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BROTHER DOCTOR



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Doctor Albert Gewargis, an Iraqi Assyrian Christian with multiple honors for his humanitarian efforts, endured gargantuan horrors in a Herculean effort to save lives in remote northern Iraq during the 1974 war against the Kurds by Saddam Hussein’s brutal forces, often walking for days until his feet were in bleeding shreds when he     received a call for help.  

Among many men now proud to call Doctor Gewargis a friend is none other than Jalal Talabani, the President of Iraq in the post Saddam era.  Brother Doctor will inspire you and shock you demonstrating, as it does, the inordinate compassion, courage and dedication of this man of medicine.  

Leading you through the fairytale beauty and primitive harshness of Kurdish existence, Brother Doctor’s physical and psychological   trials are interspersed with insightful historical perspective along with personal encounters both terrifying and edifying.  

This electrifying account of perseverance in the maelstrom of a world gone mad will bring you to tears while leaving you with the inescapable conclusion that freedom is an ideal with fighting, dreaming, and dying for. - Pamela Jaye Smith, author of INNER DRIVES, and award-winning Hollywood film-maker. www.mythworks.net 

In Store Price: $26.00 
Online Price:   $25.00

ISBN:1-9211-1894-6
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 251
Genre: Non Fiction

 

Author: Albert Arkhim Gewargis, M.D. 
Imprint: Poseidon
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published:  2006
Language: English

 

BROTHER DOCTOR

 

By Albert Arkhim Gewargis, M.D.

 

Co-written by Lynn Santer  

   

Poignant and heart-rending, inspirational and tragic.

   In 1970 a treaty was signed.

   

In 1974 the treaty was broken,

and the genocide began.    

Today it’s time the world learned the truth.


   

Dedicated to my father, Arkhim, and wife, Isolde  

 

I am humbled and grateful beyond words for all my father gave up for me. Despite regular beatings at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s brutal thugs my father’s spirit, his belief in and love for me, and his determination to live to see a free Iraq never died. I owe him a debt I can never repay. I owe him my very life. It is a great tragedy that he passed away while I was still in the mountains of Kurdistan . In human flesh I could never say thank you or good-bye. Instead I say this to him now, “Father, in this book your memory, and your sacrifice, will be immortalized so that future generations may know how great a man Arkhim Gewargis was.”  

My wife, Isolde, has been my living breathing inspiration and strength. When the night was blackest, and the visions of despair their brightest, Isolde stood by my side and held my hand encouraging me to tell my story. I love you with all my heart, mind, body and soul, Isolde, and I always will.

   

SYNOPSIS  

 

This is a real life story of courage and despair in proportions that eclipse anything you have ever before read – or even imagined. It’s a tale of tragedy and triumph against the most brutal circumstances any human being could begin to conceive. And it’s a journey of heroism and horror that rivals the most spectacular myths of legend, because every word of it is true.  

Doctor Albert Arkhim Gewargis was raised in Iraq as an Assyrian Christian. He completed his medical degree in Germany , where he lived on a year-by-year visa until the heinous bombing of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich , 1972. Forced to leave Germany for no other reason than he was a citizen of Iraq , Albert decided to return to his homeland, despite persecution, and despite the fact that he had the opportunity to live in several other countries of the world.   

With war looming between the Kurds and the Ba’ath Party of fascist Iraq , this brave and dedicated man of medicine gave up everything to help a people who had touched his heart.  

Don’t read this book because you sympathize with the plight of the Kurdish people. Don’t even read this book because you condemn the sadistic tyranny of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime. Read this book to be inspired by the endurance and determination of one man who was so dedicated to saving lives that he voluntarily faced squalor and starvation, physical and mental agony, and torment and frustration that would have sent a lesser man insane.   

The first building Albert was assigned to use as a hospital had previously been used as a stable. Two tons of dung had to be dug out, and DDT saturated throughout the complex to rid it of rats, poisonous snakes, scorpions, and malaria carrying mosquitoes, before he could begin to operate.  

Often he had no food to eat, and no bed to sleep in. He could have left at any time. Indeed Doctor Gewargis had no obligation to be there in the first place. Yet he remained, moved by the haunting sound of a child singing in angelic tones under sedation as his arm was being amputated, dazed by the ninety-year-old guerrilla who shouted encouragement to his men as Albert treated his gaping wounds without anaesthetic, and crushed when he arrived in a remote area of Iraqi Kurdistan to deal with a measles outbreak only to find seventy freshly dug little graves.  

