, shelter and medical care but has consistently made it clear they should not think of Turkey as a permanent home. Largely confined to their camps, they have restricted work opportunities and very little freedom to leave the immediate camp vicinity.

There were no schools for the children in two of the camps for more than two years. Now they are little better off: they have untrained Turkish teachers attempting to teach students in Turkish -- a foreign language to the Iraqi Kurds. The government forbade the refugees from setting up their own schools in Kurdish, though at one camp it acquiesced after the Kurds proceeded on their own.

II: A Striking Contrast in the Treatment of Refugees

To the Iraqi Kurds, their inferior status was graphically demonstrated by the arrival in Turkey of another large influx of refugees less than a year after their own flight. The second group was treated very differently.

In the summer and fall of 1989, Turkey took in 379,000 ethnic Turks from Bulgaria -- ten times the number of the Iraqi Kurds remaining. Ironically, the Turks had left Bulgaria because of the same sort of persecution to which Turkey was subjecting its own Kurdish population: forced resettlements, mass arrests, and a ban on the use of their native language, traditional names, music and customs. Just as Turkey claimed that its Kurds were only "mountain Turks," Bulgaria claimed that its Turks were only restoring their ancient Bulgarian names after being forcibly "Islamicized" under the Ottoman empire.31

Though Turkey initially established reception camps for the Bulgarian Turks, they were free to travel, to settle and work wherever they wanted. Public schools developed special language classes for the children, even though most could already speak, if not write, Turkish. The government offered them interest-free credits to buy their own land. In less than two years, many of the 240,000 who remain have become Turkish citizens and most have been fully assimilated.

At one point, the Turkish government even considered a plan to give the Bulgarian Turks thousands of acres of land in the Kurdish southeastern provinces -- not far from the camps where the Iraqi refugees are required to live, 8-10 to a room or 16 to a tent. Turkey officials lobbied the U.S. Congress to get financial assistance for the Bulgarian Turks. "The Turks assiduously avoided any discussion of the Iraqi Kurds," says Meg Donovan, a staff member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.32

Going on the offensive, Turkey's Prime Minister Ozal accused Western countries of applying a double standard. "The West gets excited over human rights in Turkey when Europeans are involved, but doesn't give a damn when Turks are the victims," he was quoted as saying in reference to the Bulgarian Turks.33 In fact, the story did get a great deal of attention in the West, most of it favorable to Turkey. The real issue of double standards, vis à vis the Kurds, seems to have escaped his notice.

III: Conditions in the Turkish Camps

By the winter of 1988-1989, Turkey had consolidated all the refugees into three camps. Two of them, Diyarbakir and Mus, consist of concrete apartment houses originally built for victims of an earlier earthquake. The third, near Mardin, is a tent camp. Each is run by the local Turkish governor's office.

A Middle East Watch mission visited the Diyarbakir and Mardin camps in November 1990 -- the first outside group allowed in that year. Descriptions of the three camps comes from that visit as well as from interviews with refugees outside the camps and earlier reports by journalists and humanitarian groups, including Helsinki Watch.


By most standards, this tent camp is the least desirable of the three refugee settlements. According to the assistant governor of Mardin province, as of October 1990, the camp held 11,333 people -- more than 6,000 of them under the age of 14.34

The camp is made up of several hundred large tents, lined up in rows, with shallow water trenches running between. Though the entire encampment had been surrounded by barbed wire, it apparently had been taken down sometime before the Middle East Watch visit in mid-November 1990. There are only two permanent structures: one building with an infirmary and offices for the Turkish camp authorities and another with storage rooms for medicines and food. A few police or soldiers with rifles guarded the perimeter.

The people in Mardin generally looked gaunt and unwashed. Even though the weather was becoming cold, many children did not have shoes. Hordes of malnourished-looking children played with a ball in a dirt area between the tents and the road. We did not see any other toys. A large pit in their play area, created when the refugees made mud bricks to reinforce the tents, looked hazardous for young children.

The camp authorities showed us one of the tents. It consisted of two rooms, of about 2.5 by 3.5 meters and 2 by 2.5 meters respectively, each holding one family. This was home for some sixteen people. The canvas was two-ply, with a few holes; it was not clear if the layers kept out the elements.

Around this tent, as most of the others, the refugees had built a low wall of home-made mud bricks. The entire furnishings consisted of 15 blankets, about eight thin mats, a small stove used for both cooking and heat, five pots, a few dishes, some food supplies and a small cassette tape player. Other than the last item, which was obviously not state-issue, it was not clear what the state had provided and what the refugees had bought themselves.

Cold weather has been a grave problem, according to camp leaders, who say that the government has given the refugees only two blankets per family. Temperatures in the region can be extreme. During the mission's visit, on a moderately chilly evening, the government had already distributed wood for the stove and the tent inspected was comfortably warm. However, camp leaders say the wood supply, one ton per tent for the winter, is not enough.

Clothing is apparently also in short supply. Few of the children we saw had socks and many did not have shoes. Camp leaders said that the government gave the adults plastic shoes which were "very simple and cheap." Last year, the Turkish authorities also passed out clothing material -- five meters for each woman, one meter for every six men and none for the children -- and three sewing machines. "We were able to produce just 400 trousers and shirts," says one camp leader. That comes to approximately one suit of clothing for 28 people.

The refugees also complain about sanitation. Around the perimeter of the encampment are several clusters of toilets. The refugees say two-thirds of them are usually backed up. There are no bathing facilities. Even the Turkish officials running the camp admit that people must wash outside, by the side of the tents, even in winter. "They are not accustomed to modern baths," said the assistant Mardin governor. "It is against their tradition." The Kurds' leaders dispute this patronizing remark.

The water comes from 162 faucets at different points around and inside the camp. Refugee representatives claim that 70 percent are broken, that water flows only at a dribble and is occasionally cut entirely. "The women sometimes have to stay in line three or four hours to fill their bottles," says a refugee spokesman.

The run-off water flows into several shallow, open trenches that run between the rows of tents -- a potential health problem in summer. It is hard to walk anywhere without stepping into a trench.

The Turkish government provides free health care. The Mardin camp, like the others, has an infirmary with Turkish doctors and nurses. Several people were queued up outside. The officials showed us a large pharmacy. Camp leaders say that health care is adequate, "except that the doctors are not very well-trained." There were originally two Kurdish doctors among the refugees, but they have since moved on to France. Several trained nurses remain. Officially, they are not allowed to practice.

The government also provides food rations, which should be adequate if delivered according to the official figures. According to Ozdemir, the bi-weekly ration per person comprises:

2 kilograms of rice; 2 kg of bulgar (cracked wheat); 1/2 kg of nohut (chick peas); 1/2 kg "special" macaroni; 1/2 kg macaroni; 1/2 kg tomato juice; 1/2 kg jam; 1/2 kg olives; 2 kg powdered sugar; 1/2 kg margarine; 1/2 kg of meat; 1/2 kg tea; 1 kg dried beans; 1/2 kg soap; 1 kg detergent; 1/2 kg canned meals; 300 grams salt; 2 kg potatoes; 1 kg dried lentils; and 1 kg of onions.

In addition, he said, each child is allotted two kilograms a month of dried milk and, according to the season, everyone gets fresh fruit and vegetables.

The camp leaders dispute the official figures. They say the refugees once received some grapes but otherwise have had no fresh fruit or vegetables in more than two years, other than what they can buy themselves. They say each tent receives only one kilogram of meat every two to four weeks. Since the camp authorities only gave mission participants a half hour alone with the camp leaders, it was not possible to reach firm conclusions regarding the accuracy of the food list.

Supplementing their supplies has been very difficult for the Mardin residents because of tight restrictions on their ability to leave the camp. Assistant Governor Ozdemir claims that everyone who wants to leave is usually able to do so. But according to camp leaders, as of last November, only 300 of the 11,000 people in the camp could usually leave during the daytime on any given day. Those who wanted to leave would put themselves on a list submitted to the Turkish camp police. Only a fraction of those listed were actually allowed out and decisions were often arbitrary. "If the policeman is kind, he may let 1,000 out, but if he is not, he will limit it to 300," said Zubeyir Mayi, head of the Mardin refugees' committee.

Such restrictions make it difficult for the refugees to earn any money, though some are able to get occasional day jobs in construction or on farms. Mayi said they were not allowed to go to Mardin, the nearest city, though the trip is out of the question financially for many of the refugees. It costs 2,000 Turkish Lira -- about 60 U.S. cents -- each way, perhaps 20 percent of what a refugee might earn in a day, if he could find a job. Unemployment is high in the region.

Unlike in the other camps, Turkish authorities have let the Mardin refugees set up their own classes for the children in Kurdish. These schools started secretly in May, 1989. By November 1989, 50-60 refugee teachers, using 17 tented classrooms, were giving classes for more than 2,000 students, with the knowledge of the Turkish camp authorities.

The school tents, donated by local Kurds, are only about twelve square meters. To accomodate all the children, teachers must work several shifts. Pencils, paper and chalkboards also came from local donations. There were no books and teachers say that Turkey's Kurdish language ban makes it difficult to find suitable teaching materials.


Diyarbakir, the best of the three camps, is an apartment city of 71 concrete buildings housing 11,000 refugees. When Middle East Watch visited in November, 1990, children had pulled down much of the barbed wire -- laundry was hanging out to dry on some of the fence -- but a guard post still restricts entry. Within the camp is a large school building and a concrete playground the approximate size of a football field. Near the school, several dozen refugees have set up produce stands, selling a large variety of fruits and vegetables. The people look much better fed and more energetic than the refugees in Mardin.

Each building holds six identical apartments. Each unit has six rooms: three chambers, a small kitchen, bathing room and toilet -- about 40 square meters (431 square feet) altogether. It would be adequate living space for one family, but each unit usually holds one family per room, 25-30 people in all. For lack of space, many groups have turned the kitchen into sleeping quarters.

During their first year in the apartments, the refugees did not have electricity. Now one sees ceiling fans in many of the chambers. Some families have built bunkbeds or storage cubes. When they first arrived, the human rights association in Diyarbakir and local Kurds donated mattresses and blankets. But there is no room for furniture.

Unlike the camp in Mardin, sanitation is not a problem. Each apartment has running water, though the refugees say it only runs at night and they must store it in bottles for the day. The do complain that the water is not very good. "The Turkish officials who work in the camp don't drink it," says Akram Mayi, a camp leader.35

The food rations supplied by the government are similar to those in Mardin, though the people in Diyarbakir seem to get meat more often. "There are many things people should eat we don't get," says Mayi. "But the food is good compared to what the local people can afford to eat."

He says the same of the health care, which is free. The camp has an infirmary that occupies two apartments. One is used as an examining room; the other has beds and a pharmacy. Eight young doctors -- part of a national health internship -- staff the facility. More serious cases are sent to the local Diyarbakir hospitals.

The government has supplied the refugees with clothes twice in two years, according to Mayi. Each man has received one pair of shoes, one shirt and one pair of warm underclothes each time. The women got two pieces of fabric and one pair of shoes. The children all received a shirt and only some got shoes. It is not enough, say the refugees.

Like those in the Mardin camp, the refugees in Diyarbakir opened a school for their children in May 1990. Using trained teachers among the refugees, they ran twelve classes, in Kurdish, in the basements of the apartments. It only lasted five days before the camp police closed them down.

From the beginning of their stay in Turkey, says Mayi, the refugees had petitioned the president, regional governor and other officials to allow them to open a Kurdish school. They received no response. After their classes were shut down, they tried again and this time the governor of Diyarbakir said they could have classes, but only in Turkish. Deciding that any school was preferable to none, they petitioned for a Turkish school. The school principal and regional governor all told Middle East Watch that the refugees really wanted Turkish classes all along.

Middle East Watch had a chance to see how well the Turkish instruction was working. Thirty-six Turkish teachers (plus four administrators) were running classes, in three shifts, for 1,728 students, aged seven to 12. The curriculum, we were told, would be identical to that used in schools throughout Turkey. Unlike most Turkish children, however, the Iraqi Kurds don't know Turkish and only one teacher, a Kurdish Turk, knew Kurdish. There was no provision to teach the children the new language.

We were there during the second week of classes. Communication between teachers and students was rudimentary. In one week, we were told, the students had been taught where to sit and what time to arrive for class. In one classroom, a young boy helped translate for the teacher; he had picked up some Turkish phrases while working in town.

Many of the refugees in Diyarbakir, unlike those in Mardin or Mus, have been able to supplement the government hand-outs by earning money in town. When Middle East Watch visited southeastern Turkey in November 1990, government buses were taking several busloads of people to Diyarbakir and back every day, a ten minute ride. Dozens of refugees could be seen in Diyarbakir peddling wares: socks, batteries and, their specialty, Kurdish tapes.36 Some of the men had found temporary construction jobs. Local Kurdish merchants have been quite supportive. Many of them give goods to the Iraqi Kurds on consignment and split the profits from any sales. Local farmers also supply the produce for the camp vegetable stands.

However, the freedom has important limitations. "I have been in Diyarbakir for almost two and a half years and I haven't been allowed out of the city limits," Salih Haci Huseyin, one of the Diyarbakir camp leaders, told Middle East Watch during a clandestinely-held meeting in Diyarbakir in November. "We are allowed out from sunrise to sunset and have to pass through several stages of permission."

For several months after they arrived at the camp, authorities would only let out the sick, then only a few a day. "It was impossible to work because you couldn't get out on a regular basis," says Huseyin. The rules were relaxed when the authorities discovered that the Iraqi refugees were not getting involved in the local Kurdish protests and uprising.

The freedom is also fragile. One day during our visit, the authorities closed off the camp for a head count. According to Kurdish sources and journalists, Turkey has sealed off all three camps entirely since January 17, with the start of the Persian Gulf War.


Less is known about the Mus camp, which houses 4,600 refugees, largely because it is a five or six hour drive from Diyarbakir, the nearest city with a commercial airport. In addition, the authorities have restricted the refugees from leaving -- and outsiders from entering -- to a greater extent than with either the Mardin or Diyarbakir camps.

The Iraqi Kurds in Dyarbakir and Mardin, about one and a half hours' drive apart, often visit each other. Such interchange with the Mus camp is rare. No outsiders were allowed in the camp for the first 11 months of 1990. Before the summer of 1990, according to a refugee spokesman for all three camps, Turkish guards allowed only 70 to 80 people out of the camp per day to shop, and then only for four or five hours. Control was then relaxed for a few months and the refugees were generally allowed out to find work. But, as at the other camps, the authorities locked the gates again at the start of the war with Iraq.

The Mus complex has 500 one-story-houses, each with two flats of 75 square meters (approximately 800 square feet). As in the other camps, there is free food and an infirmary. The government provides fuel for heat, but a refugee spokesman says it is insufficient.

Deaths were high in the Mus camp at first. An international mission visiting there in March and April, 1989 reported that 349 people had died in the preceding eight months, 269 of them children -- proportionately four times the number of deaths in the Mardin camp.

According to Akram Mayi, the Kurds at the Mus camp also opened their own Kurdish schools, though not until late spring, 1990. "They finished the first course," says Mayi. "At the beginning of the second, the police closed the schools and opened ones in Turkish."

IV: Refoulement

Refoulement -- forcing a refugee to return to a country where his life or freedom would be threatened -- is specifically banned by the Convention on Refugees and also by customary international law.37 Turkey may have done more than show disinterest in keeping the Kurdish refugees. Several of the refugees -- as well as international monitoring groups such as Amnesty International and the UNHCR -- claim that Turkey pressured them to return to Iraq, and may even have forced some to leave despite the growing evidence of danger at the hands of the Iraqi authorities.38

Iraq offered five amnesties between September 1988 and July 1990, two specifically aimed at the Kurds. It is not at all clear why the Iraqi government would want them back, unless it were to save face and protect their already tarnished international image. "We make big propaganda against the Iraqi regime," explained one refugee in Turkey.39 Since many in the camps had been peshmergas -- the Kurdish word for their fighters -- some speculated that Iraq wanted them back to arrest or execute the insurgents. In all, however, at least 5,000 Kurds from the Turkish camps responded to the Iraqi offers.40

According to reports received by those still in Turkey, many returned to camps much like the ones they left in Turkey. Some, especially among those who returned last summer, may have been allowed to live in Suleymanieh, Erbil or other remaining Kurdish cities. Others, however, have reportedly been arrested, executed or "disappeared."

Amnesty International says that several hundred people might have been forced back in the initial months after the mass exodus of late 1988. One thousand or so Iraqi Kurds agreed to be repatriated after Ankara invited the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to insure their safety. Iraq, however, objected to this arrangement, the ICRC pulled out on October 2, and many of the refugees changed their minds.

Given their hostile welcome in Turkey and the forcible transportation underway to Iran, 1,400 Kurds, despite all their fears, decided to leave for Iraq on October 6.41 It is not clear why more left than originally signed up. Turkey's decision not to give the Kurds refugee status -- thus giving them dim prospects of ever developing a normal life in Turkey or going elsewhere under UNHCR auspices -- may have convinced many to try their chances again in Iraq.

However, some refugees in the Turkish camp later told Amnesty International that "some of those who changed their minds were nonetheless forced onto buses bound for Iraq."42 According to the same Amnesty report, at least three of those Kurds are known to have disappeared after entering Iraq.

Others who returned under subsequent amnesties disappeared as well. At least 67 Assyrians who returned to Iraq after joining the Kurdish flight to Turkey are reported missing by their families.43 Iraq also reportedly executed four ethnic Turks who had returned from the refugee camps in Turkey.44

Early in December 1989, Iraq demanded the extradition of 138 Kurds in the Turkish camps, saying they were wanted on criminal charges. In response, on December 12, 1989, Turkey's national police arrested one man from the list, Mohammed Simmo, a peshmerga leader from one of the camps. The next day, he was seen in the custody of Turkish police at a checkpoint near Habur and a few hours later, with Iraqi and Turkish police escorts at the Iraqi border town of Zakhu. He later escaped to Iran.45

Forty-six others were forcibly repatriated that December and January, according to Amnesty International.46 Amnesty reports that Turkish camp authorities mistreated two of them, Muhammad Tawfiq and Haji Arafat, until they signed statements saying that were returning voluntarily.

The refugees argue that many of those who returned to Iraq did not do so freely, even if they were not physically coerced. Pressure, they say, came from both Iraq and Turkey, sometimes in collaboration. Iraqi propaganda agents, the refugees claim, had free run of the camps. Several refugees claimed they had known these people in Iraq. The pressure on camp organizers was especially intense. One said Iraq sent a relative of his to Turkey to bring him back.

Another told Middle East Watch:

They took my father and brother to the police station in Dohuk [a Kurdish city in Iraq] and made them call me to say the situation in Iraq is good and that I should come back. My uncle later called to tell me to ignore the other calls.47

Camp leaders also report getting reassuring phone calls from some of those repatriated claiming they had been allowed to return to their native villages -- settlements believed to have already been completely destroyed at the time of the call.

V: Bread Poisoning

The refugees blame Iraq and Turkey for three mysterious large-scale poisonings: June 8, 1989 in Mardin, December 17, 1989 in Mus and February 1, 1990 in Diyarbakir. No one has proven the involvement of either government, though Turkey did block independent investigation of the matter.

The three events were remarkably similar. Following a new delivery of bread, several hundred people fell ill: about 2,000 in Mardin, 100-200 in Mus and 700-1,000 in Diyarbakir. Few died -- only one in Diyarbakir and two in Mardin -- but several hundred people were hospitalized. Though the bread for each of the camps comes from different bakeries, the victims all had similar symptoms, including abdominal pain, sleepiness, diminished vision and difficulty breathing. Several women miscarried.

Turkish authorities did little to unravel the mystery. Local governor Cengiz Bulut promptly blamed the Diyarbakir poisoning on moldy bread. And while Turkish Health Ministry officials said they found no poisonous substances in the loaves, they would not allow an independent analysis of samples. A spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry suggested that the illnesses were psychosomatic. "When they have a stomach ache, they could be panicking into thinking they have been poisoned," he said.47

Each time, authorities sealed off the camp and refused to let outsiders investigate. Turkish journalists and independent scientists were also turned away from the hospitals where victims were being treated. There were even reports after the Mardin incident that some patients were sent back to the camp while still seriously ill.

