A del­e­ga­tion of women who went to Kur­dis­tan testify…
Pre­sent­ing the women’s move­ment of Bakûr, as stud­ied dur­ing our trip.
(The first part of this arti­cle, pub­lished in Mer­ha­ba Heval­no 4 dealt with the counter-rev­o­lu­tion by the Turk­ish State in Bakûr.)

The Free Women Movement, at the forefront of Kurdish liberation

Women occu­py a cen­tral role in the polit­i­cal project of « demo­c­ra­t­ic auton­o­my » defend­ed by the Kur­dish lib­er­a­tion move­ment for the past fif­teen years. We often hear talk of the par­i­ty prac­ticed in all its insti­tu­tions and of the male-female co-pres­i­den­cies. But the accom­plish­ments and the strength of the women’s move­ment go well beyond that and man­age to unite a great num­ber of women.

In the spring of 2016, on the occa­sion of the March 8th cel­e­bra­tions (inter­na­tion­al woman’s day), a del­e­ga­tion of women left Paris for Kur­dis­tan in Turkey (Bakûr). We were able to par­tic­i­pate for a week in demon­stra­tions and meet­ings, to meet with many women of the move­ment and to bet­ter under­stand how they orga­nize. This text is inspired by that trip but also by infor­ma­tion obtained in France, through books, films, arti­cles and meetings.

Sakine Cansız, emblem of the history of Kurdish women’s struggles

In order to under­stand the Free Women’s Move­ment, we must step back some forty years to its roots in the work­ers and stu­dents’ revolts at the end of the sev­en­ties. Many women par­tic­i­pat­ed in these social move­ments, wish­ing to bring changes to the soci­ety of that time. It is impos­si­ble to ignore a myth­i­cal fig­ure in the women’s move­ment, Sakine Can­sız, who was assas­si­nat­ed in Paris in 2013. Through her life sto­ry, one can fol­low the main stages of this movement’s history.

Born in Der­sim and raised in an Ale­vi fam­i­ly, Sakine quick­ly found her­self refus­ing the roles tra­di­tion assigns to women. At a young age, she demand­ed space as a free woman, refused to stay closed in at home, did not want to mar­ry nor to bear chil­dren. Close to marx­ist-lenin­ist ide­ol­o­gy, Sakine envi­sioned her life at the ser­vice of rev­o­lu­tion. Dur­ing a month-long stay in Ger­many she dis­cov­ered the pow­er and mag­ni­tude of the Kur­dish cause. Inspired by this, she returned to Turkey and began to imag­ine a rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment based on Kur­dish demands. At this time she worked in a fac­to­ry in Izmir where she fought for bet­ter work­ing conditions.

It was in Ankara, around the uni­ver­si­ty, at the cross­roads of stu­dent and work­er demands, that she met Öcalan and the oth­er activists with whom she found­ed the PKK, the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers Par­ty. At that time, with oth­er activists, Sakine start­ed vis­it­ing towns and vil­lages in Bakûr, to spread the rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas of this bud­ding orga­ni­za­tion. In a soci­ety where non-mix­i­ty (seg­re­ga­tion of the sex­es) is prac­ticed both inside and out­side domes­tic spaces, she had a priv­i­leged access to oth­er women. Like oth­er PKK activists, she con­stant­ly moved from one home to anoth­er, shel­tered by com­rades, and work­ing door to door, thus allow­ing for con­stant infor­ma­tion on women’s needs. She orga­nized dis­cus­sions, lec­tures and meet­ings between women in order to inten­si­fy their sol­i­dar­i­ty. Short­ly before the 1980 coup d’état, the wave of repres­sion did not spare Sakine who spent sev­er­al years in Diyarbakır prison. Even in this infer­no of tor­ments, she con­tin­ued to fight and her exam­ple strength­ened women’s sol­i­dar­i­ty both inside and out­side prison thanks to the wives, sis­ters and moth­ers of pris­on­ers. When she left jail, Sakine joined the PKK train­ing camps which by then had tak­en up arms. She want­ed to cre­ate a women’s army, con­vinced that in order to lib­er­ate Kur­dis­tan there must be eman­ci­pa­tion for all women, whether Kur­dish or not. Offi­cial­ly born in 1995, the women’s army set up head­quar­ters in the Qandil moun­tains in Ira­ki Kur­dis­tan where the women trained, stud­ied fem­i­nism, ques­tioned them­selves about democ­ra­cy and fought against the Turk­ish army that attacked them reg­u­lar­ly. Their orga­ni­za­tion­al meth­ods and prin­ci­ples « con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed » civil­ian soci­ety where more and more women were inspired by them. Accord­ing to Ayşe Gökkan (for­mer may­or of Nusay­bin –declared a “women’s town » – and present spokesper­son for the women’s move­ment), the civil­ian women’s move­ment was born from the syn­er­gy expe­ri­enced with the fight­ers : if those women could orga­nize in the moun­tains, then it was pos­si­ble to do the same in the towns.

