Kurdish Women in Rojava: From Resistance to Reconstruction


in Die Welt des Islams
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In 2010, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan,PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, declared, “The freedom of the Kurdish people can be viewed as inseparably bound to women’s freedom.”1 This statement emphasizes a core tenet in the reinvention of the PKK’s ideology as articulated by Öcalan: the understanding that freedom can only be achieved through the defeat of the patriarchal system. The women of the PKK and its sister organization, the Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat, PYD), represent the embodiment of the PKK’s new ideology, attracting international attention following Kurdish efforts to establish an autonomous region of governance in north-east Syria. This article focuses on a case study of the PYD’s Syrian Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Jin, YPJ), and their defence of Kurdish-dominated enclaves in Syria. The analysis demonstrates the agency behind their engagement and the ideology that motivates their resistance to patriarchy in the Middle East. In so doing, the article compares the YPJ’s understanding of agency to media representations of YPJ fighters’ engagement, in an effort to see beyond the traditional victim/peacemaker articulation of gendered engagement, arguing instead for the need to recognize the politics behind Kurdish women’s participation as combatants in the Syrian civil war.


Kurdish Women in Rojava: From Resistance to Reconstruction


in Die Welt des Islams

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References

2

 Isobel Coleman“Women and the Arab Revolts”Brown Journal of International Affairs 18 no.1 (2011) 197-210. As an example of the regression in gender rights polygamy became legal again in Libya in 2013 at the instigation of the National Transitional Council. See: Mustafa Fetouri “Women face setbacks in new Libya” Al-Monitor Pulse 23 March 2015 .

8

 See: J. Ann TicknerGender in International Relations (New York: Columbia University Press1992); Laura Sjoberg and Caron Gentry Mothers Monsters Whores: Women’s Violence in Global Politics (London: Zed Books 2007).

9

 Jean Bethke ElshtainWomen and War (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press1995).

11

 Joane Nagel“Masculinity and Nationalism: Gender and Sexuality in the Making of Nations”Ethnic and Racial Studies 21 no.2 (1998) 242-69doi:10.1080/014198798330007; Nira Yuval-Davis “Gender and nation” Ethnic and Racial Studies 16 no.4 (1993) 621-32 doi:10.1080/01419870.1993.9993800; Nira Yuval-Davis and Floya Anthias eds. Woman-Nation-State (London: Macmillan 1989).

13

 Robert M. Entman“Framing Bias: Media in the Distribution of Power”Journal of Communication 57no.1 (2007) 163-73 on 164 doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00336.x.

14

 Jacob Groshek“Coverage of the pre-Iraq War debate as a case study of frame indexing”Media War & Conflict 1 no.3 (2008) 315-88on 316 doi:10.1177/1750635208097049.

15

 Arwa Damon“We won’t stand for male dominance”CNN6 October 2008 .

16

 David GhanimGender and Violence in the Middle East (Westport, C.T.: Præger Publishers2009) 114.

17

 Hamideh Sedghi“Third World Feminist Perspectives on Politics” in Women Gender and World Politics: Perspectives Policies and Prospectseds. Peter R. Beckman and Francine D’Amico (Westport Conn: Bergin & Garvey 1994) 89-90.

18

 Jason Burke“Daughters of the Revolution”The GuardianDispatches 11 May 2003 .

19

 Jason Burke“Daughters of the Revolution”The GuardianDispatches 11 May 2003 .

21

 See Brigitte L. Nacos“The Portrayal of Female Terrorists in the Media: Similar Framing Patterns in the News Coverage of Women in Politics and in Terrorism”Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 28 no.5 (2005) 435-51doi:10.1080/10576100500180352. It also corresponds to the framing of gender in the media in general. For example women political candidates’ appearance family status domestic arrangements and personal lives elicit as much interest as their politics. Dianne G. Bystrom Terry A. Robertson & Mary Christine Banwart “Framing the fight: An analysis of media coverage of female and male candidates in primary races for governor and U.S. Senate in 2000” American Behavioral Scientist 44 no.12 (2001) 1999-2013 doi:10.1177/00027640121958456; Erika Falk Women for President: Media Bias in Nine Campaigns (Chicago: University of Illinois Press 2010); Kim Fridkin Kahn. The Political Consequences of Being a Woman: How Stereotypes Influence the Conduct and Consequences of Political Campaigns (New York: Columbia University Press 1996).

24

 Shireen Taher“‘We are so proud’ – the women who died defending Kobani against Isis”Guardian online 30 January 2015 . Of the four portraits of Kurdish female combatants only one combatant is described as motivated clearly by a political agenda. The other three are motivated by their personal histories.

