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Killing of Basques Now Banned in West Fjords

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Killing of Basques Now Banned in West Fjords

A memorial about the 1615 Spanish killings in Hólmavík.

The memorial. Photo: Ólafur Engilbertsson.

A memorial dedicated to the 32 Basque whalers who were killed in the West Fjords in 1615 in what’s known as Iceland’s only mass murder was unveiled in Hólmavík, the West Fjords, on April 22, the last day of winter. At the occasion, West Fjords district commissioner Jónas Guðmundsson revoked the order that Basques could be killed on sight in the region.

“Of course it’s more for fun; there are laws in this country which prohibit the killing of Basques,” Jónas told mbl.is. When asked whether he’s noticed an increase of Basque tourists since the order was revoked, he responded, “at least it’s safe for them to come here now.”

President of Gipuzkoa Martin Garitano spoke at the ceremony, as did Icelandic Minister of Education and Culture Illugi Gunnarsson, strandabyggd.is reports. The speeches were followed by musical performances and a moment of prayer.

The program included Xabier Irujo, descendant of one of the murdered Basque whale hunters, and Magnús Rafnsson, descendant of one of the murderers, taking part in a symbolic reconciliation, as it says on etxepare.eus.

“[The unveiling of the memorial] was part of a conference. We have a program which stretches into October to commemorate the Slaying of the Spaniards 400 years ago,” said chair of the Icelandic-Basque Association Ólafur Engilbertsson, who is one of those who organized the event. Further events, such art exhibitions on both sides of Ísafjarðardjúp fjord in July, are on the program.

The massacre, known as the Spanish Killings or Slaying of the Spaniards, took place in October 1615 at the order of the then West Fjords district commissioner Ari Magnússon of Ögur in Ísafjarðardjúp.

Basque whalers had set up a whaling station in Iceland in the early 17th century. The year 1615 was a difficult with ice up to shores until late summer and considerable loss of livestock, as written on Wikipedia.

In mid-summer 1615, three Basque whaling vessels entered Reykjarfjörður. Icelanders and the Basques had a mutual agreement at the beginning as they had both benefited from the enterprise.

When the ships were ready for departure in late September a gale drove them onto rocks and crushed them. Most of the crew members (around 80) survived and were able to leave for Spain.

The following month, following a conflict with the locals, the remaining whalers were killed at Ari’s order at Æðey island in Ísafjarðardjúp and on Fjallaskagi. Only one person managed to escape.

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