11/23/2006versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

Kurdish women, victims of an archaic tradition, try to commit suicide by setting themselves on fire
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our correspondent
The hospital of the non-governmental body (NGO), Emergency, in Sulimanya started its activities in 1996.  In its rooms thousands of victims of the wars in this region have been assisted and cured.  This has happened almost without interruption from the war between Iraq and Iran, the repression of the Curds by Sadam’s regime to the clashes between rival factions of Curds and now to the current war devastating Iraq.

formazione di donne curde guerrigliereIn their hands. But the last few years have also been spent by the foreign doctors and nurses of Emergency in training the local staff.  In order to allow the hospital to become autonomous while at the same time maintaining the same high standard of interventions that has distinguished the Italian NGO in all of the areas in which it operates.  From the first of May 2005, the hospital was ceded to the regional Curdish government, fully becoming part of the patrimony of the community.
Emergency has reserved the right to monitor the functioning of the hospital and above all to ensure that it continues to be totally free to its patients.  This monitoring work is performed with competence and attention by Habar, the Curdish supervisor of the NGO.  We visited with him the hospital’s specialised Burns Unit.  Together with landmines which continue to reap casualties, Burns are the other grave emergency in this region.  Not just because the widespread use of cookers and primitive stoves fuelled by kerosene causes frequent domestic accidents but also because of a terrible aspect of something that could be defined grotesquely as a Curdish ‘tradition’: the many women who attempt to commit suicide by covering themselves with petrol or kerosene and setting light to themselves.

una donna curdaThe shame of desperation. The cause of these suicides”, explains a doctor, “stems from the backward conditions in which the population of these rural zones are constrained to live.  Conditions which penalise above all, the women.  Deprived of rights, totally dependent on the wills of their fathers or husbands.  The love for a boy not considered suitable by the father, mistreatment by a husband or finding themselves pregnant because of an extra-marital affair, in our country, abortion is considered a crime and it is impossible to have recourse to it, and often a woman doesn’t see any other alternative to these scenarios but that of setting fire to herself. I don’t think that this horrible method of attempting to kill yourself is even a sign of protest, it is simply a sign of great desperation which turns to great shame when the suicide isn’t successful.  None of the women who arrive here or their families admit to the attempted suicide.  They insist that the victims were all burnt in domestic accidents.  But we recognise from experience that they are suicide attempts: burns that cover 65% to 95 % of the body couldn’t possible come from heating milk.”

donna curda in abito tradizionaleBenar's future. Benar Sardar is lying on a bed and has her arms raised away from the green sheet that covers her; she watches her hands crumpled by the burns and stays quiet.  Only when a nurse uncovers her naked body, with burns extending to its immature breasts, to spread the medicated cream and cover her with gauze, does Benar complain, with short cries that seem like the sniffles of a crying child.  And Benar, at only 14, is little more than a child.  “She burnt herself heating water on the stove,” says her mother who stands near her.  Doctors and nurses pretend to believe her.  Much later, Benar tells us the story of a distant relative, “She tried to commit suicide by setting fire to herself.  Luckily, she’s ok now. She’s married and even has three children.”  Perhaps Benar has enclosed in this other story her own pain and also her hope.  
Keywords: kurdish, women, tradition, fire, suicide
Topic: War, People, Politics
Area: Iraq