He was bombed, he was shot at, and he walked for days to help others until his feet were in bleeding shreds. His story begins over a decade in advance of the grim fate that awaited the Kurdish people of Iraq … the holocaust known as ‘Bloody Friday’ where Saddam Hussein used his devastating weapons of mass destruction on a simple people who wanted nothing more than to defend their right to exist.

About Albert Arkhim Gewargis

 

Albert Arkhim Gewargis completed High School in Kirkuk , Iraq , passing the Baccalaureate State Examination before moving to Texas , USA , where he completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in chemistry.  In 1963 he took up residence in Germany where he completed medical school at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. In 1971 he interned in surgery and urology at Kreiskrankenhaus Burgebrach, in the West German town of Bavaria . A year later he received his full medical license and worked as a surgical and ward doctor in Kreiskrankenhaus Pfarrkirchen, before leaving Germany late in 1972 to return to Iraq . 

Working against Herculean hurdles in the Kurdish liberated north of the country, Albert remained in Iraq until the forced surrender of the revolutionists to the Ba’ath Party left him with no choice but to flee into Iran . When Amnesty International declared Albert would be killed if he returned to Iraq , the German Embassy in Teheran recognized the injustice that had been perpetrated on this remarkable man in his expulsion from Germany in 1972. By way of reparation the German government restored Albert’s rights as a German resident by granting him an entry visa and work permit.

Returning to Germany in 1975 Albert again worked as a surgical and ward doctor, this time in the Veronika Klinik in Stuttgart, Kreiskrankenhaus Kunzelsau, and Kreiskrankenhaus in Mutlangen. In 1980 he received his Degree of Doctor of Medicine (Dr. Med.) with a grade of ‘Magna cum laude’ and was recognized as a surgeon in Baden-Württemberg , West Germany . The following year he was licensed to practice as a doctor in his own surgery and registered a facility in Bavaria , where he continues to operate to this day. By 1986 this dedicated man of medicine was given permission to train young general practitioners in his private surgery, and in 1989 he was granted the recognition to bear the title ‘General Practitioner’ through the Medical Association of the State of Bavaria . 

With the coming of the new millennia, Albert established the ‘Doctor Gewargis Foundation’ for special achievement by young students in the city of Luhe - Wildenau. In the latest of a string of honors and qualifications, in 2005 Albert was nominated and elected as an Honorary Citizen of the City of Luhe-Wildenau, Bavaria, per acclamation by the City Council – an honor that has for the first time been bestowed upon a foreign national.

Albert is a Member and Fellow of The Main Association for German Surgeons, the Main Association for German General Practitioners, the Bavarian Organization for General Practitioners, the Bavarian Association of Registered Doctors, the German Society for Ultrasound (DEGUM), and the Association of German Doctors (Hartmannbund).  

PREFACE

 

           

This is the story of a people who truly live up to the meaning of their name, the Pesh Merga, ‘We who face death’.

            In an area of Iraq little known by most of the Western world, a brave and proud people faced annihilation at the hands of one of the most ruthless dictators the world has ever known. While you may think you know the story, the truth is more steeped in antediluvian history and more shocking than the worst annals of war crimes in the chronicles of humanity. While people in homes around the globe drank their morning coffee the systematic genocide of an ancient race was not only being planned with vile and malevolent audacity, it was actually being carried out. This atrocity, for the main part, managed to slip totally under the radar of international media. This is not the story of the gassings that you know about. This is the lead up to those events that took place years before most of the Western world even knew a place called Kurdistan existed.

            This tale will take you on an odyssey as witnessed through the eyes of the people themselves. You will learn, perhaps for the first time, what these noble villagers were truly fighting for. And you will journey through some of the most breathtakingly beautiful mountains and valleys on earth, those which provided the backdrop for this most unholy of wars. My personal experience intertwines with thousands of these people, including the Kurdish guerrillas known as ‘the Pesh Merga’. It is these people whose name means, ‘We who face death’.  

            This story is about a brutal crusade against a people who were doing nothing more than defending their right to exist. It is the story of suffering and oppression in a barbaric conflict, the outcome of which seemed pre-destined and devastating even before the battle had begun. But perhaps most importantly, it is a story that cannot reach a happy conclusion before the outside world understands who these people really are.

