Siegfried Martsch The Man Who Stood by Kurdistan

Siegfried Martsch, also known as Siggi Barzani, was more than just a name to the Kurdish people; he was a symbol of unwavering support and friendship. His journey and legacy have

Siegfried Martsch The Man Who Stood by Kurdistan
November 02, 2023

Siegfried Martsch, also known as Siggi Barzani, was more than just a name to the Kurdish people; he was a symbol of unwavering support and friendship. His journey and legacy have been laid to rest beneath an oak tree in Bedial, a Christian village located in the picturesque Barzan area of Erbil Governorate in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). A marble chair overlooking the tranquil landscapes of Barzan and the Rezan River now serves as a poignant reminder of his enduring presence in the region.

Siggi, a former German politician and humanitarian, passed away in February 2022 at the age of 68. His final wish was a testament to the deep bond he had forged with the Kurdish people: to have his ashes divided between Germany and Kurdistan, his first and second homes.

(1991) L-R: Hoshyar Zebari, Fazil Mirani, Masoud Barzani, Siggi Martsch

Christina Martsch, Siggi's widow, explained the significance of the chosen location for his interment, saying, “This was his favorite area in Kurdistan.” In September 2023, Christina and her children made the journey to the KRI to lay Siggi's remaining ashes to rest and pay tribute to him among his Kurdish friends.

Siggi Martsch was a well-known figure in German politics, notably as a founding member of the Green Party in North Rhine-Westphalia. In 1989, he assumed leadership of the party in the state and, from 1990 to 2000, served as a member of the North Rhine-Westphalia Assembly.

September 2023, Bedyal Village, Shirin Mountain, Barzan Governorate

It was in 1991 that Siggi first encountered the plight of the Kurdish people during the mass exodus of 1.5 million Iraqi Kurds escaping Saddam Hussein's brutality into the mountains along the borders with Iran and Turkey. This pivotal moment sparked his lifelong commitment to their cause.

In the same year, Siggi set out on a journey to the Kurdistan Region, crossing through Turkey with a convoy of trucks loaded with essential aid, including food and medicine, for the stranded Kurds on the Turkish border. His wife Christina joined him in a second convoy two months later, further solidifying their dedication to the Kurdish people.

Siggi and Christina both came from families in Germany that had been displaced and suffered during the Second World War. Their shared activism, particularly their anti-war stance during the Vietnam War, brought them together in Bochum in the western part of Germany, Siggi's hometown, and their deep commitment to assisting those in need was evident throughout their work in Europe, Africa, and Palestine.

When asked about Siggi's initial awareness of the suffering of the Kurdish people, Christina recalled, “No, no one in Germany spoke about Halabja, the Iraqi Kurdish city that came under chemical attack and resulted in the death of 5,000 civilians, or Saddam's atrocities; we knew little about the Kurdish cause, mostly about Turkish Kurds.”

Throughout the 1990s, while the Kurdistan Region was grappling with sanctions, Siggi organized numerous aid convoys, brought German medical professionals to treat the sick, and contributed to building hospitals and homes for villagers in need.

Siggi dedicated the majority of his time to Kurdistan, with his wife and three children frequently visiting to better understand his work and the reason for his prolonged absences. Being away from Germany posed challenges, but he found support among fellow politicians who recognized the importance of Germany's humanitarian aid to the Kurds.

“We never took a normal vacation; we always went to Kurdistan,” said Christina. 

(L-R) Arayish Barzinjee-Martsch (daughter-in-law), Christina Martsch (wife), Horst Martsch (son)

After Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003, Siggi returned to support the reconstruction of Kurdistan. Then, in 2005, Christina retired early from her career as a psychiatrist to join her husband. Together, they worked to establish a Kurdish-German cultural center and played vital roles in the foundation of the German School in Erbil, the capital of the KRI. Additionally, they facilitated an exchange program between doctors from Kurdistan and the German city of Hamburg.

Siggi and his family continued to reside in Kurdistan until 2014, when his deteriorating health necessitated a return to Germany for treatment.

“After returning to Germany, he always wanted to visit Kurdistan before losing his sight, but his health prevented him from doing so,” lamented Christina.

Reflecting on the infrastructure developments in Kurdistan since 2003, Christina marveled at the transformation. She recounted, “When I arrived in 2005, there were only a few hours of electricity, problems with drinking water, and sewage issues. Now, I can't believe all these developments; it is astonishing.”

While acknowledging the progress, Christina emphasized the importance of involving the people in decision-making processes and reiterated the ongoing need for international assistance in the Kurdistan region.

“Kurdistan should be known outside its borders,” she stated. “Europe has forgotten it. There was a spotlight on it during the war against ISIS, but now it is gone. In the Middle East, the KRI is the most diverse, tolerant, and peaceful place when it comes to coexistence among different religious and ethnic groups.”

In Bedial, Siggi's spirit lives on. On September 17th, what would have been his 70th birthday, his family created a garden around his burial site. In a heartwarming gesture, the people of Bedial assured the family that they need not worry, as they would tend to the garden in the years to come, ensuring that Siggi's friendship thrives in the soil of Kurdistan.


Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved