Women's army in Kurdistan

Issue 

By Deryagul Beran

We have received word from Kurdistan that for some time a women's army has been in existence among the guerillas there. We spoke to a representative of the Free Women's Movement of Kurdistan (TAJK), who has herself taken part in the guerilla struggle, about this development.

Why was it necessary to set up this army? What was the position of women among the guerillas up to now?

The structure of Kurdish society is in part also reflected in the life of the guerillas. So relations between men and women and the roles played by the sexes were determined along traditional lines. Men and women were kept strictly segregated. They were brought up so that the women always had to obey the man.

The strong patriarchal oppression of women in Kurdistan is also a consequence of the despotism perpetrated by the colonialists. Kurdish women see their fight for freedom reinforced by Kurdistan's liberation movement. As the struggle has developed, the number of women involved has grown continually.

Of course, here too they were confronted with the classical social problems. Many of them were still in the grip of tradition and patriarchy. The encounter of these two different worlds influences life among the guerillas.

Our party, and especially our general secretary, Abdullah Ocalan, analysed this problem at the very beginning of the liberation struggle and has taken important steps towards resolving it. Resolving the question of women, of women's rights then, can only take place if it is viewed as a "revolution inside the revolution".

Accordingly, in the guerilla army, women are learning about their own significance for Kurdistan's liberation. They live with the knowledge that without their revolutionary struggle for freedom there can be no revolution in Kurdistan. The women have been politicised as a result of this awareness.

Of course this process also develops among the male guerillas, for the liberation movement does not see the question of women's rights as a matter merely for women. It is a social problem historically connected with the occupation of Kurdistan.

Female commanders rarely found that the role they played was an acceptable one in the eyes of either men or women. Some men still found it difficult to take orders from women commanders. Equally, at first they did not receive respect from women either. The inferiority complex of women resulting from social conditioning was the decisive reason for this failure to accept women commanders.

At the same time, the fact that a woman could become a commander could be a source of self-confidence for women. The growing number of women in the guerilla struggle made a special organisation necessary, because the men inhibit the independent development of the women's abilities. His presence is embarrassing. In order to gain full recognition in Kurdish society and among the guerillas, a military mode of organisation has to be introduced alongside the political one. In this way women have the possibility of developing independently.

Is it in any way different from the men's army?

It is not correct to think in terms only of men's and women's armies. Alongside the women's army, which consists of about 2000 women, many fight in mixed units.

The women's army and the regular army are subordinate to the same command structure. Both fight according to the same plans and objectives. The only difference is that the women's army concentrates on the development of the personality of the individual woman.

Strength at all levels of struggle is not a monopoly of any particular sex. One can say, however, that women in struggle adapt more quickly because they are constantly aware of their thousands of years of slavery. So the intention of winning freedom is much stronger among them than among men. Most of the women understand that freedom is possible now, or never.

Could you give us some examples of women who have developed particularly far as a result of the struggle?

There are countless examples of this kind. I will talk about some women of whom I have personal knowledge. Sozdar came from the countryside, where she received the traditional and backward upbringing of peasants. So she had not had the chance to go to school.

After she got to know the guerillas, she joined them. There she has rediscovered everything that she, like millions of male and female Kurds, had lost because of colonisation. Sozdar is learning to come to grips with her national and sexual identity and she is overcoming all the old structures step by step. From a women guerilla she is turning into a commander.

Another example, Zelal, became engaged in Dersim and was supposed to get married in the Federal Republic of Germany later on. Previously in Dersim she had become acquainted with the guerillas a short time before her trip to Germany. As she put it herself, Zelal wanted freedom. She lacked any conception of how to achieve it.

In Germany she came into contact again with the liberation movement and joined it there some time later. In order to break the traditional fetters she had her fiance come to Germany so she could tell him she wanted to become a part of the movement completely. She did not want an engagement in the classical sense and she made him an offer: they could both wage the struggle, or else break the engagement. After he rejected her offer, she separated from him and after a lengthy period of political activity in Germany, went to Kurdistan. Today she is a commander there.

You are a representative of the Free Women's Movement (TAJK). What connection does the TAJK have to the women's army?

We women of TAJK consider ourselves generally as part of the liberation movement of Kurdistan. Without it we would not exist. Both politically and materially we support the women's movement in Kurdistan.

According to the aims we envisage, political support is not simply the task of Kurdish women like ourselves, but non-Kurdish women should also engage in this task. For example, the experiences we have had with the women's army and through our practical politics can serve as a new perspective on the road to liberation from patriarchy. Therefore powerful solidarity should be developed.
[Translated by Steve Kaczynnski. Abridged from Kurdistan Report (PO Box 6326, Station A, Toronto, Ontario M5W 1P7, Canada).]