           

            In the province of Sulaymaniyah , a small but very important part of Kurdistan , there is a highway between two Kurdish cities. Iraq is full of such highways, highways where Iraqi military garrisons attacked without mercy, killing, maiming, and sending frightened children running into the freezing and unforgiving night. Before my odyssey into Iraq ended, the towns and small villages that once lay peacefully in this idyllic landscape were deserted or destroyed. In amongst this insanity there was a frontline hospital staffed by those who would not turn and run. And there was an outsider working alongside these gallant people – me.

            I began documenting this story over thirty years ago. It remained unfinished, unable to be told, for I was waiting for the struggle to be won, waiting until the cemeteries no longer resonated with the melancholy music of those in anguish for their beloved brethren who would never sing again. But now I know the tragic and complete story must be told. The information contained in the following pages is the tale of real people – the people who lived and died as actual players in this ghastly reality show. The events, the mountains, the valleys, the Pesh Merga, the hospital, and what we overcame and achieved is true even to the smallest detail.

           

            Thirty years ago I was waiting for the happy ending to put to this story. In truth I was also afraid to publish my journal because so many members of my family lived in Iraq . Even today, when Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, there is still great fear of his criminal gangs. But the merest of lights now shines in Iraq ; a light that brings the potential of a free future for all peoples in its land. In 1975, when the Ba’ath Party was at the peak of its power, this publication could not have been considered. It is not without risk today, but I can no longer remain silent. It is time to tell the truth.

            I should point out that I am not a Kurd myself. I am Assyrian. Often when I tell people I am Assyrian, they reply, “A Syrian?” No, I am not a Syrian, I am an Assyrian, and I probably need to put that in its historical perspective…

 

            Around 1380 BC, the Assyrians virtually came to control Babylonia , where they ruled for around two centuries. The Assyrian culture showed skill in science and mathematics from the beginning. Among the great mathematical inventions of the Assyrian people was definition of the circle into 360 degrees. They were also among the first to invent longitude and latitude.

            In the 6th century BC, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and took an estimated 15,000 captives, sending most of the rest of the population into exile in Babylonia . Ironically, perhaps, it was this blood-thirsty monarch who is credited with creating the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon , one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Nonetheless, in the year 612 BC the capital city of Assyria , Nineveh , fell in burning plunder. Various invaders conquered the land after Nebuchadnezzar’s death, including Alexander the Great in 331 BC. It wasn’t until the 7th century AD that Arab Muslims captured it, and offered the inhabitants an ultimatum: “Accept the faith or love death as you love life.” Most of the tribes were Christian at the time of this Islamic conquest.

            Assyrians as an ethnic group suffered their share of hardships throughout history, and certainly in more recent times at the hands of Saddam Hussein. Hussein and his former Ba’ath regime carried out ‘ethnic cleansing’ by coerced relocation of indigenous Assyrians from their ancestral homelands, the outright suppression of the Assyrian ethnic identity, and the imprisonment, torture, and even execution of numerous Assyrian rights activists. The Assyrians lived side-by-side with the Kurds and the Turcoman. I am proud to be Assyrian, but I consider the Kurds ‘my people’ too – I feel a kinship for them, indeed I love them.

            Kurdistan is comprised ethnically and religiously of Kurds (who are mainly Sunni Muslims), Assyrians (who are Christians), and Turcomans (who are also mainly Sunni Muslims). I shall explain more about the Kurdish history in Chapter Two. For now it is only important that you understand while I was raised in Iraq , and I consider myself kin to the Kurds, I am an Assyrian Christian.

            Despite the horrific human rights abuses conducted against Iraq ’s Kurdish minority by the Ba’ath regime, the fact remains that Kurds were officially recognized as an Iraqi ethnic group alongside the Arab majority. Sadly the same cannot be said of Iraq ’s other ethnic groups, including both the Assyrians and the Turcomans, whose ethnic identity was blatantly denied under Hussein’s reign. In fact in the censuses of 1977 and 1987, Assyrians and Turcomans were forced to register as either Kurd or Arab.