This grow­ing move­ment, Sakine Can­sız’ prox­im­i­ty and her ideas pro­found­ly inspired PKK leader Abdul­lah Öcalan. Impris­oned since 1999, he became inter­est­ed in Mur­ray Bookchin’s social ecol­o­gy and devel­oped the con­cept of demo­c­ra­t­ic con­fed­er­al­ism. It con­sists in a rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro­pos­al for self-orga­ni­za­tion where deci­sions are tak­en in a non-hier­ar­chi­cal fash­ion, hor­i­zon­tal­ly and from bot­tom to top, through a sys­tem of neigh­bor­hood and vil­lage assem­blies, mul­ti-con­fes­sion­al and mul­ti-eth­nic, that choose the spokesper­sons who will express the wish­es of the assem­blies where the oth­er spokesper­sons gath­er. In this new form of orga­ni­za­tion, ant­i­cap­i­tal­is­tic and anti Nation-State, a cen­tral role is devolved to ecol­o­gy and to women. Men and patri­archy are respon­si­ble for this unten­able world : by want­i­ng to dom­i­nate the world, the mas­cu­line has cre­at­ed class, gen­der and peo­ple divi­sions oppos­ing women one against the oth­er, and per­pet­u­at­ing the wars destroy­ing the plan­et. In recent years, the women’s move­ment has kept on grow­ing in civil­ian soci­ety and women are present in all orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­tures. Their word can no longer be ignored, it is through the eman­ci­pa­tion of women that we will change soci­ety and the world.

A radical approach to the liberation of all women

The ori­en­tal­ist and racist visions often found in Europe – includ­ing in insti­tu­tion­al fem­i­nist quar­ters – ren­der dif­fi­cult an under­stand­ing of the poten­tial of the wom­en’s strug­gle in Kur­dis­tan ; the image of the young armed fight­er comes in oppo­si­tion to that of the moth­er of 10 chil­dren or of the veiled stu­dent… Well, all those women are part of this same move­ment, share their expe­ri­ences and their knowl­edge, help one anoth­er in deal­ing with dai­ly prob­lems and patri­ar­chal vio­lence, and give one anoth­er strength to con­tin­ue resist­ing against State vio­lence. This move­ment fights in order to break the image of the « lib­er­at­ed » woman sold to us by « cap­i­tal­ist moder­ni­ty » and attempts to bring con­fi­dence and sol­i­dar­i­ty to women so that they will free them­selves in their own ways. It is by attempt­ing to break down the prej­u­dices and the bar­ri­ers set up between women by the patri­ar­chal men­tal­i­ty con­veyed by cap­i­tal­ism and the Nation-State that this move­ment man­ages to unite a broad cross sec­tion of women of all ages, creeds and social classes.

