Basques Now Safe in Iceland’s Fjords After Kill Decree Repealed

Iceland’s northwest district of Vestfirdir has put an end to a bloody chapter of its history stemming from an entanglement with Basque whalers 400 years ago.

The commissioner of the area, Jonas Gudmundsson, along with Basque Gipuzkoa Governor Martin Garitano, on April 22 took the formal, symbolic step in repealing a decree to kill any Basque entering the area.

“These events are a dark spot in Icelandic history,” Gudmundsson said in a telephone interview Monday. “Basques are, of course, very welcome here and anywhere in Iceland and killing them is and has been unlawful, just as the killing of other human beings.”

The decree stems from 1615, when a storm destroyed Basque whaling ships, forcing 80 shipwrecked seamen ashore in search for a way home. The event took place about 700 years after Iceland was settled by Vikings, mostly from western Norway.

The influx of Basques and the alleged theft of a vessel, prompted local sheriff Ari Magnusson to issue a decree that Basques entering Iceland’s western fjord could be killed with impunity. The sheriff, called Ariesman by the Basque, in the following days or weeks led raids against Basque whalers, murdering 19 people. Local farmers killed 12 more, while one group managed to steal an English ship to escape home, according to Gudmundsson.

“This was obviously a cowardly event that we regret to this day,” said Gudmundsson, who presented Garitano with the flag of the Association of District Commissioners in Iceland, a sword resting inside a circle of the Gods, meant to be sign of peaceful intentions.

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