            So, now you have a brief historical perspective of Assyrians, I should perhaps explain how I came to care for the Kurdish people during the Ba’athist holocaust…
 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

It began in Munich :

 

I’d left my home in Iraq to study medicine in the USA and subsequently Germany , where I received my license to practice medicine. I was working at a hospital in Bavaria when the summer Olympics came to Munich in 1972. The Bavarian Alpine region town hospital was picked out as a shadowy outline against the drab sky. The early morning mists of a year that was moving towards autumn rose over a nearby lake, curtaining off the line of mountains behind them. Despite the early hour there was movement around the building. While the town was still largely dozing in continued sleep, the cars of busy hospital professionals drove away and others came to the car park to take their place.

            I entered the building with many others to undertake my daily tasks as I had done every day for months before, the tasks of assistant doctor in a German hospital fitting in precisely with my ethos. I’d had no problem obtaining my medical license to practice following a successful study of medicine in the USA and Germany . Young qualified doctors were in great demand in Bavaria . Doors opened wherever I went with my applications, until an entirely unexpected event cancelled out everything I’d developed to date.

            As I prepared for my round of the wards that morning, a shocking news report on the radio did not appear to be of immediate relevance to my fate. I heard a threateningly dark and distant announcer’s voice coming from the radio in the neighboring nurses’ room:

            “Good morning. Tuesday the 5th of September, 1972. This is a special news bulletin replacing our standard news programs. A major hostage drama has occurred at the Munich Olympic Village in the early hours of the morning. The Israeli Olympic Team has apparently been attacked in their accommodation by a Palestinian terror group. It has not been possible to establish how many hostages are in the hands of terrorists. Details of the event are not yet known.”

            The seriousness of the situation became ever clearer as the day wore on. Programs on the terror attack at the Olympic Village in Munich were broadcast on every radio station. From the first comments of German and Israeli politicians, it was possible to recognize a virtually complete and shame-faced helplessness of those responsible for law and order; they had apparently been taken completely by surprise. The names of the terrorists were mentioned unexpectedly, negotiations took place, and one deadline followed another. Persons offered themselves as alternative hostages. The focus of attention changed from the Olympic Village to the Airport Fürstenfeldbruck. The terrorist demands were apparently accepted. A Boeing 727 jet airliner was ready to depart on the runway, from where the terrorists wanted to fly with the hostages to Cairo . Helicopters brought them from the Olympic Village to the airport, but as they sought to board the aircraft it became obvious that the German government had no intention of allowing the terrorists to leave with their hostages.

            Snipers were in position with the order to shoot to kill. A two-hour gun battle was fought between these snipers and the Palestinians before one terrorist’s hand grenade exploded. The results of this deeply shocked those who were responsible as all eleven hostages, five terrorists, and one policeman were killed. The event changed forever the political landscape of Europe and the world.

            The following day I was busy assisting in an operation as a secretary entered the operating theater in contravention of the clear rules. My concentration was so deeply on my work that I only noticed this as the chief surgeon demanded angrily, “What is this? Why are you disturbing us?”

            “Please excuse me,” the embarrassed young lady replied. “The people from the criminal investigation department are outside. They want to interview the assistant doctor.”

            “What? This can’t be serious. We are in the middle of an operation.”

            “I have already told them, but they insist.”

            “This is the absolute end,” the chief surgeon boomed, with a razor-sharp and searching glance in my direction.

            “I don’t have the least idea what’s going on,” I mumbled, a little dazed.

            “Ah, you don’t understand. But the police do. They must have an absolutely urgent reason for an action like this.”

            “But I don’t understand,” I insisted. “What should I do?”

            “Listen to what they have to say. The criminal investigation department wants to speak to you, and what they have to say is clearly so important that they have no qualms about interrupting an operation.”

            “What does that mean? Should I go?” I asked feebly.

            “Go!” the chief surgeon snapped angrily.

            What I heard from the two plain-clothed policemen completely dumbfounded and confounded me: “You are to be ordered out of the country. You have precisely one week to arrange your departure for yourself otherwise you will be deported.”

            I could not believe what I was hearing.

            “Why?” I blurted. “What have I done?”

            “It is not our job to give you further information about these matters. All that we can tell you is contained in this document.”

            With those words one of the officers passed me a letter from the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior describing me as a risk to the inner security of the Federal Republic of Germany, confirming that I would have to leave Germany within a week. The officers left me with these parting words: “If you do not comply with this request then we shall be obliged to take deporting you into our own hands.”