Con­trary to the gains made in Europe by fem­i­nist move­ments in the realm of indi­vid­ual free­doms, the Kur­dish women’s move­ment gives pri­or­i­ty to col­lec­tive free­doms, in oth­er words to the lib­er­a­tion of their com­mu­ni­ties and of all women with­in them. This rests on the notion that if a sin­gle woman in the world is not free, then no woman can feel free. This is what under­lies the fierce strug­gle for the glob­al lib­er­a­tion of women. « If women are under attack some­where, all women should react as if they were being attacked », this was one of the con­clu­sions of the 1st Con­fer­ence of Mid­dle East­ern Women in May 2013. In order to illus­trate the start­ing point to their strug­gle, we repro­duce an intro­duc­to­ry text from the fly­er pre­sent­ing the Con­gress of Free Women. « The Nation-State of cap­i­tal­is­tic moder­ni­ty has devel­oped all kinds of destruc­tive poli­cies against women in order to emp­ty social life of all con­tent. Diver­si­ty being a part of the very nature of social life has been con­sid­ered threat­en­ing, and women do not have the pos­si­bil­i­ty of liv­ing with their own cul­tures and iden­ti­ties. Woman is ignored in soci­ety and enclosed with­in the small­est pow­er cell of mas­cu­line dom­i­na­tion, which is none oth­er than the fam­i­ly. In an econ­o­my rest­ing on prof­it and exploita­tion, women have been placed in the posi­tion of a free work force, dis­pos­sessed and even mer­chan­dized. A vul­gar sci­en­tism insures the con­stant repro­duc­tion of the dom­i­nant mas­cu­line men­tal­i­ty. No mat­ter how much wom­an­hood may be dis­cussed as a notion, wom­en’s orig­i­nal­i­ty, their free­dom and their social­iza­tion have been ignored. Vio­lence, mas­sacres, abuse and rapes per­pet­u­at­ed against women essen­tial­ly in this cap­i­tal­is­tic moder­ni­ty are not just a coin­ci­dence. Rape, trans­formed into a cul­ture, a sys­tem and a pol­i­cy, has been legit­imized in all eco­nom­ic, social, polit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal areas of soci­ety. While con­sid­er­ing man as nature’s dom­i­na­tor and insti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing the rul­ing men­tal­i­ty, a mer­ci­less war has been launched against soci­ety, women and nature. In the end, instru­men­tal­ized women have been kept away from all social orga­ni­za­tions and from all mech­a­nisms deal­ing with deci­sions regard­ing their devel­op­ment. This pow­er, through every means and tool, aims at the found­ing of a sys­tem com­plete­ly enslav­ing women. »

Here is anoth­er illus­tra­tion of the approach to women’s strug­gles in Bakûr through the lens of an asso­ci­a­tion that works there on the local lev­el. In the town of Amed, we were able to meet mem­bers of the Ceren Women’s Asso­ci­a­tion, found­ed in 2008, that works on sev­er­al fronts and that now has a mul­ti­func­tion­al space for its activ­i­ties (a large wood­en house the women built in an envi­ron­n­ment of mul­ti-sto­ried apparte­ment build­ings !) : library and study space, lan­guage class­es (in Kur­dish), writ­ing class­es to record their his­to­ry, let­ter writ­ing to pris­on­ers (since not every­one knows how to write in Turk­ish, the only lan­guage allowed in jail), class­es in new tech­nolo­gies, accom­pa­ni­ment for repro­duc­tive health, dis­cus­sions and con­fer­ences. In their pre­sen­ta­tion brochure, the association’s women explain why they are lead­ing this strug­gle. Here are some excerpts :

« For thou­sands of years, women have been the tar­get of ide­o­log­i­cal attacks. There­fore we con­sid­er that our strug­gle as women must also be ide­o­log­i­cal. […] We have been exclud­ed from pol­i­tics, from sci­ence, from phi­los­o­phy and from lit­er­a­ture. […] We are orga­niz­ing because we refuse to be enslaved, because we want to high­light our strength of ini­tia­tive and put it at the ser­vice of society. »

free women femmes libres

Coordination of women’s struggles and collective self-defense

Dur­ing our first exchange with Ayşe Gökkan – the KJA spokesper­son who accom­pa­nied us through­out our trip — she told us that « after 40 years of strug­gle, the women’s move­ment is pow­er­ful. It inter­venes in the fam­i­ly, in soci­ety, at State lev­el, because we must change men­tal­i­ties every­where. Men know the pow­er of the move­ment and pay atten­tion. Some­times, some men have used scan­dals and slan­der against polit­i­cal­ly pow­er­ful women. But the women’s orga­ni­za­tion helps in stop­ping that. »

