As a child he survived a poison gas attack, now MP Rahimi celebrates every day he lives in freedom

Hawre Rahimi was playing football with friends as Saddam Hussein’s warplane flew over Sardasht. His Iranian-Kurdish hometown. The Member of Parliament, now 43, was just 8 years old.

That particular June in 1987, Saddam’s planes triggered a toxic burst of chemical weapons. A deadly cocktail of mustard and nerve gas came down.

stench of garlic

Escape from falling bombs was part of Hawre’s life. But this attack was different, he says. “The bombs sounded dull and there was a sharp smell of garlic. My father worked as an anesthetist at the hospital and knew: it’s a chemical attack.”

The family fled up into the mountains. Windows closed so the gases did not enter. “During the ride, I saw people lying dead on the ground. I saw people breathing and breathing. Children were lying on their backs, gasping for breath.”

Not a word was said during the trip, he remembers. “There were no words for what we saw either.”

And even during this interview, there is sometimes a silence with the usually talkative and energetic politician. Telling his childhood story still hurts. The wound may be old, but never completely healed.

Share history

Nevertheless, the Member of Parliament will tell his story of what it means to grow up without freedom. Especially now, because the fear of a chemical attack has again become topical due to the war in Ukraine. “We need to keep sharing the stories so we realize again what war can do. If you no longer talk to each other but face each other in a war, there is no going back.”

Not a day without war

Hawre (which means “friend”) is a child of war. He was born in Kurdish Iran during the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988). His hometown was at war with Saddam Hussein’s regime for years.

Refugees in flight, races for life, playing football between goalposts made of parts of mortar shells: daily diet. “Of course we had fun too. We went to school, but every day at the risk of our own lives,” he says, pointing to a childhood photo. “I wanted to be a doctor. Like my father. He helped the wounded every day for years.”

Until he was eight years old, he did not know a day of peace. “And even if you do not know better, war is never used.”

“Look,” he picks up another picture from the small pile of childhood pictures left, “this is my uncle. He was living next door to my aunt. They were on a bus when a bomb hit them. “

He remembers it well. “Because my family had to wash their remains before the funeral in our bath. A ritual because of the faith. One never forgets that image.”

Little brother revived

Other memories arise. About his little brother e.g. “He wanted a ball out of the gutter, but lost his balance because at that moment a rocket flew over. He fell down and stayed there. I thought he was dead.”

An uncle managed to revive him and he came back to life. “Besides that poison gas attack, this is my most intense memory from that time.”

At the age of twelve, the family fled to Holland. An uncle had already gone ahead. The family ended up in Amstelveen. Just opposite V&D. “We made it to 1500 guilders a month.”

Teacher and master as heroes

Hawre thought Amstelveen was amazing. “I was finally free. A wonderful feeling.” His Dutch was bad. “But I wanted to, and I did my best in school. I wanted to give something back to the country. My parents insisted on that.”

He calls teacher Ina and master Rob from the Henri Dunant School ‘heroes of his youth’. “My Cito score was not good, but they saw it in me and gave me success. I went to a preschool.”

The family moved to Zaandam. Harwre’s mother went to work in childcare, where she also learned the language. “My father went to work as an anesthetist at the hospital. But not for long because of his poor health.”

Hawre developed a love of ICT and chose to study computer science. During his studies, he already built his own company: Cynax. An IT company that specializes in software inventory management.

Successful entrepreneur

Successful. His business grew, in part with the help of his brother and sister-in-law. “We were at big trade shows abroad to break through there as well.”

Hawre developed a love of entrepreneurship and especially for small and medium-sized businesses. “My father always said to us: do something in return for Holland. We must be grateful to the country for what we have received. Namely, the greatest good that exists: freedom.”

At home, little was said about the war. “My father said: now our gaze is moving forward.” But one thing lasted: who was partly responsible for the massacre in their hometown of Sardasht?

In the late 1990s, a U.S. law firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of survivors and relatives of European companies that supplied Iraq with chemicals, knowledge, and factories in the 1980s.

Case-Van Anraat

This showed that Arnhem entrepreneur Frans van Anraat was a supplier of these chemicals at the time. “His cooperation was therefore crucial in causing the carnage in my hometown.”

Hawre’s father became one of the witnesses in the case against Van Anraat. “We came face to face with the terrible villain. It was a great recognition that Van Anraat was sentenced to 15 years in prison. It was all terribly drastic for my father. He had a stroke shortly after.”

mutilated babies

More than 600 people and children were killed in the forgotten poison gas attack on Sardasht. Forgot, for the attack received almost no media attention. “Eight months later, the chemical attack in Halabja followed. It may have been prevented.”

The consequences are visible to this day. The number of mutilated babies being born is still remarkably high.

To do something in return

His father’s motto, “Never raise your hand, give back,” has become Hawre’s life motto. For example, he founded the Hawre Foundation when millions of people fled IS in 2014. With the aim of collecting things for refugees in his home area.

And that life motto may also have brought Hawre into politics. “My father always said you should not do that. But when Iesp. In Weesp was asked to join the city council for VVD, I did it. Precisely because one can make a difference in politics.”

He was subsequently placed on the VVD’s national list and ended up in the House of Representatives this year.

The rules have gone too far

He will primarily be there for entrepreneurs in small and medium-sized businesses. “They are the beating heart of our society,” he says. “But their freedom is all too often ruined by unnecessary regulations. We have gone too far in that. I will commit to that.”

Celebrating days in freedom

He notes every day that he is a Member of Parliament. The counter is now at 132. He does so for a reason. “You only miss your freedom if it is taken from you. If you suddenly no longer have the right to vote or can no longer meet. And gone is gone. It often takes hundreds of years of struggle to win it back. That’s why we should celebrate. every day in freedom and reflect on it every day. ”

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