Shortly after the Mardin incident, however, two Britons -- journalist Gwynne Roberts and Dr. John Foran of the London-based organization International Medical Relief -- managed to obtain bread and blood samples from a local Kurdish contact. A scientist who analyzed the blood samples at London's New Cross Hospital says he found "unmistakable signs that the blood enzymes had been attacked by a supertoxic organophosphate," a potent nerve agent. In a letter published in the February 3, 1990, issue of The Lancet, a highly respected British medical journal, four British scientists concluded: "It is unlikely that we are talking about a common commercially available chemical, so that the chance of accidental poisoning is remote."49

Claims by the refugees that Iraq was behind the poisoning are all circumstantial; they say an Iraqi delegation had visited the camp shortly before the poisoning. Iraq does, however, have extensive experience of poisoning Kurdish opposition figures; 40 were poisoned in separate incidents in late 1987 alone.50 Most of those received thallium, which the British teams ruled out as the toxin in the Turkish bread. But informed Kurdish sources also claim that Iraq has extensively experimented with other sophisticated toxins.

VI: Efforts to Resettle the Refugees

Turkey has half-heartedly pursued two, more permanent, solutions for this embarassing problem -- the building of better quarters elsewhere in Turkey for the Kurds, and finding them a home in the West -- neither with great success to date.

In the fall of 1989, the government began negotiating with the UNHCR for help in raising $13.2 million to build prefabricated housing units in Yozgut, about 220 kilometers east of Ankara on the central Anatolian plain, for those still living in the Mardin tent camp. However, by April 1990, when the UNHCR announced that it had raised $14 million in pledges (much of it from the U.S. government), Ankara was no longer interested.

Why not? A Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Financial Times that the people of Yozgut had formed committees to stop the project. Besides, he added, the Kurds (whose leaders had not been consulted about the proposed resettlement effort) did not want to settle in Yozgut.51

The planned site was far from the predominantly Kurdish southeastern provinces. But why did the government not pick a more suitable location in the Kurdish southeast? "The government may have thought that integrating the peshmerga into a region where a lot of fighting is going on might not be a good idea," speculates UNHCR officer Henrik Nordentoft, adding that "most of the land is locally-owned."52 What remains unclear is how Turkey could have contemplated providing land in the Kurdish provinces to the Bulgarian Turks if the latter explanation is a reasonable one.

Since halting the Yozgut project, Turkey has renewed efforts to place large numbers of the refugees in Europe or America. Last summer, the United States agreed to accept 300 families -- estimated at about 2,000 people in all. France, which took in 355 people in honor of the 1989 bicentennial of the French Revolution, has promised to take another 600. No other country has responded to the appeal. One hundred of the additional 600 have made it to France. However, because of the Persian Gulf War, the arrival of the 2,000 scheduled to come to the United States this month was delayed.

Iran: A Reluctant Host

According to most accounts, at least 370,000 Iraqi Kurds have sought refuge in Iran since 1971, more than 100,000 of them in 1988. Given that the entire Kurdish population of Iraq is estimated at 3.5 million, this means that over 10 percent of all Iraqi Kurds are presently being housed by their eastern neighbor.

Iran is in many ways a logical haven for the Kurds. Unlike those in Turkey, the Kurds of Iran and Iraq share the Arab alphabet, which makes printed material in Kurdish mutually intelligible. Most Iranian Kurds also understand the southern Kurdish dialect spoken in Iraq. Many families and tribes straddle the border and have been generous in helping the refugees.

In contrast to Turkey's rough ride, the Iranian government has received little criticism -- and some commendation53 -- over its treatment of the Kurdish refugees. However, this is probably due less to Iran's greater hospitality towards the Kurds than the greater restrictions it imposes on Western journalists and other independent monitors.

As with Turkey, Iran's welcome had limitations. In the first week of October 1988, Iran closed its border to Turkey after Ankara secretly transported thousands of Kurdish refugees to nearby Iranian provinces.54 A few days later, the Tehran government agreed to accept more that 100,000 of the refugees because of "Islamic and humanitarian principles," but not before the spring.55

Middle East Watch interviews with refugees indicate that Turkey's accomodations and provisions for the refugees, widely criticized by the scores of journalists and monitors allowed in the camps, in many ways surpassed Iran's largesse. Iran, however, has not given journalists a chance to make the comparison.

One strong indication of the poor conditions in Iran came when several hundred refugees who had opted to leave Turkey for Iran in 1988 showed up in the UNHCR office in Ankara, begging to be allowed back.56 On the other hand, going back to Iraq has often been even worse. Refugees in Iran say that some of those who returned under the early amnesties announced by Baghdad found conditions in their homeland so intolerable that they went back to Iran again.57

What little is known about this overlooked mass of refugees has therefore been largely pieced together from reports by the UNHCR and Kurdish political organizations and from interviews with a handful of Iraqi Kurds who have escaped to the West. Their depictions of conditions are often at variance and far from complete.

I: Previous Waves of Kurdish Refugees

Between 1971 and 1980, Iraq expelled at least 200,000 Faili Kurds. Unlike most Iraqi Kurds who are Sunni Moslems, the Failis are Shi'a and lived mainly in the Arab-dominated region of central Iraq. Many Faili Kurds had been wealthy businessmen and controlled large parts of the Baghdad bazaar. Although the real grounds for persecution were probably economic, the government used the Faili Kurds' religion as a pretext to claim they were really Iranian -- Iran being a Shi'te country -- and should therefore move.

Some 250,000 other Kurds sought refuge in Iran in 1975, after the collapse of Mulla Mustafa Barzani's rebellion in northern Iraq, according to a KDP spokesman. Most returned to Iraq during various amnesties offered by Iraq between 1975 and 1979, but about 50,000 remain in Iran.58 Today, they share at least one camp with other KDP peshmerga families who came in 1988. Another 25,000 Kurds came to Iran in dribbles, often because of individual or family disputes with the Baathist regime, between 1971 and 1989.59

The chemical bombings in 1988 added more than 100,000 people to Iran's population of Iraqi Kurdish refugees.

II: The Response to Halabja

On the political and, to some extent, humanitarian planes, Iran's response to the plight of the Iraqi Kurds has been positive. After the bombing of Halabja in March 1988, Iranian helicopters were waiting at the international border to ferry wounded Kurds to medical stations. Admittedly, Iranian forces were engaged at the time in a battle with Iraqi troops, and thus were doing little more than helping wartime allies and their families. That September, when busloads of displaced Iraqi Kurds began to turn up on Iran's borders from Turkey, Tehran publically welcomed them as well as those who made their own way to Iran. Unlike Turkey, Iran has not tried to force the Kurdish refugees to return to Iraq.

At least 50,000 Iraqi Kurds crossed the Iranian border after the bombardment of Halabja in March 1988. Others put that figure as high as 70,000. According to the UNHCR, 38,000 more arrived after Iraq's August assault, most of them via Turkey.60 Still other Iraqi Kurds sought refuge in Iran in the spring of 1989, when the Baath government razed the Kurdish city of Qala Diza.

As of the spring of 1990, about 100,000 of the Kurds who fled during the chemical gas attacks in 1988 remained in Iran. Those numbers probably included at least 10,000 who came in the fall of 1987, when fighting along the border was intense. Some may have also fled from chemical attacks.

These numbers reflect a significant amount of attrition: according to the UNHCR, as many as 45,000 of the refugees, mostly from Halabja, took up Iraq's first amnesty offer in September 1988.61 Several thousand more returned to Iraq during the other amnesties offered between December 1988 and July 1990. Last summer, theWashington Post reported that a number of Iraqi Kurds who had moved on from Turkey to Iran in 1988 subsequently returned to Turkey after getting a taste of the alternative.62

More recently, the numbers in Iran have been swollen somewhat by those who fled the allied bombing of northern Iraq in January and February 1991. According to official United Nations counts, more than 3,000 people -- Iraqi Arabs and Kurds as well as foreign nationals -- sought refuge in Iran during the first month of the Gulf War. Iranian sources abroad say that dozens of other Kurdish families clandestinely slipped across unguarded sections of the border in the first weeks, taking refuge with Iranian Kurds.

III: Conditions in the Camps

Although many of the Iraqi Kurds remain in camps, they have been assimilated into the local communities to a much greater extent than in Turkey. Part of this was by necessity. Exhausted by its eight-year war, in late 1988 Iran was unprepared for the arrival of 100,000 people -- most of them without any money or possessions. The tents it provided were inadequate protection against the bitter mountain winters. Temperatures in the border region can reach minus 20-30 degrees centigrade. With the onset of cold weather, local families took in many of the refugees.63 Others sat out the first winter in neighborhood mosques, warehouses and stables.64

By the summer of 1989, Iran had distributed most of the refugees into 23 small camps, 13 towns and 157 villages and towns in three border provinces with large Kurdish populations: Azerbaijan, Kurdistan and Bakhtaran.65 In addition, the government established at least one camp near Tehran for single men.

Descriptions of the facilities are scant, but it seems that conditions vary enormously. An international agency which toured several campsites in May 1989, reported that a quarter of the refugees in Baktaran and Kurdistan and half of those in West Azerbaijan were still living in tents. Fifteen hundred families in Urumia stayed in tents all winter. Many of the permanent houses being built for them -- 75 percent in Bakhtaran, 65 percent in the city of Sanandaj and 25 percent in West Azerbaijan province -- were not finished. Most lacked electricity, water and toilets.

The delegation reported that the new accomodation was crude. The refugees themselves did the construction with mortar and bricks provided by the Iranian government. In one camp it visited, the Kurds had constructed uniform rowhouses, each consisting of two rooms of twelve square meters -- one per family -- and a nine square meter kitchen. Plastic sheeting was used to cover the window frames. A small kerosene stove served for both cooking and heating. The government provided fuel sometimes, but the refugees also had to purchase it themselves.

Sanitation appears to have been a problem in the two camps the agency visited. Of one, mission members reported:

The latrines are open pits with a burlap screen. Water is brought to the camps by truck or from wells... about 50 liters of water is given to each family every second day.