Women seem to have man­aged in mak­ing non-mix­i­ty accept­able at all lev­els of the Kur­dish lib­er­a­tion move­ment. Nowa­days, there is no dis­cus­sion on women’s right to set­tle their own prob­lems and find the best solu­tions to them. In the same way, they encour­age women who need it to orga­nize in cho­sen non-mix­i­ty (rel­a­tive to their beliefs, for instance) and to choose del­e­gates in the women’s groups to car­ry their voice. A woman from the DBP par­ty tells us that soci­ety is chang­ing, even peo­ple who aren’t par­tic­u­lar­ly politi­cized demon­strate this ; as an exam­ple, the num­ber of fem­i­ni­cides is falling in Kur­dis­tan. « Women have start­ed to face up to men at home and at work. Men have start­ed to accept women as lead­ers and to live their polit­i­cal involve­ment along with that of women. »

Since the years 2000, the women’s move­ment in Bakûr has struc­tured itself in an attempt to assem­ble the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of the women’s strug­gles and to pro­mote local­ly women’s coun­cils beyond those of the polit­i­cal par­ties. Since 2003, the DÖKH (Demo­c­ra­t­ic Free Women’s Move­ment) had regrouped women’s orga­ni­za­tions : asso­ci­a­tions, acad­e­mies, coop­er­a­tives, women’s shel­ters and 25 local coun­cils. In Feb­ru­ary 2015, the move­ment restruc­tured and gave birth to the Con­gress of Free Women (KJA) with 501 del­e­gates at its first assem­bly. The KJA now struc­tures the move­ment. All women who par­tic­i­pate in the Kur­dish lib­er­a­tion move­ment belong, first of all, to the KJA. Accord­ing to Ayşe, « the KJA is a woman’s first iden­ti­ty, no mat­ter her creed or her polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion. » In the 1980s and ‘90s, the move­ment was still quite patri­ot­ic – Kur­dish nation­al­ist – but has not ceased evolv­ing since ; now, the KJA attempts to encom­pass all women of dif­fer­ent cul­tures liv­ing in Kur­dis­tan. In their own words : « The KJA is the demo­c­ra­t­ic and con­fed­er­a­tive umbrel­la of women against a uni­tary and cen­tral­ized, cap­i­tal­is­tic and mod­ernist Nation-State. The KJA is the organ of com­mon sol­i­dar­i­ty, of self-empow­er­ment and of auton­o­my for women of all creeds, cul­tures and soci­eties of peo­ples liv­ing in Mesopotamia. »

The Con­gress is based on the prin­ci­ple that « soci­ety will lib­er­ate itself only if woman lib­er­ates her­self ». KJA’s objec­tive is « uni­fy­ing the pow­er of women’s strug­gles in all orga­nized struc­tures and all parts of soci­ety against the dom­i­nant mas­cu­line sys­tem. » To this aim, the KJA regroups towns and women’s coun­cils (local struc­tures in neigh­bor­hoods and towns), women’s orga­ni­za­tions (that do not abide by the dik­tats of the State), elect­ed women (of the DBP in the town halls, as well as deputies of the HDP), and per­sons hav­ing accept­ed the prin­ci­ples of the Con­gress. Thus are assem­bled women who dis­cuss their prob­lems with­in the com­munes in their neigh­bor­hoods as well as civil­ian orga­ni­za­tion activists, politi­cians, lawyers, teach­ers, etc. A 20 % quo­ta is reserved for youth : « the young women’s move­ment is impor­tant for it is the one best posi­tioned to change the sys­tem », Ayşe tells us.

