Iceland revokes order to ‘kill Basques on sight’

In a small town on the western coast of Iceland last week, authorities finally revoked a 400-year-old order that allowed Basques to be killed on sight.

Iceland revokes order to 'kill Basques on sight'
Basques can now safely visit Iceland without the threat of being killed on sight. Photo: Arnar Valdimarsson/Flickr

For the last four centuries people hailing from the Basque Country could have been legally hunted down and killed had they dared to step foot in Iceland.

But last week, authorities finally repealed an order issued 400 years ago that led to the massacre of 32 Basque whalers.

It came about after three Basque whaling vessels entered a fjord in Iceland during the summer of 1615 after reaching an agreement with the Icelanders.

But when the ships were laden with their cargo and ready for departure they were shipwrecked in a gale.

The surviving Basque whalers made it ashore but after a conflict with locals, Ari Magnússon of Ögur, the then commissioner of the West Fjords district ordered that they be tracked down and killed.

In October 1615, 32 Basque whalers were killed by the locals, an event that to this day is the only recorded mass murder in Iceland.

When Jónas Gudmundsson, the West Fjords district commissioner, officially repealed the order on April 22nd at an event to inaugurate amemorial commemorating the ‘Slaying of the Spaniards’.

The commissioner joked: “It’s safe for Basques to come here now”.

He added that the order had not been carried out for some years. “Of course (repealing it is) more for fun; there are laws in this country which prohibit the killing of Basques,” Jónas told Icelandic newspaper,

The event was attended by the Basque Gipuzkoa Governor Martin Garitanoand the Icelandic Minister of Education and Culture Illugi Gunnarsson.

It also saw a ‘symbolic reconcillation’ acted out by Xabier Irujo, descendant of one of the murdered Basque whale hunters, and Magnús Rafnsson, descendant of one of the murderers, according to the Iceland Review

Basques in Spain welcomed the move, even though it came four hundred years too late.

"The ceremony was a public homage to those Basques that were killed four centuries ago and it is a symbol of respect finally done," MP Jon Inarritu of the Basque pro-independence party Amaiur told The Local.

"The repealing of the old order that allowed the killing of Basque people is a first step to promote relations between the two European people. It’s a step of friendship and peace between two peoples," he said.