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
In 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.
The 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.”
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.