The KJA’s struc­ture fol­lows a con­fed­er­al mod­el start­ing at the local lev­el called a « com­mune » where del­e­gates are elect­ed. They meet in « neigh­bor­hood coun­cils », where some rep­re­sen­ta­tives are elect­ed to form the town coun­cil and, final­ly, the Gen­er­al Assem­bly at Con­gress. The seat of the move­ment is in Amed (that one can con­sid­er as the cap­i­tal of Bakûr), just as is the « diplo­ma­cy » com­mis­sion respon­si­ble for all exter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions and who thus greet­ed our delegation.

The work of the Free Women’s Con­gress is car­ried out in three com­mis­sions han­dling econ­o­my, pol­i­tics, social issues, diplo­ma­cy, jus­tice and human rights, ecol­o­gy, media, peo­ples and reli­gious beliefs, lan­guage and edu­ca­tion, cul­ture, local gov­ern­ments, the fight against vio­lence, and self-defense. Indeed, the com­mis­sions attempt to cov­er all the needs iden­ti­fied by the dif­fer­ent struc­tures. A good part of their efforts cen­ter on the fight against domes­tic vio­lence as well as fam­i­ly and State vio­lence against chil­dren ; on com­mu­nal econ­o­my ( mak­ing women’s work vis­i­ble) ; on edu­ca­tion (start­ing with lit­er­a­cy class­es for women who have not had access to school­ing) ; and on polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion and jine­ol­o­gy (we will return to this con­cept lat­er). As per­tains to state pol­i­tics, women have orga­nized to impose a peace process on the Turk­ish State : per­haps for the first time in the world, a woman, Cey­lan Bağrıyanık, was involved in a peace process as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Coun­cil for Peace where Kur­dish and Turk­ish women dis­cussed togeth­er. In the same man­ner, they pro­vide them­selves with means for a sol­id rep­re­sen­ta­tion with­in the Turk­ish Par­lia­ment. By rad­i­cal­ly ques­tion­ing the sys­tems of oppres­sion, the Free Women’s Move­ment has recent­ly includ­ed the issue of veg­e­tar­i­an­ism, bring­ing to light the suprema­cy of the male pro­file as dom­i­nant war­rior (which would have begun in the Neolith­ic peri­od with the fig­ure of the hunter who per­fect­ed the tools for hunt­ing pri­or to using them as war weapons against oth­er humans). Thus the women’s move­ment casts a crit­i­cal appraisal on the cap­i­tal­is­tic evo­lu­tion of rela­tions between humans and all that sur­rounds human­i­ty and gives it the means of sur­vival, and thus shares an aware­ness for « an ecolo­gial soci­ety oppos­ing the oppres­sion of nature by humanity. »

The con­cept of self-defense is undoubt­ed­ly the cen­tral point of the women’s move­ment, self-defense under­stood as a col­lec­tive mea­sure. A first aspect con­sists in react­ing to sex­ist aggres­sions. When a woman is attacked – in most cas­es, by her hus­band – she can rely on the true sol­i­dar­i­ty of a local group of women to seek solu­tions and imple­ment them. In this case, the vic­tim decides what she needs as repa­ra­tion (includ­ing in terms of reprisals against the agres­sor), and the group sup­port­ing her imple­ments her deci­sion. The fight against fem­i­ni­cides is also very present, espe­cial­ly since the AKP gov­ern­ment has encour­aged extreme vio­lence against women. Reg­u­lar mobi­liza­tion cam­paigns raise the issue of rape as a struc­tur­al pol­i­cy ; here are a few of their slo­gans : «We are women, we are no one else’s hon­or, our hon­or is our free­dom », « Let us over­come the cul­ture of rape, let us cre­ate a free demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety », « the mas­sacre of women is the mas­sacre of society ».

