|Amal Hassan Basry, the most well known survivor of the SIEVX tragedy, passed away four years ago on 18 March 2006. For the four years she lived in Australia, Amal was the voice of the SIEVX survivors. Despite battling with cancer she was always willing to speak out and give testimony about the SIEVX disaster. Film maker, Steve Thomas made a documentary about Amal's life called 'Hope'.
In this short article, Amal's brother, Dr Sahir Hassan Basry, pays tribute to his sister on the fourth anniversary of her death.
Amal was born in the Iraqi southern city of Basra in 1952. She was the eldest child of Hassan, an assistant engineer, and Lateefa, a housewife. From her primary school years it was obvious that Amal would make her mark on the world. She was very sure of herself as our father used to say. She had to be so when the family moved to the capitol Baghdad and she found herself the big sister of 8 brothers. I was number 5.
Amal's childhood and adolescence were very difficult. Being the daughter of a rather aggressive father who used to hit us even for trivial matters, and the big sister of very demanding and trouble making brothers (except me!) was not easy for her to tolerate. Our mother could barely read and this made Amal the only one who could help us with our school homework. This was in addition to assisting our mother with the daily household work and attending to her own studies. Maybe I was a special burden asking too many questions about history, archaeology, space and science. She never tired of answering my questions and explaining the science programs that sometimes appeared on TV. This made me more and more curious to know and read everything I could, including the school books of her and my four older brothers. This resulted in me being very successful at school. I believe that Amal is the one who made me a pharmacist.
The difficult years she endured with our father and brothers could be the reason why she accepted to marry the first man who appeared - our neighbor Muhammed. The marriage failed after a few years and left her with her only daughter Manal (who is living now in the sultanate of Oman). After a few years spent working as a typist in the central bank of Iraq in Baghdad Amal met her second husband, Abbas. She gave him two sons, my beloved nephews, Ahmed and Amjad. All this took place in the 1980s during the Iraq-Iran war.
Towards the end of this war our family was devastated by the loss of my younger brother, Bahir, who was killed during his military service in the army in May 1988 during an Iranian attack near the city of Mandeli. (He was not killed in an American air attack as someone wrote on this website.)
Less than 8 months later, another loss shocked us. It was the execution of my older brother, Saad, who used to criticize the dictator, Saddam. The family almost lost me in the war of Kuwait in 1991 during my obligatory military service as the pharmacist for a medical field unit. I survived that war miraculously. Following the execution of Saad, our family was kept under close observation by the security forces of Saddam Hussein.
Amal's husband, Abbas managed to escape from Iraq to Iran with their two sons, and after few years he made it alone to Australia. Amal followed him later. But when she tried to follow him to Australia with her younger son Amjad in 2001, the boat they were travelling on with another 400 asylum seekers sank in the Indian Ocean. No words can describe our feelings when we heard this news, and the relief we felt when we knew that she and Amjad survived. The story of this accident is detailed on this website, so I'll move to after she was finally granted residency in Australia and her battle against breast cancer began.
Unfortunately, she entered this battle late so the cancer had already spread in her body, and there was not much time left for her to live. Although we didn't tell her this, she may have felt it and asked to see us. She legally could not enter Iraq so at the beginning of 2006 we had a very emotional reunion in Iran - we all knew that she had only a few months left to live. So, it was a very emotional final goodbye.
We had long conversations on the phone after she returned to Australia. I used to feel very helpless hearing her suffering without being able to help her in anyway, except by trying to raise her spirits by reminding her of some good old days in Iraq, especially those we spent listening to the songs of Demis Roussos, who we both adored. The last phone call I had with her was on the morning of the 18th of March 2006 Baghdad time. It was just me talking and she couldn't speak a word. Her son Amjad called 30 minutes later to tell us that she died. We all cried for hours. We just couldn't believe that we had lost her forever. She was everything to us. She was a sister, a friend, almost a mother, a teacher, and a soul mate... Farewell Amal. We'll never forget you.
About the author: Sahir Hassan Basry was born in Baghdad in 1962. He graduated from the College of Pharmacy, University of Baghdad in 1987. After completing military service he settled in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. In 2003 after receiving threats he moved to Babylon, city of Hillah where he currently resides. He is the Emergency Pharmacy Manager at Babylon's Maternity and Children's Hospital during the day, and runs his own pharmacy (named 'Mashhad Al Shams' which means the view of the sun) during the evening. He is divorced and has no children. He is hoping to visit Australia to see his two nephews and brother-in-law, and to visit the grave of his sister Amal. Dr Basry can be contacted at the following email address: sahir.bassry at yahoo.com