by Max Sawdayee


Thursday March 12, 1970

While Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish warriors lie quietly on the spring meadows of the green mountainous north, far from each other, their thoughts discharged from a futile and seemingly endless war, and while their arms are laid aside silent and dead, I also lie on my uncomfortable sofa at home, in a totally different mood, and for a totally different reason.  Tense, absent-minded, I’m staring up on the multitude of black and white specks confusingly but nicely multi-colouring the ceiling.  Without wishing it, a stream of thoughts rushes in my mind, back and forth.  What made me so excited yesterday when I heard that a peace treaty had been signed between the Iraqi government and the Kurds?  Why do I consider such a treaty a blessing?  Why do I think it is a godsend?  A strange feeling is overwhelming me!  What is it?  I keep staring at the Oh no!  Not that, heavens!  Do I intend to flee the country illegally through the north, to Iran? How can I dare to think so?  How can I, when I am forbidden to move more than fifteen to twenty kilometres outside Baghdad, when the road to the north is thoroughly studded with police check posts and strewn with army patrols, when even Muslims and Christians are carefully searched and interrogated on their travel to the north, when Iraqi army units are rigidly controlling all the roads and lands leading to the Kurdish region, and when for paltry reasons men are tortured, killed or hanged?  Above all, what about my wife and children?  Shall they stay here so that the government should settle my account with them?  Or shall I take them with me, forcing upon them an adventure that may wind up in death?  And what if I get caught?  But, by heavens, these merciless butchers will find nothing more interesting and amusing than to drag me alone, or with my family in case they join me, heavily chained, and hasten to forward me to the most exuberant and extraordinary trial by Woutwout and company, and sentence me to the most fascinating method of hanging, with all the publicity needed for such a festive occasion!  And why of all people should I be the first to launch such a wild project?  Does it really matter if I just drop this sickly idea, keep quiet in my house like everybody else, and wait until something new will happen?  Is it worthwhile embarking upon this enormous risk, with all that is liable to follow? 

I light a cigarette and keep staring on the tiny black and white specks on the ceiling.  It‘s strange!  I have the impression that I don’t see them any more.  All of sudden, they all disappear.  Nothing is left of them any more.  Only a brown shadow growing darker and darker, until it turns completely dark.

I sink into utter darkness.  A blackout!

I come to.  A fresh stream of thoughts, as though entering my brain from an opposite direction, awakens me.  Why not?  Why not, after all?  Why not accept the challenge in one of the most crucial moments of my life?  Why not try with all my power to smash to pieces the steel chains that isolate me from freedom and life?  Why no grasp the opportunity that a momentary peace is reigning in the north, and escape with my family to Kurdistan and thence to Iran?  What do I have to lose, after all?  My life?  Or my family’s – Oh yes!  But is it worth anything here any longer?  Does it have any meaning now?  Is it worth a straw under the ‘mercy of those despots?  And even if it were, how long could I keep at large?  How long would I be able to share this life with my family, when those fiendish tyrants are systematically killing us one after the other?  And if I am arrested one day, and murdered, what chances will my family and two daughters have to carry on in Iraq?  Why, they will become demoralised, they will be destroyed like all other widows and orphans, waiting in wild loneliness for a miracle to happen and save them from this jungle!  And why should I care about being the first to attempt such an escape?  Yet somebody must sooner or later, take the risk, be a pioneer, and open the way for others.  Otherwise we are all doomed.  Isn’t it now or never to escape to freedom and life, whatever the cost?  Isn’t it now or never to defy the machinations of our government, the Party, the army, and also the fanatical anti-Jewish mobs, who are all bent on destroying and exterminating us?  What is wrong with such a venture?  It’s noble enough.  I love my country, but my country rejects me.  Then why stay here? 

Now!  Or Never!

On the ceiling, black and white specks again appear, even brighter and clearer than before, as the dark shadow vanishes little by little.

Wife comes with a cup of delicious Turkish coffee in hand.  An offer I cannot but accept with pleasure!

Wednesday March 18 1970

Fleeing the country is no more a dream or a hypothesis for me.  It becomes an obsession.  I just cannot think of anything else these days.  Cannot live without it.  Cannot detach myself from it.  The feeling of sadness, of melancholy, of sickness, which has haunted me for long months, is suddenly neutralised and nullified by the prospects of a new horizon.  Now it is a totally different feeling.  There is a glimpse of hope, against a lot of worries blended with a strong sense of responsibility.  Vast courage against hesitant calculations is fighting a deadly battle inside my brain.  I cannot help wondering who is going to beat the other in this terrible struggle – the desire for liberty or the diabolical forces of persecution!