But self-defense also involves polit­i­cal self-defense and for that, par­tic­u­lar empha­sis is placed on polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion. Women learn togeth­er and become aware of their iden­ti­ty as women, learn about the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments in his­to­ry, re-write a wom­en’s his­to­ry that has always been ignored. These stud­ies occur with­in the Women’s Acad­e­mies and, in par­tic­u­lar, in the jine­ol­o­gy work­shops that aim at build­ing a sci­ence made by and for women. Accord­ing to a doc­u­ment invit­ing to a con­fer­ence on jine­ol­o­gy in June 2016 in Paris, « jine­ol­o­gy wish­es to rein­ter­pret – in the per­spec­tive and with the intel­li­gence of women – the val­ues, expe­ri­ences, life events and blocages of women from all social class­es accu­mu­lat­ed in the course of their his­to­ry of strug­gles. This in order for a soci­ety of free beings to flour­ish. Tak­ing pos­ses­sion of unsus­pect­ed fem­i­nine trea­sures from the past in the spir­it of the XXIst cen­tu­ry will pro­vide a strong impe­tus to the fem­i­nine rev­o­lu­tion. If we iso­lat­ed it from the resis­tance move­ment, jine­ol­o­gy would be valueless. »

Still anoth­er sec­tion of self-defense con­sists of armed defense of course, notably against attacks from the army and the police against vil­lages and towns with Kur­dish majori­ties. This is how exclu­sive­ly fem­i­nine self-defense groups were cre­at­ed, among young­sters in the towns (the recent­ly cre­at­ed YPS-Jin) as well as gueril­las (the YJA-Star). Women war­riors, numer­ous in the ranks of the gueril­las, first gath­ered togeth­er with­in mixed gueril­la groups before cre­at­ing their own army, the YJA-Star. With­in it, the com­bat­ants do not only receive train­ing in the mil­i­tary, but they also learn com­mu­nal liv­ing in the moun­tains, train togeth­er in women’s lib­er­a­tion. In brief, they both study and prac­tice jineology.

An organization outside the State, based on solidarity

The the­o­ry of demo­c­ra­t­ic con­fed­er­al­ism rests on the prin­ci­ple that one can­not destroy cap­i­tal­ism with­out fight­ing against the State, just as one can­not fight against the State with­out destroy­ing patri­archy. In order to undo patri­archy, it is not suf­fi­cient to ques­tion rela­tion­ships between men and women. There is also need to decon­struct imposed patri­ar­chal dom­i­na­tion and for women to recon­struct their own iden­ti­ty while hon­or­ing notions of com­mu­ni­ty, of active sol­i­dar­i­ty while break­ing down the bar­ri­ers of dom­i­na­tion imposed on women.

The women of Bakûr meet togeth­er more and more around com­mon strug­gles for rights to self-deter­mi­na­tion as Kur­dish peo­ple and above all as women, in a world that attempts to iso­late and indi­vid­u­al­ize them. This les­son in real sol­i­dar­i­ty great­ly inspires the mil­i­tant women we met dur­ing our lim­it­ed trip. This spir­it of fierce strug­gle is present at all lev­els, the refusal to give up while faced with the worst dif­fi­cul­ties, stand­ing elbow to elbow and giv­ing each oth­er strength to con­tin­ue resist­ing as have done so many before them, with­out tak­ing the time to grieve over close ones and killed com­rades, and gath­er­ing strength in order to con­tin­ue the strug­gle for lost lives. The per­se­ver­ance of these women is also reflect­ed in their per­sis­tence in orga­niz­ing, in mul­ti­ply­ing areas where they can con­gre­gate and find the required means to meet their ambi­tious objectives.

Since the 1990’s, women of Bakûr have equiped them­selves with a num­ber of struc­tures and tools respon­sive to their needs and cre­at­ed a bal­ance of pow­er in soci­ety. In sum­ma­ry : they do every­thing they can to find the means of advanc­ing and con­struct­ing lit­tle by lit­tle that of which they dream. The strat­e­gy of the women’s move­ment con­sists at once in pro­mot­ing the non-mixed orga­ni­za­tion of women at all lev­els, and insur­ing in par­al­lel an equal­i­tar­i­an par­tic­i­pa­tion in mixed structures.

