08 January, 2019

smoking an empty pipe

I had completed my PhD in the field or physiology at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Liverpool University  in October 1974 but I did not attend the graduation ceremony on March 21st 1975 to receive my graduation certificate as I could not pay for the hire of the robes that I would have to wear. I was as poor as the proverbial church mouse. I continued to carry out further research that was a natural progression from the subject area of my PhD and oversaw the undergraduates' practicals as a means of earning some money. At the same time my supervisor, Mr. Alan Singleton, and I applied for a three year research grant for postdoctoral research from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC). However financial changes resulting from the change in the price of oil had a marked effect on financial matters and the ARC and other funding bodies were forced to reduce the grants they could award and our application was refused.

I now found myself in the predicament of no further financial support, limited finances remaining, my family were refugees in Iran and my brother was in Damascus with Jalal Talabani creating  the Patrotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK in May 1975. In addition Dianne had completed her research and had gone to work for Pfizer Ltd. in Sandwich,Kent. In addition I was constantly receiving letters from the Home Office asking when I was leaving the UK while a local police officer came to the field station on a regular basis to check what I was doing. My finances were so bad that I could not buy the two to three packets of Rothman cigarettes I smoked every day. Instead I invested in a cheap pipe and an ounce of pipe tobacco that I carried every day. The pipe was usually in my mouth through the day but not lit and it was more of a comfort to me.They say that every cloud as a silver lining and in June the Dean of the Faculty, Prof. Fitzpatrick, called me to his office. He had recently returned from the World Veterinary Conference which had been held in Greece that year. At the conference Prof Fitzpatrick had met Dr. Abubakir Saghar, the newly appointed Dean of the new Faculty of Veterinary Science, Tripoli University, Libya. Dr Sagher was an agriculturist who had studied animal nutrition at the Royal College of Veterinary Medicine, London and his wife had been secretary to the Dean of the Royal College. He wanted to model the new faculty in Libya on the standards of the Royal College and wanted a veterinarian to hep him do so. Prof Fitzpatrick put forward my name to him as someone to help him establish his new faculty. In July I travelled to London to meet Dr Sagher at his hotel  and, as he watched the tennis at Wimbledon, we discussed my recruitment  to the faculty which at the time was housed in a small, italian villa in a large, confiscated orchard. He was the only staff member plus a small admin office and a few labourers. A few weeks later I received a telex message to take to the Libyan Embassy in London to obtain a visa. I was given a visa in my expired Iraqi passport. I was then in a dilemma as to whether to go straight to Libya or, go to Syria to see my brother and perhaps stay with the newly established Kurdish movement.

With some difficulty I managed to purchase a ticket to Damascus and arrived there on October 12th 1975.  I joined my brother and our relative Razak Faili in the small flat in the Muhajareen district of Damascus that they shared with a third person, whom I shall refer to as Mr X.  Adel and Razak Faili were two of the five founding members of the PUK and their flat contained left wing and photographic memorabilia e.g. posters of Che Guevara and Lenin. The next morning I accompanied them to the venue where they were holding the daily meetings of the PUK, its members numbering some three dozen or so. I was warmly welcomed by Jalal himself, and my arrival added to the number of PhD graduates in the PUK. The PUK now had a veterinarian and an historian in their gathering in Damascus!     

The topic of discussion was the collapse of the Kurdish revolution earlier in March 1975 when, at a meeting in Algeria, Saddam and the Shah embraced and kissed and the Kurds were the first victims yet again. They discussed how they would be more careful in the future, there would not be any nepotism, involvement of family in politics and there would be no corruption. They had many other pipe dreams that were also discussed. They would talk about their pipe dreams as I sat, and very often slept, with my empty pipe in my mouth as I did not have the money for tobacco. After the meeting we usually went to the Rodah Coffee Shop. After several days in Damascus I felt that I was becoming a burden to them. I had no money and they were poor too. I spoke to Jalal Talabani about my situation and told him of the post in Libya and he was pleased to hear that I had work there. He told me that he was going to Libya himself very soon and that I could travel with him. He told me that I would be of more use to the PUK in Libya than sitting in Damascus sucking my empty pipe.

On November 7th we left together for Tripoli and we were met by someone who took us to the Shaati Hotel which was the biggest hotel in Libya at that time. We were given adjacent rooms and spent two weeks there. I had a feeling that Jalal had been there before and had met Ghadaffi who had given him 'a green light' for the formation of a new political party in Kurdistan. A few months later Adel arrived in Tripoli as the Libyans had promised the PUK that they would buy them a radio station from France. Adel told me that Mr X, who had been in the flat with them in Damascus, and was a senior member of PUK, was frequently visiting Turkey and the security forces in Damascus airport had picked him up on one occasion. The Syrian security forces were very good at obtaining confessions from people and Mr X confessed to being an Iraqi regime's spy inside the PUK. So Mr X and his two brothers stayed in a Syrian prison for several years until Saddam made his reconciliation visit to President Assad, Senior. Saddam demanded that he took the three brothers back with him in his plane to Iraq. Adel told me that Mr X had accused me of being a spy for the British and that I had been sent to spy on the PUK. The evidence for this was my pipe! The fact that I had a pipe, although I had no tobacco, was sufficient evidence to Mr X that I was a spy! It also demonstrated the narrow mindedness of people in that part of the world.