The fight of the Kurdish woman

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February 12, 2018 – Fort Russ News – Paul Antonopoulos – Translated from Descifrando la Guerra.

MADRID, Spain – The achievements of the Kurdish women’s struggle in northern Syria has attracted international attention because women fighting for their freedom on all fronts: both in war and in society. Yet this battle has been portrayed by the Western media as a mere Amazon fantasy of female warriors, leaving aside the importance of their demands for the emancipation of women in the Muslim world.

Historic context


The birth of the Kurdish people dates back to the seventh century BC, with its population in the modern states of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and part of Armenia. The Kurdish people are of Indo-European origin, particularly Iranian, practicing Sunni Islam in its majority, although a significant minority continues to practice Yazidism, inhabit mountainous regions of difficult access and have never constituted a unified political entity. The number of its inhabitants is still subject of controversy, its population would range between 35 and 50 million, becoming the biggest ethnic group without state of their own in the world.

It was not until after the First World War, with the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire that the creation of an independent Kurdistan was considered. On August 10, 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres, signed by Turkey, provided for the creation of an autonomous Kurdistan in eastern Anatolia and in the province of Mosul. But the victorious rebellion of the Turkish nationalist Mustafa Kemal Ataturk led to the rejection of the treaty, and therefore ended the Kurdish independence process.

After the Second World War, the proliferation of Arab nationalist states silenced the Kurdish demands of autonomy, until the end of the 1970’s, the essence of the Kurdish rebellion is concentrated in Iraq at the hands of Mustafá al-Barzani.

The Kurdish reactivation will be noticed in Turkey by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), founded in 1984 by Abdullah Öcalan. The PKK carried out guerrilla actions in the eastern provinces of the country, mainly in the provinces of Urfa, Mus, Batman and Dersim.

However, due to the Gulf War of 1991, the Kurdish issue acquired an international dimension unprecedented since the First World War. The defeat of Saddam Hussein in Iraq by the US provoked an insurgency in Iraqi Kurdistan, which was quickly crushed by the Iraqi Army. 

The situation of the Kurds would remain uncertain, as no State agreed to guarantee the cultural rights and autonomy they claimed. All this will change with the outbreak of the “Arab Springs” and especially with the beginning of the Syrian War in March 2011, which would give a new impetus to the Kurdish question.


The autonomy of “Rojava”


The doctrine of Democratic Confederalism, created by Abdulah Ocalan, would be the chosen political system, in which they seek the establishment of a participatory and egalitarian democracy, organized from the base. One of the main foundations of this doctrine is the liberation of women, which has ultimately produced a breakthrough in its role in Kurdish society.


The fight of the Kurdish woman


The struggle of Kurdish women is not a recent phenomenon. In 1995, the PKK created the Union of Free Women of Kurdistan and the first guerrilla unit composed only of militants, the YJA-STAR. Kurdish women have fought alongside men for many years in a guerrilla war against Turkey, in search of independence and equal rights between men and women.

The PKK’s struggle for the freedom of the Kurdish people has always been part of the struggle for the emancipation of women. Its main objective is to uproot all ideas coming from societies dominated by men. They emphasize the need for women to find their mental freedom. Kurdish women have a full self-determination, decide how to educate and organize themselves, in addition to the training they must do when preparing for real combat. This organization has given women a unique opportunity to escape the restrictions based on sex that their society has imposed on them.

Taking the PKK as an example, in “Rojava” in northern Syria, the PKK decided to create a similar militia complementary to the YPG (Syrian branch of the PKK called the People’s Protection Units), which took the name of YPJ (female branch of the YPG). Its main purpose is to use armed struggle as a way to liberate women from patriarchal thinking and at the same time increase the number of troops in a few guerrilla ranks quite limited in number compared to the national armies that surround them.

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The Female Protection Units (YPJ) are a military organization formed by Kurdish women that was created in 2012 with the support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as protection for civilians. In fact, the PKK and the YPG / YPJ are considered sister organizations. At the moment they form it – according to it cries the own organization – between 7,000 and 10,000 voluntary militants of between the 13 and 40 years.

The militia of the YPJ are subjected to a month of hard training before the militia can enter a battle. In addition, they have their own camps and training academies integrated exclusively by women. This characteristic does not imply that when going to combat they do it separately from men, or that there are no mixed units.

Kurdish women occupy positions of decision and leadership in hierarchical positions of equality and even superior to those of other male combatants, an unusual phenomenon in the Muslim world.

In this context comes the self-proclaimed Islamic State/ISIS, which as it began to expand in Syria, increased the reputation of the YPJ. Their fighters, who fought alongside the YPG, were sent to the front in all the battles against the ISIS.

Knowing that unity is strength, when fighting against ISIS, both the PKK militias and the YPJ have carried out joint operations against ISIS. Among them the evacuation of Yazidis caught in 2014 in the mountains of Sinjar in Iraq, before the flight of the “Peshmergas”, the main Iraqi Kurdish forces.

But perhaps the main feat of the YPJ was their participation in the Battle of Kobane. The Kurdish militia played an essential role in the reconquest of the city from ISIS in September 2014. In fact, around 40% of the Kurdish fighters who fought in the city of Kobane on the Syrian-Turkish border were women belonging to the YPJ . It is worth highlighting the performance of YPJ fighter Arin Mirkan, immolating herself in the streets of Kobane, killing 14 jihadists.

With the creation of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in 2015, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab groups coordinated by the International Coalition and led by the YPG, the YPJ lost some prominence.

Even so, with the beginning of the military operation of the SDF which aimed to free the city of Raqqa from the hands of ISIS. It was assumed that the YPJ returned to the battlefield according to them in order to help liberate the thousands of Yazidi women subjected to captivity by ISIS.

Affirmed Rojda Felat, a militiaman who fought in the battle of Raqqa, that over a total of 30 thousand fighters, 300 women participated in the battle to conquer this city. In addition, the SDF would have dozens of female officers in their ranks.

The YPJ have proven to be a very effective militia in the fight against Daesh, in part because Islamic State militants believe that if they die in combat at the hands of a woman, their souls will burn in hell, contrary to what would happen if they fall into the hands of a man. This makes the YPJ a fearsome enemy for the Daesh.

The achievements of the struggle of Kurdish women


Since the beginning of the war in 2011, child marriage and polygamy increased in Syria from 5% in 2010 to 30% in 2015, due to the fact that some rebel groups encourage this type of practice. In contrast, in the Kurdish-controlled regions of northern Syria, thanks to a campaign to raise awareness of the equality of women’s rights, these uses have largely been abandoned. The Kurds have banned these practices and have also guaranteed equal rights between men and women in case of divorce and inheritance issues.

In Syria, the Kurds have imposed a quota system that guarantees 40% of women in municipal administrative positions, otherwise the proposals made in the commune will not be considered binding.

In Rojava, a co-presidency system is also applied, in which each position must be co-directed by a man and a woman. Hevi İbrahim is the first minister of one of the cantons (Afrin), Asya Abdullah is the co-president of the Party of the Democratic Union (PYD) that governs the Rojava region; Ramziya Mohammed is Cizire’s finance minister.

Also at the University of Qamisli, women can study for free, as in Syrian universities. The next step that the Kurds want is to export their model to the different Arab territories controlled by the SDF, for the time being to get the population to accept these precepts, it seems more a utopia than a reality, as it is evident that many Arab populations in the areas controlled by the SDF is still not progressive enough, we will have to wait for the next movements of the Kurds in terms of awareness campaigns towards these issues.

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