News from the Revolution in Rojava and Wider Kurdistan
Leyla Agirî, a member of the coordinatıng body of Yekitiya Jinen Azad (YJA) – Union Of Free Women – has given an interview to Özgür Gündem in which she speaks about the YJA’s role as a common front for all women and the direction of the women’s revolution in the region more generally.
Agirî explained that the organization was founded on the perspective of the democratic nation and stressed that with the group’s formation they had “made a change toward a more independent and emancipatory system.” She also drew attention to the dangers facing women in the face of widespread war and chaos in the region, telling the paper that “we must strengthen the common front of women’s struggle…Women’s organizations in the Middle East and women around the world should unite around this organizational effort.”
The interview was conducted by Veysi Sarısözen and Sedat Yılmaz and took place in the Kandil Mountains of South Kurdistan. The interview has been translated from Turkish to English in its entirety below.
-The experiment of Kurdish women organizing has remade itself with the proclamation of a new big tent organization called the YJA. Can you talk a little about the stage your organization has reached and the institutional framework you have created?
The YJA has more than a 20 year history of freedom struggle. We first mobilized along the perspective of our leadership in 1993. Following our first organizing experiment with the YJK we moved to form ourselves as a party and Partiya Azadiya Jin A Kurdistan (PJAK) was founded in 2001. We reorganized ourselves in 2001 together with the paradigmatic change made by our leadership on İmralı. In 2003 we moved toward a confederal organization under Koma Jinen Bilind. This umbrella organization was made up of three separate spheres: PAJK in the ideological sphere, YJA in the community sphere and and YJA Star in the self-defensive sphere. Most recently we have created a sphere for the organization of young women and these four spheres continue to operate until today. We evaluated ourselves and organization in every aspect from the democratic nation perspective following the new process that our leadership began in 2013 on Newroz. In fact we had already set up a women’s KCK – that is the YJA – a long time before during a congress we organized. YJA is a confederal umbrella organization. As the Women’s KCK we made a change toward a more independent and emancipatory system.
-Lets talk about the women’s revolution that rests on the foundation of all of this organizing. How much has it registered or been internalized within the Kurdistan resistance movement?
Leader Apo’s foundational life principle is that “society cannot become free without the freedom of women.” In fact the development of the women’s freedom movement was made a concrete fact together with a thorough study of the 5 thousand-year patriarchal ideology and the subjection of this to analysis. Of course as women joined the PKK they encountered the national contradictions at its base. But there was a gender identity and status given to us within the society. One of the reasons that brought us to the mountains were the pursuits we lived as women. The first years of the war were very difficult from our perspective. It wasn’t easy for us as women to fight, to develop a strong organization presence during the war when this was the space most staked out by the power of male hegemony; it wasn’t easy for us to take this tool from them and to take male hegemony to task; it wasn’t easy to face and struggle and hold to account the Statist system.
-In these space where male hegemony was most dominant you created an entirely different life…
If we as women had not transformed ourselves into a strong, democratic subject and had not developed this will we could not have developed a strong alternative to men in any sphere of life. For this reason the masculine approaches which we experienced in the war created serious problems for the traditional position of women. As the leadership saw this and understood it and moved to solve the problem it said “women must develop their own organization structures.” At first this happened through the organization of separate military units and over time this transitioned into the formation of an organized women’s party and, dialectically, the important development of the Women’s KCK. Of course at first we needed to build consciousness. We became very strong and radical by growing in conscious, investigating the traditions among us, adopting positions in regards to them and to the reality of male hegemony.
-Did you encounter any resistance or problems from men?
We did not arrive at today easily. The gains we have won are the result of great struggles, sacrifices and difficulties. Alongside the reality of Kurdish masculinity is the subject of a 5 thousand-year old patriarchal mentality. We clashed seriously with these masculine attitudes with every step we took. We arrived at today by clashing, by struggle, by gaining in strength, consciousness, will and organization. We waged a serious struggle against the masculine, belittling and dismissive understanding that “women do not understand war or government.”
-What kind of change do you see concretely? How did it used to be and what is the situation now?
Men did not used to see us as a power. To say power was to say men. Today if we look at Kurds as a third power in the Middle East, whether criticized or appreciated by friends our enemies, there are commonalities when it comes to women. Leader Öcalan carried out a revolution in person of the Kurdish woman. In any place where women are organized they can question and struggle against male hegemony. This is now seen as a power and we are taking this into account. In the foundation we destroyed the status we had in our culture. There is no such thing as women’s or men’s work. Everyone does every job. From the kitchen to security, everything is done in common.