In another camp, the group reported a "lack of water and few latrines."

The Iranian government and Iranian Red Crescent provide basic food for the refugees, at least for those in camps. The High Administrative Committee for Refugees, a relief group organized by Iraqi Kurds, complained in an August 1989 report that:

Shortages in foodstuffs and delay in delivery are common. The monthly rations are not sufficient to sustain the recipients for a whole month. The rations, in addition, made up a limited number of foodstuffs... Hunger is not unknown.

According to the report, those living in towns and villages did not even start receiving rations until 1989.

Food distribution was erratic and varied greatly by province, according to the Kurdish relief committee. In Bakhtaran, the refugees received ration cards to obtain staples soon after they arrived in 1988; in Kurdistan, they did not get them until the next year. In West Azerbaijan, "hundreds of families" were still without the cards in the summer of 1989 and "in this province, the food is often sold to the refugees." The international group which visited in May 1989 also found that the refugees had to buy meat and vegetables, often at a high price: 500 Rials for a kilogram of potatoes and 300 rials for onions.

IV: A Shortage of Cash and Work

Money for necessities has not been easy to come by. Some of the wealthier Kurds brought cash or jewelry with them from Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan Front, the coalition group representing five Kurdish guerrilla organizations, distributed about $800,000 -- $100-$200 a family --- shortly after the exodus. Those personal and relief funds, however, were quickly exhausted.

Most reports concur that few of the refugees are working. In July 1990, the UNHCR office in Iran cabled to headquarters that employment among those in the Kurdish refugee camps was "negligible." A UNHCR investigator described life at Gualyaran, a camp in Bakhtaran province holding 2,430 people, as "a constant struggle of hope against resignation." While some people were busy building a mosque for the settlement, the writer was struck by the men "with seemingly nothing to do, lost in thoughts of their future."66

One obstacle seems to be the high unemployment rate in the Kurdish provinces. The area has been economically neglected for decades, under both the Shah and Islamic government. An international delegation visiting two camps near Bakhtaran -- Serias and Rawanzar -- in May 1989, found it possible for the refugees to take casual jobs, but noted that there were few available in the area.

More serious, however, are government restrictions on the employment of refugees. According to the UNHCR's Tehran office, no employment is possible without sponsorship from either the government or an employer and without such sponsorship, refugees are not allowed to leave the camps. The international group visiting in May 1989 reported that to leave "a permission is required..." but was "generally granted."

Others, however, paint a different picture. H.R., a former refugee in Iran interviewed by Middle East Watch, says that those at his camp near Tehran were usually only allowed out three days a month and he did not receive such permission at all for seven months.

V: Education

The UNHCR in Tehran last summer described education as the area with the greatest discrepancy between needs of refugees and means to satisfy them. Many, if not most, of the refugee children have been without schooling for more than two years now. Older youths are barred from Iranian universities altogether.

Reports on whether the Kurdish refugee children are entitled to enter the local Iranian schools are contradictory. "The children are not allowed to enter Iranian schools... (because) the refugees do not have permanent permission to stay in Iran," the international monitoring group reported in May 1989. Three months later, however, the High Administrative Committee stated that "the government has decided that students in elementary and high classes will have a place in the camps, towns and villages which have schools...." The following summer, the UNHCR also reported, in an internal memo, that in principle, access to state school system is not barred.

Whatever the policy, practical hurdles -- lack of places, transportation, or language skills -- have kept most of the refugee children at home. According to the High Administrative Committee, many children had to drop out because of the difficulties following instruction in Persian, the compulsory medium of instruction in Iranian schools. Only those children excelling in their first year were allowed to continue.

Two refugees interviewed by Middle East Watch said there was no possibility of schooling, except what parents could provide themselves. "There were more than 2,000 children in my camp near Urumia," says a 31-year-old man. "No more than five or six of them were allowed to attend the local school." Their parents had been in the camp since 1975 and received official favor. He taught his son and some neighboring children at home.

With a little outside help, many of the refugee groups could have established a system of their own. In one camp of 300 families, 51 adults had a professional degree, according to one visiting humanitarian group. It is not clear if Iranian officials allow such self-help efforts.

VI: Detention and Deportation

Most of the camps are closely guarded, and many have their own jail.67

Refugees claim that camp authorities often used the jail to enforce religious observance or to squelch complaints. One refugee said that in his camp, a settlement of more than 10,000 people near the city of Urumia, the pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) locked up people who tried to escape or refused to pray. Hewa, another refugee, spent several days in the lock-up for refusing to pray and complaining about the food. Another member of that camp spent two months in the jail for organizing a hunger strike to demand a permit to leave the camp.

On the other hand, says one former inmate, the jail was not an intimidating punishment, even though it had no windows or beds. "There is no difference between theqalantina (jail) and the rest of the camp," he explained.68

Medico International, a foreign relief agency, also reported after a visit late in 1989:

The refugees are frequent victims of arbitrary action by the Revolutionary Guards who control the area and the camps by means of numerous road-blocks... Iraqi Kurds report arbitary arrests and confiscation of papers by the pasdaran.69

No less eager than Turkey to pass the burden onto other countries, Iran's policy over repatriation of the Kurdish refugees has been mixed. One Kurdish exile says the police jailed several refugees from his camp who wanted to take advantage of one of the Iraqi amnesties. Another Kurd, however, wrote a relative that the government tried to forcibly repatriate those who complained about their treatment in Iran.70 The policy may have changed after Iran and Iraq signed their ceasefire accord in August 1988.

According to one refugee who managed to escape to the West, Iran became more aggressive by the end of 1989 about getting rid of the refugees. Those who had political problems in Iraq, he said, would be permitted to go to Tehran to try to arrange a way out of the country. "They would give you a laissez passer good for three months only." At the end of the three months, the person concerned had to leave Iran on his own or be forcibly returned to Iraq. This young man personally saw three buses, with about 45 passengers on each, taking people back to Iraq. Friends in Iraq reported to him that at least 25 of the returnees had been executed.

Those who do not have political ties are also being pushed out, apparently willy-nilly. "They said if you have money, you have to leave for Europe; if you don't have money, you have to move to Turkey or Pakistan," said one refugee.71 This man saw Iranian guards load refugees onto buses headed for Turkey and Pakistan three times at the end of 1989 and beginning of 1990. It was not clear what choice the weary refugees had been given, either about moving on or their next destination.

VII: The Iraqi Kurds' Status

Unlike Turkey, Iran has signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and its 1967 protocols without geographical reservation, in theory giving the Iraqi Kurds all the protections discussed above. It is hard to assess Iran's compliance, given the limited amount of information on the refugees, but there are indications that Iran has not abided by all the Convention terms.72

Non-discrimination is a basic principle underlying the convention. In granting rights or providing benefits, one group of aliens must not be treated more favorably than another. This applies to the right to work (articles 17 and 18), the right of association (article 15), access to housing (article 21) and freedom of movement (26). In other respects -- access to courts, freedom of religion, public education and government assistance -- the refugees are entitled to rights on a par with Iranian citizens.

As with Turkey, Iran has also short-changed the Kurds relative to other refugees. According to a 1988 UNHCR fact sheet, of the more than two million Afghan citizens who have sought refuge in Iran over the past decade, only three percent live in refugee camps:

This is the result of Government policy which has from the onset enabled refugees to settle in various provinces all over the country, take up employment and benefit from subsidized food rations, free education and medical care on the same terms as nationals. As a result, Afghan refugees are a familiar sight in almost every major city in central and eastern Iran, where they provide an important source of unskilled labour.73

While many Afghans have found a better life in Iran than back home, most of the Iraqi Kurds are still living in camps, restricted from travelling, settling elsewhere and, for the most part, finding work.

Breaking Out On Their Own

A few thousand refugees have tried to take matters into their own hands. With the help of friends or families, using smugglers or fake papers, over the past two years hundreds have fled from Iran or Turkey, sometimes to find themselves in an even more precarious situation.

The largest group have made their way to Greece through neighboring Turkey. According to a KDP press release in December 1990, the Greek government had jailed 150 Kurdish refugee families seeking political asylum. Though Greece has signed the refugee convention, its position is that the convention does not make these people official refugees in Greece, since they had already found safe haven in Iran or Turkey. This stance is debatable given the treatment previously encountered by the Iraqi Kurds in their first countries of refuge.

Azad (a pseudonym), a naturalized American citizen, has a younger brother, Youssef (also a pseudonym), among those Iraqi Kurds who are still in Greek jails. Youssef has been in prison about eight months for a 13-month conviction for illegal entry into the country. It is not his first imprisonment. Ten years ago, he was arrested in Iraq and allegedly poisoned in jail. The brother implied that the arrest in Iraq was politically motivated.

Youssef then joined the peshmerga, only to flee to Iran after the chemical bombings in 1988. From there, he tried to escape to Pakistan, in punishment for which Iranian authorities jailed him for a month. A second escape attempt got him to Turkey and then to Greece. According to Azad, Greek authorities are now trying to return him to Iraq against his will -- a clear case of refoulement.

Azad is trying to get Youssef to the United States. In an initial setback, however, a U.S. immigration official said the case was hopeless without more documentation of his identity and detention in Iraq. "It is illegal to send documents through the mail from Iraq," laments the brother, not even mentioning the war and the danger such an effort might pose to their parents and siblings still in Iraq.74

Another 1,500 to 2,000 of the Iraqi refugees have moved east, to Pakistan, where the government has also jailed many of them for illegal entry. Here, at least, the UNHCR has been able to get most released within a few weeks, according to Thomas Thompson, assistant chief of mission for Pakistan.75 Until then, however, the refugees are compelled to share cells with common criminals.

Because Pakistan has not signed the Convention on Refugees, it considers the Iraqi Kurds illegal immigrants, giving them no possibility to "regularize their status," as the UNHCR's Thompson puts it -- i.e. to be absorbed into Pakistani society. None have work permits and the thousand or so who arrived after May 1989 -- an arbitrary date linked to the supposed improvement of refugee conditions inside Iran after the death of Iran's leader Ayatollah Khomeini -- are not allowed to travel outside Baluchistan province. Though enforcement of the travel restriction is much less efficient than in Iran or Turkey, most still have nothing to do and no reasonable prospects for a normal life in Pakistan.


