Albert Arkhim Gewargis, M.D.
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
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
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
. 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
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.
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.
Albert Arkhim Gewargis was raised in
as an Assyrian Christian. He completed his medical degree in
, where he lived on a year-by-year visa until the heinous bombing of the Israeli
Olympic team in
, 1972. Forced to leave
for no other reason than he was a citizen of
, 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
war looming between the Kurds and the Ba’ath Party of fascist
, this brave and dedicated man of medicine gave up everything to help a people
who had touched his heart.
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.
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.
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.
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
Arkhim Gewargis completed High School in
, passing the Baccalaureate State Examination before moving to
, where he completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in chemistry.
In 1963 he took up residence in
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
. A year later he received his full medical license and worked as a surgical and
ward doctor in Kreiskrankenhaus Pfarrkirchen, before leaving
late in 1972 to return to
against Herculean hurdles in the Kurdish liberated north of the country, Albert
until the forced surrender of the revolutionists to the Ba’ath Party left him
with no choice but to flee into
. When Amnesty International declared Albert would be killed if he returned to
, the German Embassy in Teheran recognized the injustice that had been
perpetrated on this remarkable man in his expulsion from
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.
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
. The following year he was licensed to practice as a doctor in his own surgery
and registered a facility in
, 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
coming of the new millennia, Albert established the ‘Doctor Gewargis
Foundation’ for special achievement by young students in the city of
- 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.
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).
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
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
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
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.
, a small but very important part of
, there is a highway between two Kurdish cities.
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
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
. 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
; 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
Around 1380 BC, the Assyrians virtually came to control
, 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
and took an estimated 15,000 captives, sending most of the rest of the
population into exile in
. Ironically, perhaps, it was this blood-thirsty monarch who is credited with
creating the fabled
, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Nonetheless, in the year 612 BC
the capital city of
, 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.
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
, and I consider myself kin to the Kurds, I am an Assyrian Christian.
Despite the horrific human rights abuses conducted against
’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
’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
It began in
I’d left my home in
to study medicine in the
, where I received my license to practice medicine. I was working at a hospital
when the summer Olympics came to
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
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
. Young qualified doctors were in great demand in
. 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
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
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
. 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
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
“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
“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
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
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
‘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
. 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
hostage situation just being an Iraqi citizen was enough of a crime to warrant
punishment and deportation.
I had left my parents’ home in
in the early 1960s to study abroad. Although I could have made a home in many
countries when I was expelled from
, including the
and other European countries, I decided it was time to return to my home in the
. 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
. 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
a few days later from
, 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
. 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
. 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
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.
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
did not appeal to me in the least!
I should explain when I was expelled from
I did not have German citizenship; rather I had been living in
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
that year, so in opting to return to
my best hope was that my name might get lost somewhere in the crowd. I
considered going to
for a time, but I had family in
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
Deep in my heart the north of
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
, to a place where my destiny awaited…