            ‘Request’ seemed a strange word to use for what was apparently a demand, although I still had difficulty processing the fact that this demand was in any way final.

            “This is an error. There must be some mistake,” I insisted.

            But it was no mistake. A few hours later I had been sacked from my job without a word of thanks for the work I had put in. Neither my superiors nor my colleagues showed the least interest or sympathy for my situation, probably seeing me as a sympathizer with the terrorists, merely because I was originally from Iraq . I sought help with the local political representative, but there too it was as though I stood before a blank wall. All I could achieve was a minor extension to the ejection process; a deadline now of a generous two weeks. Deeply angered, I realized that in the tense political climate prevailing since the Munich hostage situation just being an Iraqi citizen was enough of a crime to warrant punishment and deportation.

            I had left my parents’ home in Iraq in the early 1960s to study abroad. Although I could have made a home in many countries when I was expelled from Germany , including the USA and other European countries, I decided it was time to return to my home in the Middle East . I would by no means be safe and free once I arrived there, on the contrary. Not only was I not a member of the ruling Ba’ath Party, and nor would I become one, but even worse I had made my opposition to Saddam Hussein and the brutal regime that ruled in Iraq very well known as part of the Iraqi student movement in Europe. These facts would put me firmly on the radar of Saddam Hussein’s henchmen. Despite all this I wanted to return to Iraq . It was not an easy choice, but my decision was firm. I wound up my affairs, asked for my papers from the authorities, terminated my rental contract and left Germany a few days later from Frankfurt , before the deadline had even expired.

            My brother awaited me – a deeply concerned man.

            The fact that I was an experienced doctor counted for nothing in Iraq . I had to retake the State examinations, in themselves not easily granted to those who were not members of the Ba’ath Party. I kept a low profile for an entire year, hidden away at my parents’ house in Baghdad . The route to a job in a hospital only opened to me after successfully completing my examinations a second time, and since I was not a member of the Ba’ath Party I had to appear before a government medical commission to decide which hospital I would be allowed to work in. I was presented with a list of country hospitals that were considered suitable for non Ba’ath Party members. None of the important hospitals in Baghdad or the south were on the list, but fortunately for me Sulaymaniyah hospital was. The members of the commission could not have expected what a blessing this was to prove for me, as I had already privately made the decision to disappear among the mountains in the north, to join an opposition group.

            Baghdad was once a wonderful city, dignified by a millennia-old civilization, the capital of the Biblical land of two rivers, filled with oriental treasures. It was the ‘Cradle of Mankind’, well it was once. What had happened to this great city? It had become a place of terror and oppression, a city full of sad people, a single giant and brutal prison. Working in Baghdad did not appeal to me in the least!

            I should explain when I was expelled from Germany I did not have German citizenship; rather I had been living in Germany under a work visa that I had to renew annually. When the Israeli Olympic team fell victim to that heinous act of terrorism, the German government reacted both swiftly and emotionally to the fact that Jews had been killed on their soil. Many who didn’t hold German citizenship, and were from a remotely ‘suspect’ background, were immediately expelled from the country – it was nothing personal to me. Somewhere between five and six thousand people were thrown out of Germany that year, so in opting to return to Iraq my best hope was that my name might get lost somewhere in the crowd. I considered going to Beirut for a time, but I had family in Iraq whom I missed very much, and as a headstrong youth I decided the desire to see my family was more powerful than the risk of being killed by Saddam if I returned.

            Deep in my heart the north of Iraq was truly the only place I wanted to be. It was the best place I could put my skills and talents to good use, back with the people I called my kin – the Kurds. I plunged myself headlong into the thousands of years-old struggle of the Kurdish people as they continued their fight for freedom. In ancient Kurdish legend the tale is told of an evil tyrant who prayed at the shrine of two serpents, that he fed with the brains of his Kurdish subjects, until one of those subjects rose up and called all the people of his village to join him. Together they stormed the palace of the evil tyrant and crushed the tyrant’s head under a massive hammer, bringing the reign of terror to an end. From that point on the Kurds celebrated the first day of spring as ‘Newroz’, meaning ‘new day’. The eternal attempt to conjure the ‘Newroz’ began for me in June, 1973. I literally ‘headed for the hills’, the mountains of Kurdistan , to a place where my destiny awaited…

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