In light of Iraq's history of using chemical weapons on the Kurds, Middle East Watch urges the United States to:

  • demand that outside monitors be allowed to stay in Iraq to make sure it does not again use chemical gas during the post-war insurrection now reportedly taking place in the Kurdish provinces.
  • insist that Iraq's violations of international laws against the Kurds -- including its use of poison gas in 1987 and 1988 -- be included in any war crimes trials against Iraqi leaders, should they take place.
  • continue the embargo of Iraq until it dismantles its forced resettlement program and allows its Kurdish citizens to return to the villages they left because of the chemical bombings.
  • demand that outside monitors, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, be allowed to assure that any Iraqi Kurds in exile may safely return to Iraq.

Because of Iraq's treatment of the Kurds and the appalling conditions under which Kurdish refugees are living in Turkey, Iran, Greece and Pakistan, Middle East Watch also recommends:

  • that the United States and other Western countries give asylum to significantly greater numbers of Kurdish refugees;
  • that Greece and Pakistan stop jailing Iraqi Kurds for illegal entry, release those currently in prison and grant official refugee status to those who have sought asylum;
  • that Iran abide by the Convention on Refugees in its treatment of the Kurdish refugees, including the provisions related to schooling, employment, travel, residence and the administration of justice.


1 Official Iraqi and Turkish government figures, as cited in Amnesty International, Iraqi Kurds: At Risk of Forcible Repatriation (London: Amnesty, June 1990), pp. 2-3, 7. The actual number may be much higher.

2 According to leaders of the Diyarbakir refugee camp in southeastern Turkey, of the Kurds who have returned to Iraq from Turkey, 15 are known to have been executed and 350 imprisoned. Approximately 25 families, including 80 adults, are said to be imprisoned near Dohuk. Middle East Watch interview with Salih Haci Huseyin, Diyarbakir, Turkey, November 1990. See also Amnesty, At Risk of Forcible Repatriation.

3 The Latest Soviet census says that 153,000 people declared themselves to be Kurds. But Soviet Kurdish sources assert that due to assimilation, the real number could be as many as 500,000.

4 Turkish law bans speaking or writing in Kurdish -- thus making broadcasts, publications, schooling and even singing in Kurdish illegal. So stringent is Turkey's ban on the Kurdish language that the law outlawing it is crafted so that it, too, does not actually mention the word Kurdish. All Kurdish parties are also banned and writers, politicians and editors are frequently prosecuted for fomenting "separatist propaganda" if they write, even in Turkish, about the Kurdish question. At President Turgut Ozal's request, Turkey's parliament is considering a bill that would lift a few of the bans on speaking Kurdish -- allowing Kurds to converse in their mother tongue at home or on the streets, and to sing Kurdish music -- but even that limited move has met resistance from some Turkish parliamentarians who fear it could lead to renewed drives for Kurdish separatism.

5 A major point of contention was the government's "Arabization" policy. According to the exiled Kurdish writer Ismet Sheriff Vanly, in September 1971, Iraq deported about 40,000 Faili Kurds to Iran. In 1973 and 1974, it forcibly evacuated several Kurdish villages and gave their lands to Arabs. In February, 1974, 400 Kurdish families had to leave the oil city of Kirkuk after the government replaced Kurdish workers with Arabs. Ismet Sheriff Vanly, "Kurdistan in Iraq," People Without a Country (London: Zed Press, 1980) .

6 Peshmerga, the Kurdish name for their fighters, literally translated means "those who court death."

7 According to Kurdish political sources, the mass relocation to Arab towns and villages in the south was another part of the government's forced assimilation program. These sources say the government put many of those deported into detention camps and dispersed the rest among Arab communities, including Ramadi, Nasseriaeh and Dewianya.

8 The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the main Iraqi Kurdish rebel groups, has documented 3,839 destroyed hamlets, villages and towns. See Shorsh Resool, Forever Kurdish: Destruction of a Nation (July, 1990).

9 Middle East Watch interview with Iraqi Kurdish exile, London, October 31, 1990.

10 Middle East Watch interview with Kurdish exile, London, October 31, 1990.

11 Stephen Pelletiere, Douglas Johnson and Lief Rosenberger, Iraqi Power and U.S. Security in the Middle East (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, 1990), p. 52.

12 Ibid., p. 90 n138. The note goes on to say that Iraq maintains it has never used the weapon "against civilians as part of a program of genocide." It is not clear if that means it might have used it against civilians in a city under siege, as Halabja was at the time.

13 Throughout the war, Iran had supplied the Iraqi Kurdish rebels with safe haven and other support; Iraq was doing the same for the Iranian peshmerga, who had been waging a similar campaign for autonomy in their adjoining Kurdish region.

14 Middle East Watch, Human Rights in Iraq (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990), pp. 83-84.

15 Middle East Watch interview in U.S. (location and family name concealed to protect source); September 5, 1990.

16 Middle East Watch interviews with exiles, London, October 1990, and Diyarbakir, Turkey, November 1990.

17 Peter Galbraith and Christopher Van Hollen, Jr., Chemical Weapons Use In Kurdistan: Iraq's Final Offensive -- a Staff Report to the Committee On Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, Oct. 1988).

The authors interviewed more than 200 Kurdish refugees who fled to Turkey. See also Middle East Watch, Human Rights in Iraq, pp. 75-85 and Physicians for Human Rights, Winds of Death (Somerville, Massachusetts: PHR, February 1989). More recent interviews of survivors by Middle East Watch produced further corroboration, with similar details; interviews London, October 1990, Diyarbakir, Turkey, November 1990.

18 The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the main Kurdish rebel groups, whose figures are usually conservative and reliable, puts the Kurdish death toll for the year at nearly 20,000. Other accounts have given figures several times higher.

19 Hazhir Teimourian, "Kurds Appeal for Help Against Chemical Weapons," The Times, London.

20 Middle East Watch, Human Rights in Iraq, p. 78.

21 Some of Turkey's tactics would be familiar to Iraqi Kurds. Like Iraq, Turkey has forcibly emptied scores of Kurdish villages, allegedly for security reasons. Ankara has also tried to force Kurds to take up arms against the guerrillas through a village guard system. Frequently, villagers who refuse to join this citizens' militia are arrested and tortured at the local police station. When no one signs up, special forces have forcibly evacuated the entire settlement. (Information drawn from Middle East Watch interviews in Turkey, November 1990.)

22 Newspaper reports from that time speculated that other political factors may have been behind the move: Turkey's desire to join the European Community (Turkey's human rights record has been a major stumbling block to membership) and a desire to woo Kurdish voters to the ruling Motherland Party (ANAP) in upcoming local elections. Indeed, ANAP's ratings in the southeast did shoot up in polls conducted shortly after Turkey let in the refugees. By the time of the elections, however, the issue had soured.

23 Adrian Foreman, "Turkey Halts Kurds Fleeing From War," The Guardian, September 30, 1988; and "Kurds Urge Turkey To Let in Victims of Iraqi Gas," Financial Times (London), September 30, 1988.

24 Middle East Watch interview with refugee in Turkey, November 1990.

25 Alan Cowell, "Turkey Moves Out 2000 Iraqi Kurds," The New York Times, September 8, 1988.

26 Tim Kelsey, "Turks Slip 20,000 Kurds into Iran," The Independent, October 13, 1988.

27 Ken McKenzie, "Kurds Trek to Iran," The Observer, London, October 16, 1988.

28 Jim Bodgener, "Kurdish Refugees Find an Uneasy Home in Turkish Tents," Financial Times, October 17, 1988.

29 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, articles 26-28 and 34.

30 Ibid, articles 17 and 22.

31 William Echikson, "Rights at Issue in Bulgaria," Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 1988; Henry Kamm, "Bulgarian-Turkish Tensions on Minority Rise," The New York Times, October 4, 1987.

32 Phone interview by Middle East Watch, October 9, 1990, New York and Washington, D.C.

33 "Turkey: Out of Bulgaria," The Economist, June 17, 1989.

34 Middle East Watch interview with Fethi Ozdemir, assistant governor of Mardin province, at the Mardin camp, November 16, 1990.

35 Interviews with Middle East Watch, Diyarbakir, Turkey, November 1990, and New York City, December 1990.

36 That they were selling the tapes at all shows how the authorities have relaxed since such tapes are illegal under Turkish law. When the tapes first appeared, Turkish police arrested several of the refugees and kept them in jail for several days, according to Mayi, who claims that some of these people, including teenage boys, were tortured in detention.

37 Article 33 of the Convention on Refugees prohibits expelling or returning a refugee "in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."

Though Turkey has not signed the convention with regard to refugees from Asia, like the Iraqi Kurds, this particular provision is of such importance that legal scholars generally consider it part of the body of customary international law, applicable to all countries and individuals.

38 Middle East Watch interviews with refugees in Turkey, November 1990, and with officials from the UNHCR in Ankara, Turkey and Washington, D.C., November 1990-February 1991. See also Amnesty International, Iraqi Kurds: At Risk of Forcible Repatriation from Turkey and Human Rights Violations in Iraq, June 1990.

39 Iraq was apparently concerned about international reaction to the mass exodus, particularly to claims that it was carrying out a campaign of genocide against the Kurds. Shortly after extending its first amnesty offer in September 1988, the Iraqi government flew dozens of foreign journalists to a border crossing in Zakhu to witness the return of 1,000 from Turkey. No one showed up. Patrick Tyler, "Kurds are No-Shows in Iraqi Press Event," Washington Post, September 19, 1988.

40 Amnesty International claims that the number may be as high as 9,300. See Amnesty, At Risk of Forcible Repatriation, p. 2.

41 According to an October 16, 1988 article in The New York Times, 1467 left for Iraq. Amnesty International put the figure at 1,400 in a January 1989 newsletter and 1,900 in their June 1990 report, Iraqi Kurds: At Risk of Forcible Repatriation.

42 Amnesty International, Iraqi Kurds: At Risk of Forcible Repatriation, p. 3.

43 There were several villages of Assyrians, an ancient Christian sect, and ethnic Turks in the Kurdish area of Iraq razed by Iraqi troops. Many of these villagers fled with the Kurds to Turkey and Iran. According to KDP sources, some of the Assyrians may even have been peshmerga fighters.

