Dear Comrade,

Surprising as it may be, an Iraqi citizen addresses you through the Western press. I have no guarantees that, if my letter reaches your media, its contents would be passed to the Soviet people.

My message is quite plain: A people in the Middle East is being exterminated. The Soviet public is unaware of what is going on because your press is totally silent on the tragedy and your party and government have not even issued a declaration on the issue. In brief — utter silence in the era of glasnost.

It is more than three years since you have adopted the new promising policy which aroused, among many things, lively discussions on the relation between socialism and democracy. Through these discussions and through your speeches and declarations, the crimes committed against the Soviet people under Stalin were denounced at large.

This new atmosphere has triggered a wave of great expectations among Third World citizens striving for democracy and justice. For many dictators have committed crimes against their peoples under the elastic banner of “serving the cause of the people,” and have sought credibility through drawing false analogies with Soviet history and its political system. Hence your denunciation implies a pledge that no such crime should pass undeplored, and no such criminals should escape punishment, no matter when and where the crime is committed and no matter what the pretexts are.

Glasnost signaled an alarm that it is high time to dissociate the link, established by the Stalinist propaganda machine, between the anti-imperialist and progressive stance of a given regime and its authoritarian and repressive rule. Such an identification had disastrous effects on socialist movements and ideals all over the world. Whatever their motivations, it is the capitalist states which have been raising their voices in defense of human rights.

The recent tragic events in Iraq are a reminder that, unfortunately, this is still the case three years after you adopted your revolutionary policies.

Not very far from your southern borders, around 100,000 Iraqi Kurds are heaped in temporary camps on Turkish territory after fleeing a new terror campaign waged by the Iraqi regime, in which that regime used chemical weapons. Less than a decade ago, almost a quarter of a million Iraqis were forcefully deported under the pretext of being of non-Iraqi origin. A year before that, thousands of leftists had been forced to emigrate. To this hemorrhage must be added the tens of thousands who have lost their lives in the war with Iran waged by the Iraqi regime.


For a long time your press and scholars have denounced the campaigns for democracy as “imperialist maneuvers.” In the case of the Kurdish people, even the socialist parties of the West were accused of “trying to exploit the Kurdish question for their own aims.” But it is not by silence, and certainly not by aiding their killers, that you prove to the Kurdish people and the Iraqis in general that you are the true defenders of their cause. It is by taking a brave and outspoken position on their side.

If you consider that abstention is in accordance with the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, then let me remind you that you do condemn the crimes committed in South Africa, the repression in Turkey, racial discrimination in the US, and so on. If you really lack the evidence on Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, then may I point out to you that the means of implementing the crime are not the crucial factor here. Some terrifying act must have been committed to force such a mass exodus of the Kurds.

I am not imposing a position on the Soviet authorities. Take your time in contemplating the issue. But under glasnost, is it not puzzling, even disappointing, that no article has yet appeared in the Soviet press on the subject? Must there be an official position before journalists can express what they feel? Can we believe that this horrible news has not aroused their interest? Or is glasnost applicable only to domestic affairs?


As the architect of perestroika, you know better than anyone else that glasnost’s merit does not lie in condemning crimes half a century later, nor in employing double standards on the issue of democracy. I hope the Iraqi people must not wait another 50 years before you condemn Saddam Hussain for genocide. It is the survival of my people that is at stake, as well as the credibility of glasnost.

Yours faithfully,
[Name withheld]

How to cite this article:

"An Open Letter to Comrade Mikhail Gorbachev," Middle East Report 156 (January/February 1989).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


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