Our del­e­ga­tion was greet­ed in each town by co-may­ors and oth­er women of the move­ment ; we were able to hear the vision of respon­si­ble mem­bers of dif­fer­ent struc­tures, but always from the women’s points of view. These were activists from the PKK of course, but also from legal­ly-rec­og­nized par­ties inspired by the same ideals for which their com­rades fought in estab­lish­ing a dynam­ic dom­i­na­tion. They are the ones who gath­ered in the Women’s Union in 1994 to cre­ate a bal­ance of pow­er and force a women’s quo­ta with­in the par­ty : the quo­ta was then of 25 % which was raised with each elec­tion, until it reached 40 % in 2005 and the intro­duc­tion of co-pres­i­den­cy of a women and a man in the par­ty. Since 2014 the appli­ca­tion of these two last tools was widened to all struc­tures with­in the Kur­dish lib­er­a­tion move­ment (thus reach­ing beyond the par­ties). When the quo­ta is not respect­ed, the assem­bly is annulled or women are not oblig­ed to respect the deci­sions tak­en there. See­ing that women orga­nize in non-mixed meet­ings in order to dis­cuss and reach deci­sions that con­cern them, quo­ta posi­tions are tak­en up in mixed orga­ni­za­tions by spokesper­sons of the women’s move­ments. This is how women apply their own rules men are oblig­ed to accept. Ayşe gave us the exam­ple of men work­ing in DBP city halls : if a man beats his com­pan­ion or for­bids his daugh­ter access to school, women will put every­thing in place to put an end to these behav­iors, going as far as exclud­ing the man from the move­ment or turn­ing over his salary to the woman.

Here are the main structures of the Free Women of Bakur of which we are aware.

  • The Women’s Acad­e­mies are places where women can meet in order to learn togeth­er, in an approach sim­i­lar to that of pop­u­lar edu­ca­tion, based on the expe­ri­ences and knowl­edge of each per­son serv­ing the acqui­si­tion of lit­er­a­cy and of polit­i­cal train­ing. A politi­cian of the DBP talked to us about the financ­ing of these acad­e­mies : no one is paid, every­one is a vol­un­teer ; if there is need of mon­ey, it is col­lect­ed through sol­i­dar­i­ty from neigh­bors, with calls to funds, and one way or anoth­er, peo­ple pay dues to the par­ty : « it is an anti-cap­i­tal­is­tic move­ment that refus­es mon­ey from the gov­ern­ment or the exchange of mon­ey against edu­ca­tion ». Jine­ol­o­gy is devel­oped with­in these acad­e­mies. There are four women’s acad­e­mies in Bakûr, and sev­er­al oth­ers are in development.
  • Coop­er­a­tives (present­ly in Amed, Hakkâri, Van and Mardin) allow women to obtain a rev­enue and devel­op eco­nom­ic inde­pen­dence ; it often con­sists of gath­er­ing togeth­er to pro­duce and sell local arts and crafts women used to pro­duce by them­selves with no access to points of sale. We vis­it­ed sev­er­al in Mardin, among them where the DBP city has attempt­ed the pro­mo­tion of women’s coop­er­a­tives in its province as well as in oth­er towns.
  • JINHA, a press agency exclu­sive­ly com­posed of women, cre­at­ed on March 8th 2012 in order to counter extreme­ly mysog­y­nous arti­cles in the offi­cial press. To our knowl­edge, it is the first entire­ly fem­i­nine press agency in the world. (An inter­view with Jin­ha jour­nal­ists is avail­able in Mer­ha­ba Heval­no N°4.)
  • Women also orga­nize at an extreme­ly local lev­el. Street, vil­lage and neigh­bor­hood coun­cils have their own non-mixed struc­tures. They deal with top­ics of con­cern to women, put com­mis­sions into place to find solu­tions to the prob­lems they bring up, these spaces act­ing as first refuge for women vic­tims of violence.
  • A num­ber of women’s asso­ci­a­tions have been set up, inde­pen­dant of State author­i­ties. One of their main activ­i­ties is sup­port for women vic­tims of domes­tic vio­lence. For this pur­pose, sev­er­al shel­ters in the main towns greet women who have dared leave their hus­band, who are at risk of being reject­ed by their rel­a­tives and who are in need of sup­port. In most cas­es, the women do not call on the tri­bunal, for they do not trust that they will find jus­tice there, and pre­fer to call upon the women’s movement.
  • The (incred­i­bly per­sis­tent !) Moth­ers for Peace, active since 1999, unites moth­ers of mar­tyrs who fight for peace, while hav­ing a pro­found respect for the strug­gles of their rel­a­tives and for fall­en fight­ers. In oth­er words, it is not because they demand peace that they oppose the tak­ing of arms to obtain it.

femmes libres free women

In conclusion, a few words on what moved us in all our meetings…

We want to speak of cer­tain moments that will stay with us after our trip as a delegation.