The Assyrian National Congress, an American Assyrian group, lists the names of 67 who "disappeared" after returning to Iraq. Amnesty International says that the disappeared include 33 Assyrian Christians and their families who had been in Turkish and Iranian camps.

44 Amnesty International, Iraqi Kurds: At Risk of Forcible Repatriation, p. 5.

45 Ibid., p. 6. An Iraqi Kurdish refugee, who spoke with the man after he reached Iran, confirmed the story in an interview with Middle East Watch in Washington, D.C., January 1991.

46 Ibid., p. 6. Middle East Watch interviews with Kurdish sources indicate that some of the 46 may have signed up to leave then changed their minds and were forced to go anyway.

47 Middle East Watch interview with Kurdish refugee, Turkey, November 1990.

48 Lale Saribrahimoglu, "Second Poisoning Incident in Iraqi Kurds Camp Draws Denial of Foul Play by Turkey, Iraq," Dateline Turkey, February 10, 1990.

49 Dlawer Ala'Aldeen, John Foran, Ivon House and Alastair Hay, "Poisoning of Kurdish Refugees in Turkey," The Lancet, February 3, 1990.

50 See Middle East Watch, Human Rights in Iraq, p. 57.

51 "Turkey Scraps Plans for Kurdish Camp," Financial Times, May 3, 1990.

52 Middle East Watch interview in Ankara, November 8, 1990.

53 See Patrick Tyler, "Iran Praised for Sophisticated Refugee Program," Washington Post, February 11, 1989; Mohammed Benamar, "Islamic Republic of Iran: Strengthening Peace in the West," Refugees, July-August, 1990, pp. 13-14. (Refugees is published by the Public Information Service of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)

54 "Iran is Closed to the Kurds," International Herald Tribune, October 7, 1988.

55 Thomas Goltz, "Iran Offers To Accept Iraqi Kurds," Washington Post, October 16, 1988.

56 From Middle East Watch interviews with UNHCR officials in Ankara, Turkey. See also Jonathan Randal, "Kurds Who Fled Iraq Say They Feel Unwanted in Turkey," Washington Post, June 26, 1990.

57 From Middle East Watch interviews, January 1990, with a refugee who had been in the Iranian camps.

58 The KDP says that the Shah of Iran dispersed many of the refugees into non-Kurdish parts of Iran, but that some returned to the Kurdish provinces after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Middle East Watch interview with KDP spokesman, in London, February 1991.

59 Most of these figures come from The High Administrative Committee for Iraqi Kurdistan Refugees in Iran ("The High Administration"), a relief organization set up in Iran by the Iraqi Kurdistan Front, a coalition which includes the KDP, PUK and other major Iraqi Kurdish rebel groups.

60 UNHCR memorandum of November 21, 1988. The High Administration puts the number coming via Turkey at 20,500.

61 Dolph Everts, "Reception and Relief," Refugees, July-August 1990. This number seems high. A Washington Post reporter, citing "Iraqi officials and Kurds," puts the figure at 10,000-20,000. See Tyler, "Kurds Are No-Shows in Iraqi Press Event," International Herald Tribune. Others put the estimate even lower, possibly as few as 4,000.

62 Jonathan Randal, "Kurds Who Fled Iraq Say They Feel Unwanted in Turkey," Washington Post, June 26, 1990.

63 Tyler, "Iran Praised for Sophisticated Refugee Program, Washington Post.

64 The High Administrative Committee for Iraqi Refugees in Iran, "Report for 1989," August 15, 1989.

65 Ibid.

66 Benamar, "Strengthening Peace," Refugees, July-August 1990.

67 The international group visiting in May 1989 reported that the two settlements near Bakhtaran "are under the formal control of a representative from the province governor and there are police posts at the entrances and armed guards patrolling the perimeter."

68 Middle East Watch interview, January 1991 (name and current location of interviewee withheld to protect relatives).

69 Medico International, "Deportations in Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurdish Refugees in Iran," Yearbook of the Kurdish Academy (Bremen, Germany: Kurdish Academy, 1990) p. 75.

70 Middle East Watch interview with Iraqi Kurd now living in the United States, February 1990.

71 Middle East Watch interview, February 1990.

72 The Medico International report, p. 74, indicates that Iran has not given the Iraqi Kurds formal refugee status. The UNHCR, in interviews with Middle East Watch in January 1991, says that the refugees do have official status in Iran.

73 UNHCR fact sheet, October 1988.

74 From interviews with Middle East Watch in the U.S., February 1991.

75 Phone interview with Middle East Watch, New York to Islamabad, February 24, 1991

Did You Know?

