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The Killid Group
Unhealed Wounds, Unwiped TearsWritten by
Thursday, 20 May 2010 11:38
By Killid reporters
With the government sponsored peace consultative jirga which hopes to pave the way for reconciliation scheduled for next week (May 29-31), a visit to the site of a war crime of the past serves as a reminder of the difficulties the process presents.
While political accommodation may be possible amongst decision-makers, the victims of violence find it difficult to forget and forgive the brutality that tore apart their lives, with no form of recognition or restitution that would enable healing.
The villages of Gharo-Qeshlaq, Tal-e-Gozar and Yatim and their neighborhoods in the Chahar Dara district of Kunduz province still retain the scars of the violence of 26 years ago, when the villages were attacked, houses burnt down and residents killed in a joint invasion of Soviet and Afghan troops. The incident, in the year 1984, at a time when the Soviet-supported regime of Babrak Karmal was in power, traumatized the entire population in the area and most residents still carry that trauma, a Killid investigation into the incident revealed.
Reaching the Chahar Dara district centre, it is not easy to find the Gharo-Qeshlaq village. The reason is not that it has been forgotten, but that it acquired a new name after the attack on it, becoming commonly known as the Qatl-e-Aam (mass massacre) village. Only a few of the older residents now remember its older name.
Raz Mohammad is a teacher in Chahar Dara. Now aged 65 years, he was a resident of Gharo-Qeshlaq when the attack took place and was an eyewitness to it. "I was at home. Suddenly my cousin rushed in and said: 'whole parts of Gharo-Qeshlaq villages are burning after being set on fire by Soviet soldiers, and in other houses they are pulling out people from their houses' ".
More than a quarter of a century later, Raz Mohammad cannot hold back his tears when he recollects the day. He and his family fled, and in the confusion his daughter was left behind. He returned when the Soviet troops had left the village, searching for some sign of his daughter but found his wife dead with their child clutched to her heart; miraculously, his infant grand-daughter had survived in her cradle and he was able to trace her through her cries.
Another infant of that time Shamsuddin, is today a 26-year old youth who was buried in the debris from the destroyed houses. Though he of course has no memories of the day himself, he has grown up hearing the stories of that terrible attack. "A number of elders told me that at that time, I was only three months old. The Soviet and Afghan soldiers raided the village and killed all members of my family. I was trapped when the house collapsed, but rescued when people returned to unearth the dead bodies from the rubble, taking them for burial to the Imam Sahib District in the same province. Our home is still in Qatl-e-Am village and all members of my own family are buried in the yard of the house. I do not have any family in the village."
Sayed Rahim is another one survivor who was pulled from the debris. Currently a shop keeper in Chahar-Dara, he has strong memories of the day. "At that time, I was very young and my family told me not to go far from home because of the fighting. We were all gathered together in a room. Suddenly it was hit by artillery, and it collapsed on top of us. We were buried under until people came and dug us out. Then we fled from the area."
Sayed Rahman is 70 years old now. On that day he had gone to Gul-Bagh, a neighbouring area and found the village under attack when he returned. "I was standing on a hill and saw the disaster. I saw the houses on fire. When the Soviet soldiers left, I rushed to the village and saw many villagers had been killed." Local residents recall that the attack lasted two hours and the troops left only after all the villagers had been killed or had escaped.
250 were killed
The massacre in these villages was so traumatic that some of the residents still suffer from mental problems related to stress and trauma. Jumeuddin is one of them . 50 years old now, he remembers the day clearly. "Russian soldiers came and killed everyone. They were not alone. A number of Afghan soldiers were with them. The Russians could not have reached the area without their help. My two sisters, my two aunts, a cousin and my three children were killed that day. My house was set on fire and the entire storage of 14,000 kilograms of cereals was burnt."
The locals allege that it was the then Governor of Kunduz province, Gul Rehman, a resident of Imam Sahib, who was responsible for the attack. "After the massacre locals put dead bodies into carts and then wanted to carry them to the provincial centre. But Habiburahman, the police chief, opposed it", says Raz Mohammad. Habiburrahman, recalls Mohammad, said, "we did not kill them".
While eyewitnesses and local residents give differing figures for the casualties, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has been documenting the attack. "We have received evidences and documents which show the Afghan and Russian troops attacked there jointly and approximately 250 people died" says Zaidullah Paiwand, Head of the commission in the province. The documentation is important. Most of the eye-witnesses to the attack are now dead and of the few survivors, most may be too young to remember the bloody day. Unless recorded, the incident may be lost to the collective memory of the area, hindering the process of recognition and acknowledgement that is so integral to any process of justice and peace.