We had the oppor­tu­ni­ty of meet­ing many women of the move­ment in dif­fer­ent towns, and to share a few days with them, despite the con­text of war. Before any­thing else, we wish to speak of their hos­pi­tal­i­ty. Every­where we went, the women opened up their homes to us, told us their sto­ries, spoke about pol­i­tics, and answered our ques­tions. It was not only a Kur­dish tra­di­tion, it was a true mil­i­tant com­mit­ment. They were at our dis­pos­al even when it required can­celling meetings.

Sara Kaya, co-may­or of Nusay­bin, spent a day with us. She told us that she was the moth­er of four chil­dren, was com­mit­ted to the move­ment and fought so that her chil­dren would not need to do the same and could live in a bet­ter world. She told us about the repres­sion to which she was sub­ject­ed for months and of her time in jail. The date of the tri­al that would decide her fate was on… March 8th, two days lat­er ! Sara was well aware that she would go to jail for a long time, but instead of spend­ing these last moments of free­dom with her chil­dren, her friends, her close ones, she spent them with a group of women who had come from Europe, whom she did not know and prob­a­bly would nev­er see again. The strug­gle and the dream of sol­i­dar­i­ty between women went beyond bound­aries stronger than per­son­al desires and aspirations.

On two occa­sions we heard that bud­dies were encour­aged by their fam­i­ly to join the women’s army because as young peo­ple, it was up to them to join the defense of their peo­ple. In that strug­gle each one had a role and the indi­vid­ual was often called upon to join the collective.

We wish to tes­ti­fy to the incred­i­ble courage of these women. Dur­ing these demon­stra­tions of fes­tiv­i­ties on March 8th, the Turk­ish army exert­ed pres­sure by spread­ing rumors of a prob­a­ble ter­ror­ist bomb­ing attack. The atmos­phere was tense and fear pal­pa­ble, but women of all ages, some­times with their chil­dren, took to the streets any­way to demon­strate, aware of putting them­selves in harm’s way (tanks and water canons were every­where as were snipers on the rooftops). In Turkey, it has hap­pened that the army has fired on the crowd and caused car­nage, but our fear dis­ap­peared when con­front­ed by the con­ta­gious courage of these women.

To con­clude, their reac­tion impressed us in the face of pain and death. March­ing through the rub­ble in Cizre, we met a Moth­er for Peace who had come to con­sole women of the town who had lost their close ones and their belong­ings. This moth­er had lost sev­en chil­dren in armed com­bat or because of the repres­sion. She did not cry, did not let her­self be dis­cour­aged, and came to express sol­i­dar­i­ty and sup­port with oth­er women. This is also the sto­ry of many oth­er women we met who lost close ones and did not give into despair. There is a kind of dig­ni­ty in their suf­fer­ing, a strong will to over­throw it, to dance and to sing through harsh times. To fight death with life ! Humor and joy are always present with these women : yes, the war will be long and filled with loss­es, but they must go on fighting !

An espe­cial­ly big thank you to all the women who greet­ed us dur­ing our stay : Ayşe, Sara, Ley­la, Gülser, Sel­ma, Sul­tan, Elif, and all the oth­ers whose names we for­got, unfor­tu­nate­ly — but not their faces !

READ ALSO Zehra Doğan • A Prison Report with Sarah Aktaş

Pub­lished in Mer­ha­ba Heval­no n°5, June 2016
En français Libéra­tion kurde • Le mou­ve­ment des Femmes Libres” Cliquez pour lire
Eng­lish trans­la­tion by Renée Lucie Bourges

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