The shooting down of Rwandan President Habyarimana’s plane over Kigali in April 1994 provided a spark that set already high ethnic tensions alight. Across the country, Hutu extremists murdered their Tutsi neighbors in the hundreds of thousands – often with machetes – in what is known as the Rwandan genocide. There were, however, small acts of humanity in the midst of mass killings. Hutu hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina took in everyone he could, turning his hotel into a refuge from the violence. He ultimately managed to save the lives of over 1,200 people, including his Tutsi wife and children, through the ingenious bartering of luxury items in the hotel and the influence of his international contacts - a story later captured in the movie “Hotel Rwanda.”
In Canada, freedom of religion is strongly protected at the national, provincial, and local levels. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, part of the country's constitution, forbids discrimination by the state on religious grounds and guarantees the fundamental right of freedom of conscience and religion. The various provincial human rights codes go further and require employers, service providers and other private individuals to provide reasonable accommodation to all, regardless of religious belief.
Afghanistan was once rich with pre-Islamic artifacts, but the Taliban and other marauding groups have destroyed many of these beautiful relics in the brutal struggles that have gripped the country. However, some concerned Afghans have acted to preserve the country's heritage. As the Soviet Army withdrew in 1988-89 and the country collapsed into bitter civil war, National Museum of Afghanistan curator Omara Khan Massoudi worked to save some artifacts from pillagers. Burying ancient Bactrian gold and ivory sculptures under the Presidential Palace and the streets of Kabul in 1989, he finally retrieved many the priceless artifacts unscathed 14 years later and presented them to then Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Despite his sharp criticism of organized religion, Voltaire, one of the Enlightenment's greatest thinkers, resolutely defended religious tolerance. The most famous example of this defense was sparked by a tragedy. In October 1761, Marc-Antoine Calas, a young man from a Protestant family living in Catholic France, was found dead in his father’s shop in Toulouse, most likely by suicide. Public opinion quickly settled on his father, Jean, as the prime suspect – it was supposed that he had killed Marc-Antoine to prevent him from converting to Catholicism. Jean was repeatedly and inhumanely tortured and eventually executed. Outraged by the blatant injustice of the case, Voltaire succeeded in securing Jean a posthumous pardon, and went on to write his famous treatise on religious tolerance.
The United States of America has a formal policy commitment to protect religious freedom globally. In 1998, Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act, establishing the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The Commission monitors the status of religious freedoms throughout the world and makes policy recommendations to the US government, including on the designation of serious repeat violators as "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPCs).
Before the first British colonists arrived in Botany Bay in 1788, there were well over 350 different Australian Aboriginal groups, speaking a myriad of indigenous languages and with a wide range of cultural traditions. Diseases imported from Europe decimated native populations. Those that survived were legally marginalized throughout much of Australian history, with the 1901 Australian Constitution denying them Commonwealth citizenship rights. It was not until 1962 that legal reform granted the dwindling number of Aboriginal Australians voting rights.
In March 2012, Tel-Aviv based graphic designer Ronny Edry uploaded an unconventional Facebook photo. The picture showed a smiling Edry holding his young daughter, with the caption “Iranians, we will never bomb your country. We love you.” The photo struck a chord on Israeli and Iranian social media, and thousands of citizens in both countries quickly followed Edry's example. One Iranian Facebook user posted a picture in response that proclaimed: “Dear Israeli Friends and World! Iranians love peace and we hate hate! And we don't need any Nuclear Power to show it!”
The magnificent Hagia Sophia was constructed by the Byzantine Empire as a Christian basilica in the 6th century CE, and has stood the test of time for almost 1500 years. When Sultan Mehmed II’s armies conquered Constantinople in 1453, he could not bring himself to destroy the beautiful building and instead added minarets, converting it into a mosque. Since its repurposing as a museum in 1935 the Hagia Sophia has served a physical reminder of the intertwined relationship between Islam and Christianity, with Islamic calligraphy and Christian mosaics adorning the same structure.
With more than 200 different ethnic groups, the landlocked East African nation of Chad is one of the world's most diverse. Although Arabic and French – legacies of Islamic conquest and European colonialism – are the two official languages, over a hundred languages are spoken within the country's borders. Islam, Christianity and various forms of animism and tribal ritual are widely practiced, and Christian holidays like Christmas, All Saints Day and Easter are public holidays alongside Islamic ones such as Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.
Although branded as the transcript of a Jewish plot masterminding world domination, a large portion of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is copied directly from a political satire by French writer Maurice Joly. Joly’s protagonist warns, “Like the God Vishnu, my press will have a hundred arms and these arms will give their hands to all the different shades of opinion throughout the country," and the Protocols attribute an almost identical statement to a “sinister” Jew. This plagiarism is just one of the many holes in the Protocols' so-called indictment of world Jewry.
In the spring of 1994, Hutu militants murdered up to one million Rwandans, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group. However, the sharp ethnic distinction drawn between Tutsis and the majority Hutus is a recent phenomenon; originally, the term “Tutsi” denoted a person rich in cattle, while a "Hutu" was a grower of crops. It wasn’t until the advent of Belgian colonial rule that Rwandans were forced to carry identity cards denoting their ethnicity. That measure, along with the ban on Hutus seeking higher education and other discrimination sowed the seeds of genocide.
Across the United States there are over five hundred distinct tribes of Native Americans speaking more than two hundred indigenous languages, and very few of them have a word for "religion." Despite having a myriad of spiritual beliefs and rituals, Native American tribes view the issue to be intermingled with every aspect of community and family life. “We don't have a religion”, some Native Americans insist, “we have a way of life.”
In January 1959, Mildred and Richard Loving were sentenced to a one year suspended jail for the crime of interracial marriage under the Virginia State Racial Integrity Act (1924). The judge for the case, Leon M. Bazile, wrote in his opinion that “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents... The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Although it seemed that bigotry had won, the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled the Act unconstitutional in the landmark case Loving v. Virginia. The decision also struck down similar legislation in 15 other states.
Although Hindi is India’s most widely spoken language, over 780 languages exist throughout the subcontinent. However, 220 have disappeared over the last 50 years, as their last speakers pass away and young children do not learn them. With English and Hindi often associated with education and development, incentives to preserve less-common languages are low, and their worlds and cultures are vanishing. In reaction to this trend, a movement to preserve the country's linguistic heritage has emerged throughout India, with activists using online talking dictionaries, YouTube videos and social media to save these languages from extinction.
The heady days of the Arab Spring brought glimpses of what a more tolerant Middle East could look like. As pro-government soldiers threatened to disperse protesters in Tahrir Square in early 2011, Christians formed a ring around worshipping Muslim activists. Those Muslims later returned the favor by gathering protectively around praying Christians. Although religious tensions in Egypt have consistently run high in its modern history and Coptic Christians face persecution, those civic gestures in Tahrir Square showed that another Egypt is possible.
In the late 19th century, thousands of South Asian migrants flocked to East Africa to construct a railway network throughout the British Protectorate of Uganda. Over the following century, many of these laborers and their descendants secured lucrative positions in the growing domestic economy. However, the rise to power of President Idi Amin in 1971 brought trouble. Playing on the nationalistic feelings of native Ugandans, he denounced the entire South Asian community as “bloodsuckers” and decreed their immediate expulsion under threat of imprisonment. The United Kingdom attempted to intercede with Amin, but eventually accepted almost 27,000 refugees, decimating the Indian and Pakistani community in Uganda.
In 1920, the anti-Semitic business magnate Henry Ford published excerpts from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as part of a disparaging series of leading articles in his private newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. The public was unimpressed, with the New York Times condemning the Protocols as the “strangest jumble of crazy ideas that ever found its way in print.” However, his dissemination of the Protocols did contribute to the spread of anti-Semitic thought in modern America, and Ford’s propaganda was later applauded by Goebbels and Hitler.
In 1935, the infamous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” were branded a forgery by a Swiss court. “I hope that one day there will come a time,” the judge concluded, “when no one will any longer comprehend how in the year 1935 almost a dozen fully sensible and reasonable men could for fourteen days torment their brains before a court of Berne over the authenticity or lack of authenticity of these so-called Protocols…that for all the harm they have already caused and may yet cause, are nothing but ridiculous nonsense.” Sadly, the Protocols are still in circulation today, and are held up as "proof" for anti-Semitic theories.
Members of the Iranian Baha'i faith have been persecuted since the founding of the religion in the mid-1800s. This persecution severely intensified after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and continues to this day. At roughly 300,000 adherents, they are the largest non-Muslim religious group in Iran, but are not among the recognized religious minorities in the country's constitution, and cannot count on its protections. Today Baha’is are regularly subjected to intimidation, arbitrary arrest, destruction of property, denial of employment and access to higher education. The leadership of the Baha’i faith in Iran continues to be imprisoned.
Sierra Leone is a beacon of religious tolerance in West Africa. With a Christian president elected by a roughly 70% Muslim nation, both groups pray alongside each other with conversions and intermarriage commonplace. Some Sierra Leonian citizens even practice both religions; known as ChrisMus, they attend regular prayers at the mosque while faithfully attending church on Sundays.
In the early 20th century, the Ku Klux Klan was responsible for the deaths of thousands of African-Americans, and symbols of the Klan – like the burning cross – inspired terror nationwide. But in 1946, the Klan was dealt a significant blow by a single concerned citizen. Activist and author Stetson Kennedy infiltrated the Klan over a period of months, gathering key information on the group's secret rituals and code words. Kennedy then shared his knowledge with the writers of a Superman radio serial, leading to the broadcast of The Adventures of Superman: "Clan of the Fiery Cross,” which over a two-week period exposed the Klan’s best-kept secrets. By trivializing the Klan, the broadcast helped strip the Klan of its mystique. Over time, the group declined rapidly and only a few thousand members are active today.
On July 8, 1985, school children in a small Indian town rose to sing the national anthem, "Jana Gana Mana," but one 15-year old boy and his sisters did not join their classmates. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, they believed singing the anthem constituted idolatry, and could not bring themselves to violate their beliefs. This behavior was condemned as unpatriotic by school employees and became a local scandal, eventually resulting in the expulsion of the children. Their family sued, and the case eventually rose to the Supreme Court where the children were exonerated, with Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy reiterating “Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our constitution practices tolerance; let us not dilute it.”
Even as Hitler rose to power in Germany, Baghdad was a haven of religious and ethnic tolerance with Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen, Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and Sabeans living in a land where “the mosque stands beside the church and the synagogue.” Hebrew was one of Iraq’s six languages and about 120,000 Jews lived in the country. Today, after decades of intermittent war and repression, it is estimated that fewer than ten Jews remain, while more Yazidis and Christians flee every day.
Appalled by the scourge of slavery across the United States, Harriet Beecher Stowe called attention to its horrors and impact on American society by publishing Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852. Selling 10,000 copies in its first week and becoming the second best-selling book of the century after the Bible, the graphic horrors of slavery portrayed in the book ignited social consciousness and fierce public debate. This debate carried through into the U.S. Civil War, which in turn led to Congress passing the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting slavery throughout the country. Uncle Tom's Cabin prepared the way for one of the biggest social shifts in American history.
In an attempt to forcibly transform the Soviet Union into a socialist paradise, the Communist Party declared the elimination of religion to be an ideological imperative. Even though the Orthodox Church was deeply interwoven in pre-revolutionary Russian society, the state forbade public expressions of faith, demolished hundreds of places of worship, and executed hundreds of priests. However, the Orthodox faith remained rooted in Russia - as communism collapsed in the late 1980s and early 90s, millions rushed to be baptized and thousands were ordained as priests. Despite attempts to eliminate religion, today the majority of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christian.
Although branded as the transcript of a Jewish plot masterminding world domination, a large portion of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is copied directly from a political satire by French writer Maurice Joly. Joly’s protagonist warns, “Like the God Vishnu, my press will have a hundred arms and these arms will give their hands to all the different shades of opinion throughout the country." The Protocols attribute an almost identical statement to a “sinister” Jew. This plagiarism is just one of the many holes in the Protocols' so-called indictment of world Jewry.
In 2012, online hate speech from Burma’s Facebook users exploded as some from the country's majority Buddhist population accused minority Muslims of a plot to dominate the country. With online vitriol stoking real-world conflicts, the Panzagar movement arose to combat the trend. Panzagar translates to "flower speech" in English, and the movement intervened through designing a series of “flower speech” Facebook stickers to post under offensive material. The stickers are cheerful and cartoonish, and seek to defuse heated arguments through lighthearted reminders to practice respect and tolerance.

 Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944

 It is hardly possible to overrate the value, for the improvement of human beings, of things which bring them into contact with persons dissimilar to themselves and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar... It is indispensable to be perpetually comparing [one's] own notions and customs with the experience and example of persons in different circumstances.

- John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), British philosopher, political economist and civil servant, Principles of Political Economy, 1848

 If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

- John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), British philosopher, political economist and civil servant, On Liberty, 1859

 There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.

- Socrates (469 BC-399 BC), Greek philosopher

 The open society is one in which men have learned to be to some extent critical of taboos, and to base decisions on the authority of their own intelligence.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 [W]e are all guilty in some Measure of the same narrow way of Thinking... when we fancy the Customs, Dresses, and Manners of other Countries are ridiculous and extravagant, if they do not resemble those of our own.

- Joseph Addison (1672-1719), English essayist, poet, playwright, and politician, 1711

 You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.

- Malala Yousafzai (1997-present), Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Prize laureate, October 10, 2013

 If we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.

- Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677), Dutch philosopher, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670

 Tolerance implies a respect for another person, not because he is wrong or even because he is right, but because he is human.

- John Cogley (1916-1976), author of Religion in a Secular Age, 1968

 Religion must mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules, it ceases to be a religion, as it kills responsibility which is an essence of the true religious act.

- Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer

 Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of correct understanding.

- Mahatma Gandhi (1969-1948), leader of Indian independence movement

 WHAT is tolerance? it is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly--that is the first law of nature.

- Voltaire (1694-1778), French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, 1764

 Where in this wide world can a person find nobility without pride, friendship without envy or beauty without vanity? Here, where grace is laced with muscle and strength by gentleness confined. He serves without servility, he has fought without enmity. There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent; there is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.

- Ronald Duncan (1914-1982)

 It is thus tolerance that is the source of peace, and intolerance that is the source of disorder and squabbling.

- Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), French philosopher, 1686

 [Most] can seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as obliges them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty — conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives.

- Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian novelist, playwright, and philosopher

 Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, 1995

 God's dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.

- Desmond Tutu (1931-present), South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop, April 26, 2005

 Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa

 At every level of society, familial, tribal, national and international, the key to a happier and more peaceful and successful world is the growth of compassion.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present), The Compassionate Life, 2001

 I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.

- Rosa Parks (1913-2005), African-American civil rights activist

 I think... if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.

- Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian novelist, playwright, and philosopher, Anna Karenina, 1877

 And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.

- Malala Yousafzai (1997-present), Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Prize laureate, July 12, 2013

 Tolerance is the positive and cordial effort to understand another’s beliefs, practices, and habits without necessarily sharing or accepting them.

- Joshua Loth Liebman (1907-1948), American rabbi and best-selling author, Peace of Mind: Insights on Human Nature That Can Change Your Life, 1946

 I have no animosity towards anyone. Whoever displays human dignity, regardless of their religion or faith, I bow my head before them and hold them dear.

- Masoumi Tehrani, senior Iranian cleric

 If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, 1995

 No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.

- Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), American theoretical physicist

 The time must come when, great and pressing as change and betterment may be, they do not involve killing and hurting people.

- W.E.B Dubois (1868-1963), African American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Dark Princess, 1928

 More dangerous than bayonets and cannon are the weapons of the mind.