26

 Dilar Dirik“The Women’s Revolution in Rojava: Defeating Fascism by Constructing an Alternative Society” in A Small Key Can Open A Large Door: The Rojava Revolution eds. Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness(London:Combustion Books 2015) .

29

 Terry Eagleton Ideology: An Introduction (London: Verso1991) 1-2.

31

 Michael M. GunterOut of Nowhere: The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War (London: Hurst & Company2014) 2.

35

 McDowallA Modern History of the Kurds419.

36

 Aliza MarcusBlood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence (New York: NYU University Press2007) 173.

37

 McDowallA Modern History of the Kurds440.

38

 Hugh Poulton“Turkey” in Middle East Contemporary Survey 1995Volume XIX ed. Bruce Maddy Weitzman (Colorado: Westview Press1995) 654. McDowall cites Medico International and the Kurdish Human Rights Project when noting that the population of Diyarbakir in south-east Turkey grew from 380000 in 1991 to 1.3 million in 1996. McDowall A Modern History of the Kurds 440.

39

 MarcusBlood and Belief173.

40

 GunterOut of Nowhere31.

42

 GunterOut of Nowhere2. See also Michiel Leezenberg “The ambiguities of democratic autonomy: The Kurdish movement in Turkey and Rojava” Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 16 no.4 (2016) 671-90 doi:10.1080/14683857.2016.1246529.

44

 Can Cemgil and Clemens Hoffmann“The ‘Rojava Revolution’ in Syrian Kurdistan: A Model of Development for the Middle East?”IDS Bulletin47 no.3 (2016) 53-76doi:10.19088/1968-2016.144.

45

 Can Cemgil and Clemens Hoffmann“The ‘Rojava Revolution’ in Syrian Kurdistan: A Model of Development for the Middle East?”IDS Bulletin47 no.3 (2016) 60.

47

 Melis“Beyond Female Soldiers: The Feminism of Rojava”Alternatives International Journal2 March 2016 .

48

 Nihat Ali Özcan“PKK Recruitment of Female Operatives”Terrorism Focus 4 no.28 (2007) .

49

 V.G. Julie RajanWomen Suicide Bombers: Narratives of Violence (New York: Routledge2011); and Dogu Ergil “Suicide Terrorism in Turkey: The Workers’ Party of Kurdistan” in Countering Suicide Terrorism: An International Conference (Herzliya: The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism 2001) 105-28.

51

 Necati Alkan“Youth and Terrorism: Example of PKK” in Political Violence Organized Crime Terrorism and Youthed. M. Demet Ulusoy (Washington, DC: IOS Press2008) 159-69163.

54

 Karen Jacques and Paul J. Taylor“Female Terrorism: A Review”Terrorism and Political Violence 21 no.3 (2009) 499-515doi:10.1080/09546550902984042.

61

 Abdullah ÖcalanLiberating Life: Woman’s Revolution (Cologne: International Initiative “Freedom for Abdullah Öcalan – Peace in Kurdistan”2013) 43>.

62

 Wes Enzinna“A Dream of a Secular Utopia in ISIS Backyard”The New York Times Magazine online 24 November 2015 .

64

 Murray Bookchin“The Meaning of Confederalism”Green Perspectives: A Left Green Publication 20 (November 1989) .

67

 House Organ“Rojava”Capitalism Nature Socialism 26 no.1 (2015) 1-15. This publication also has a good critical assessment of democratic confederalism as put into practice.

69

 Necla Acik“Kobane: The Struggle of Kurdish Women against Islamic State”Open Demo­cracy22 October 2014 .

75

 Rosa Benathan“Guns, Widows & What you don´t hear about in Syria: An Interview with Margaret Owen”Bad Housekeeping: Writing a new generation of gender (online magazine) 17 January 2014 .

78

 Interviewed in Newsha Tavakolian“Meet the Women Taking the Battle to ISIS”Time Magazine2 April 2015 .)

79

 Interviewed in Newsha Tavakolian“Meet the Women Taking the Battle to ISIS”Time Magazine2 April 2015

82

 Tanya Goudsouzian“Kobane explained: What´s so special about it?”Al Jazeera21 October 2014 .

83

 Max Fisher“Turkey´s twin terrorist threats explained”The New York Times29 June 2016 .

84

 Bacik“Turkey and Russia´s Proxy War and the Kurds” The German Marshall Fund of the United States January 2016 .

93

 Jenna Krajeski“Kurdistan’s Female Fighters”Atlantic online 30 January 2013

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