I am worn out. Day and night I Day and night I see myself chained, strangled by a dilemma bigger than before.  Can I make it?  Can I really reach Iran however difficult it may be?  Can I indeed succeed in slipping off the criminal fingers of these tyrants?  Shall I again inhale the fresh air of freedom some day?  Will such a thing come true?  What is to be done?  How to start?  Whom to contact?  How to manoeuvre?  What caution to exercise in order not to reveal a word or a thing to anybody?  How to introduce my wife to the adventure?  What reaction will she have?  And so on.

The obsession already dominates me so much that I become quieter, more absent-minded, more pensive.  My wife, and everybody else who meets me, detect that a change has come upon me.  Mother wonders whether I am not actually ill, and whether I shouldn’t see another doctor.  Brother points out that I am too cheerful and cultured a man, and too responsible, to allow myself to sink in despair!  Wife, who the other day suggested that I find a small job (as though any could be found!), or whatever kind of work just to get busy, sees her proposition curtly turned down.  Even elder daughter Cordia wonders: ‘Mummy, why doesn’t Papi teach me yoga any more?  And why does he look so serious all the time?’

All this atmosphere adds to the complications of our home life. 

Friday March 1970

A horribly shameful story I heard last night from a decent Muslim friend whom I met near my house.

A distant cousin of his, a wealthy man turned forty, from a dignified family in Iraq, was arrested by Party agents six months ago and later handed over to the torturers at the Palace of the End.  Recently he was ordered, under extreme torture, to sign a document testifying that he is a Nationalist counter-revolutionary fomenting a coupe d’état against the present regime.  The man, stubborn and courageous, refused to do so by any means.  So the Party agents brought his wife, mother of their three children, to his prison cell, and threatened to strip her completely naked and rape her one after the other right in front of him.  The woman, madly shocked at seeing her husband under such torture and pain in that terribly miserable cell, started to scream so loudly that they beat her twice on the head to make her shut up.  Later on her husband took her aside, explained to her patiently and painfully what it was all about, asked her to take good care of the children, and kissed her a last farewell with tears dropping down his languid face.  Then he asked for the document to be brought in, which he signed in front of his almost hysterical wife.

Two days later the man was hanged.

Sunday March 22, 1970

Wife is confused this morning of the Jewish feast Purim, to hear me urging that our second daughter Belinda, suffering for some time from bad tonsils, be operated today!  Why?!  She refuses this unnecessary rush, demanding an immediate explanation to my strange haste.  No comment.

I take my daughter in the car and drive to the nearby St. Joseph Hospital looking for a surgeon.  Fortunately, a young surgeon I knew prior to the Six-Day War enters.  After a little chat he agrees to see my daughter first, and, if necessary, to operate on her at night.  He prescribes her some medicine, to conduct the operation later in the evening. 

While I am in hospital awaiting the termination of the operation, a Jewish friend of mine takes me to an adjacent ward where a relative of his, both legs broken in a car accident, lies moaning.  The man explains that a West German businessman, driving his car fast, knocked him accidentally in the street just after he left the synagogue after Purim prayers ended last night.  The West German, who paid him a visit in hospital this morning, stated that when at the police station last night he asked to indemnify the victim, the Chief Constable retorted:  ‘Why, for heavens’ sake?  You must be mad, you gentleman foreigner!  Do you seriously mean it?!  Do you really mean to run after that miserable Jew to hospital in order to indemnify him?!  In your place I would drop the matter altogether and seek rather more useful things to do!’  ‘Ahem!  Quite interesting’ I remark.  ‘You were lucky to get off alive!  Thank God they didn’t throw you in jail for failing to walk carefully in the street!’

The tonsils operation is all right.  I leave my wife in hospital with daughter and make home.  With the plans I have in mind, daughter should be in good shape the earliest possible.

Cautious and impatient to find a safe way to get to the north, I decide to talk the matter over with my friend Joe, who lives with his married brother Dave not far from where I do.  I tell myself:  ‘The man hasn’t seen his wife and son, who are in England, for six years already.  He feels lonely and sad all the time, no doubt.  Moreover he has enough guts to stand the shock of my thoughts, and probably to share them with me as well.’

Joe is overwhelmed.  He agrees to come with me to the north, just the two of us, to study the situation and look for a way out, and come back to take my family off with us.

Wife and daughter in hospital for the night, my other daughter asleep, I roam about in the house, ruminating over my thoughts.  I sum up:  ‘I will not think of anything now.  Let matters take their natural course.  I will consider every step as it comes, and act according to the requirements of the hour.’