- Ludwig Van Mises (1881-1973), leader of the Austrian School of economic thought, Liberalism, 1927

 Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.

- Mahatma Gandhi (1969-1948), leader of Indian independence movement

 Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.

- Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), African-American abolitionist and U.S. minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891, Speech on the twenty-fourth anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C., April 1886

 Each person must live their life as a model for others.

- Rosa Parks (1913-2005), African-American civil rights activist

 From the saintly and single-minded idealist to the fanatic is often but a step.

- Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992), economist and philosopher, 1944

 I truly believe the only way we can create global peace is through not only educating our minds, but our hearts and our souls.

- Malala Yousafzai (1997-present), Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Prize laureate, September 3, 2013

 He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

- Thomas Paine (1737-1809), English-American political activist, philosopher, and revolutionary, Dissertation on First Principles of Government, July 1795

 We recall our terrible past so that we can deal with it, to forgive where forgiveness is necessary, without forgetting; to ensure that never again will such inhumanity tear us apart; and to move ourselves to eradicate a legacy that lurks dangerously as a threat to our democracy.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, February 25, 1999

 Being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.

- John Locke (1632-1704), English philosopher, Second Treatise of Government, 1689

 It is a worthy thing to fight for one's freedom; it is another sight finer to fight for another man's.

- Mark Twain (1835-1910), American author and humorist, June 17, 1898

 You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.

- William Wilberforce (1759-1833), English abolitionist, 1791

 The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.

- W.E.B Dubois (1868-1963), African American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, John Brown, 1909

 The golden rule of conduct... is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall always see Truth in fragment and from different angles of vision. Even amongst the most conscientious persons, there will be room enough for honest differences of opinion. The only possible rule of conduct in any civilised society is, therefore, mutual toleration.

- Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), leader of Indian independence movement, 1927

 For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa,Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, 1995

 Many of our problems are created by ourselves based on divisions due to ideology, religion, race, resources, economic status or other factors. The time has come to think on a deeper, more human level and appreciate and respect our sameness as human beings.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present), The Compassionate Life, 2001

 My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.

- Thomas Paine (1737-1809), English-American political activist, philosopher, and revolutionary, The Rights of Man, 1791

 If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated.

- Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, April 2, 2013

 Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.

- Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born theoretical physicist, 1940

 I am a lover of truth, a worshipper of freedom, a celebrant at the altar of language and purity and tolerance. That is my religion.... My belief in my religion is strong and I know that lies will always fail and indecency and intolerance will always perish.

- Stephen Fry (1957-present), English comedian, actor, writer, presenter, and activist, 1993

 How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, March 26, 1944

 While differing widely in the various little bits we know, in our infinite ignorance we are all equal.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, 1963

 Even God doesn't propose to judge a man till his last days, why should you and I?

- Dale Carnegie (1888-1955), American self-help author and lecturer

 Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), American Baptist minister and leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, Strength to Love, 1963

 Hate. It has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.

- Maya Angelou (1928-2014), American poet and author

 Injustice, poverty, slavery, ignorance — these may be cured by reform or revolution. But men do not live only by fighting evils. They live by positive goals, individual and collective, a vast variety of them, seldom predictable, at times incompatible.

- Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), Russo-British Jewish social and political theorist, philosopher and historian, Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century, Foreign Affairs, 1950

 How many paths are there to God? There are as many paths to God as there are souls on the Earth.

- Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic

 The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?

- Pablo Casals (1876-1973), Spanish cellist, 1974

 Human nature is not simple and any classification that roughly divides men into good and bad, superior and inferior, slave and free, is and must be ludicrously untrue and universally dangerous as a permanent exhaustive classification.

- W.E.B Dubois (1868-1963), African American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Evolution of the Race Problem, 1909

 The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference. Can I recognize God's image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith, ideal, are different from mine? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his.

- Jonathan Sacks (1948 - present), rabbi, philosopher and scholar of Judaism, The Dignity of Difference, 2002

 I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is vertical, so it's humiliating. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other and learns from the other. I have a lot to learn from other people.

- Eduardo Galeano (1940-present), Uruguyan journalist, writer, and novelist, 2004

 I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies another this right makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.

- Thomas Paine (1737-1809), English-American political activist, philosopher, and revolutionary, Age of Reason, 1794

 I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.

- Socrates (469 BC-399 BC), Greek philosopher

 I can imagine nothing more terrifying than an Eternity filled with men who were all the same. The only thing which has made life bearable…has been the diversity of creatures on the surface of the globe.

- T. H. White (1906-1964), English author

 I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

- Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), American Baptist minister and leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, "I Have a Dream", August 28, 1963

 Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged.

- Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic

 We need a little more compassion, and if we cannot have it then no politician or even a magician can save the planet.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present)

 I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people’s houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave.

- Mahatma Gandhi (1969-1948), leader of Indian independence movement, 1927

 The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.

- Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), African-American abolitionist and U.S. minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891, Speech on the twenty-fourth anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C., April 1885

 Compassion is not religious business, it is human business. It is not a luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability. It is essential for human survival.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935 - present), spiritual leader of Tibet

 Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.

- Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), German poet, journalist, essayist, and literary critic, Almansor, 1821

 I knew that to really minister to Rwanda's needs meant working toward reconciliation in the prisons, in the churches, and in the cities and villages throughout the country. It meant feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the young, but it also meant healing the wounded and forgiving the unforgivable.

- John Rucyahana (1945-present), former Rwandan Anglican bishop, The Bishop of Rwanda: Finding Forgiveness Amidst a Pile of Bones, 2007

 All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness … the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present)

 We all know we are unique individuals, but we tend to see others as representatives of groups.

- Deborah Tannen (1945-present), linguist and author, You Just Don't Understand, 1990

 Is discord going to show itself while we are still fighting, is the Jew once again worth less than another? Oh, it is sad, very sad, that once more, for the umpteenth time, the old truth is confirmed: "What one Christian does is his own responsibility, what one Jew does is thrown back at all Jews."

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, entry dated as May 22, 1944

 If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity.

- John F. Kennedy (1917-1961), 35th President of the United States, Commencement Address at American University, June 10, 1963

 First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

- Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor, January 6, 1946

 We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than only freedom can make security more secure.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 Tolerance and patience should not be read as signs of weakness. They are signs of strength.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present), spiritual leader of Tibet, September 21, 2012

 Freedom of judgment must necessarily be permitted and people must be governed in such a way that they can live in harmony, even though they openly hold different and contradictory opinions.

- Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677), Dutch philosopher, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670

 It is my inmost conviction, Badshah Khan said, that Islam is amal, yakeen, muhabat – selfless service, faith, and love.

- Badshah Khan (1890-1988), Pashtun independence activist

 To deny any person their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, June 27, 1990

 It is the enemy who can truly teach us to practice the virtues of compassion and tolerance.

- 14th Dalai Lama (1935-present), Ocean of Wisdom: Guidelines for Living, 1989

 I like the religion that teaches liberty, equality and fraternity.

- Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), Indian jurist, economist, politician and social reformer

 Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

- Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), American Baptist minister and leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, Loving Your Enemies, 1957

 To build a future you have to know the past.

- Otto Frank (1889-1980), Holocaust survivor who was a German-born businessman and father of Anne and Margot Frank, 1967

 Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.

- John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), 35th President of the United States, October 10, 1960

 I respect Muslims, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Bahá’ís, etc., even non-believers who believe in the principles of humanity. I love them dearly and kiss the hands of each and every one of them.

- Masoumi Tehrani, senior Iranian cleric

 There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself

- Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian novelist, playwright, and philosopher, 1900

 I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, I am Prepared to Die, Statement in the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court, April 20, 1964

 A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.

- Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born theoretical physicist, 1950

 I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.

- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Author of the Declaration of Independence and Third President of the United States,Letter to Archibald Stuart, Philadelphia, December 23, 1791

 No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black president of South Africa, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, 1995

 Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.

- Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), American lawyer, May 8, 1888

 All of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us.... this ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God.... And that, simply, is blasphemy.

- Pope Francis (1936-present), May 22, 2013

 There's in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, entry dated May 3, 1944

 I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, entry dated July 15, 1944

 No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.

- Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Author of the Declaration of Independence and Third President of the United States, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, 1786

 Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live in somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me unless there is peace and joy finally for you too.

- Frederick Buechner (1926-present), American writer and theologian

 Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, December 16, 1966

 I believe in God who made of one blood all races that dwell on earth. I believe that all men, black and brown and white, are brothers, varying through Time and Opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and in the possibility of infinite development.

- W.E.B Dubois (1868-1963), African American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil, 1920

 Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.

- William James (1842-1910), American philosopher and psychologist

 I was heartened that people everywhere want certain basic freedoms, even if they live in a totally different cultural environment.

- Aung San Suu Kyi (1945-present), Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma, 2012

 We call upon all communities to be tolerant, to reject prejudice based on caste, creed, sect, colour, religion or agenda to ensure freedom and equality for women so they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.

- Malala Yousafzai (1997-present), Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, July 12, 2013

 We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.

- Karl Popper (1902-1994), Austrian-British philosopher, The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945

 We all live with the objective of being happy, our lives are all different and yet the same.

- Anne Frank (1929-1945), author of The Diary of a Young Girl, 1942-1944, entry dated July, 6, 1944

 A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.

- Desmund Tutu (1931-present), South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop, September 7, 1986


About Tavaana

Tavaana: E-Learning Institute for Iranian Civil Society is Iran’s pioneer e-learning institute. Tavaana – meaning ‘empowered’ and ‘capable’ in Persian – was launched on May 17, 2010 with a mission to support active citizenship and civic leadership in Iran through a multi-platform civic education and civil society capacity building program. Tavaana holds a vision for a free and open Iranian society, one in which each and every Iranian enjoys equality, justice and the full spectrum of civil and political liberties.

About The Tolerance Project

The Tolerance Project aims to inspire conscience, pluralism, religious freedom, and celebration of difference. Using an array of educational materials in Arabic, Persian, and English, The Tolerance Project emphasizes the capacity of each and every individual to counter hate, and imparts the benefits of living in tolerant, open societies. The Tolerance Project educates to prevent persecution and genocide, cultivating the basis for vibrant and stable societies in the broader Middle East.