-In combat do women and men fight together or apart?
We have our own organizations in every sphere of life. We have a place in general mixed structures and we have places which belong to ourselves. Everything is equal. However traditionalism has persisted. We have created free women and free men but the freedom struggle demands persistence. And we continue our pursuits and efforts in this area.
-When talking about the foundation of the women’s ideology you always stress the efforts of Öcalan. This is criticized among certain feminist circles Turkey who say that “a man cannot lay the foundation for a women’s ideology.” How do you explain this?
In this past we constantly encountered such attitudes but today we see it less. We do not approach women and men as a fact of biology. Sexism in society creates such a reality. It is a question of the creation of two separate sexes, two separate consciousness, two separate souls. The leadership investigated this among itself and look seriously at the all of the masculine structures, soul, mentality and behavior. The leadership is not an individual for us, it is an identity. Now in the circles we are talking about they are coming to realize that as much as they know the leadership its ideological, philosophical understanding and its understanding of struggle is the most reasonable solution from the perspective of humanity. Everyone who sees our lives, our positions and our organizations is surprised. There are many commentaries on the Kurdish woman who until just yesterday counted for nothing, whose name was unknown, who was unseen and unrecognized and who has received education and is organized and comes to possess a new consciousness. There are those who have decided to struggle together with us.
-Do you have exchanges and debates with women in other countries in the world?
We have relations with Latin American countries even if they have been held up. Last year we hold a Middle East women’s conference. We are not only aiming at the liberation of Kurdish women. We are a movement that aims at and struggles for the freedom of all women. This is the subject of our efforts and pursuits.
-Men have their role in all wars. Now you are aiming at a confederal structure for the Middle East. Perhaps as women you are more advantaged regarding the unification of the Middle East…
We are both advantaged and the main force. Because the main vehicles of capitalist modernity are religious sectarianism, nationalism, sexism and scientism. These vehicles together with weapons estrange all identities from one another and divide them, break them apart and then rule over them. From the women’s perspective all of these vehicles are an insidious trap and plot for communities. When women develop a democratically conscious power and will they become one of the most transformative powers for change.
-You have spoken of something which attracts much interest perhaps we could speak about this more..
We have gone about ‘jinelogic’ work in the name of women from within the perspective of the democratic nation. As a feminine science, jinelogy works to go beyond the sexism in the realm of science and to remake the entire legacy of women on the foundation of the democratic nation as a space where a common mentality and values can meet. It is an opening in respect to the women’s movement. This is a project which has attracted the attention of women’s organizations around the world. In science where religious sectarianism, nationalism, and sexism is found is every sphere sexism has most severely affected women. European women are even more in search of this. We posses a universal character. When women see us they are very affected. They are those who want to take our model and apply it. Those who get to know us chose to struggle together with us.
-With Jineoloji you have challenged the world of science. Where do you want go?
No method of thought has legitimized sexism as much as science. We have started to work around this subject together with the efforts of Leader Apo even if a little late. Scientism is itself a product of male hegemony. Even if women have great contributions in the field of science. When one investigates this field a great conflict breaks out. Jineologic work challenges the sexism which has been made concrete in science. It is a revolt. It is a correction. We are is developing jineology in the mountains along our own, free mechanisms. Just as we have directed all of our steps in this area toward freedom, we are also developing jineology in this area.
-You have explained all of this. So in the mountains have you solved all problems between men and women?
The freedom struggle is a long-running struggle. We have come to this point after 40 years of the PKK and 20 years of the women’s struggle and we have made important gains. We have all become more free, but we cannot say that we have an entirely free life. The Kurdish man is not his former self. However if we were to say that we have won a deep change in mentality in every area of existence it would not be true.
-For example there are situations like the co-presidency system that still have not been accepted by all men…
We are a movement look for a solution from with a perspective struggle for change against the persistence of sexism and power partisanship. We posses a certain degree of experience as regards the co-presidency system recently implemented by our leadership. You cannot reveal a serious change and transformation of will within the social sphere without going beyond the sexism in relations between women and men. Sooner or later you will run into this reality. In order to go beyond this we need new perspectives, new tactics of struggle, a strong form of conscious building and organization. But nothing will be like before and cannot be. The co-presidency system will develop with free men, not traditional men. From this perspective the system being developed must be turned into a great field of struggle.
-Do you have a call to male presidents?
Talk about my room, my chair and my signature are really partistan, small and dirty calculations. They have always pushed the community away. This recklessness is really revealing itself in the person of the ISIS. (Laughing) This is a plague that has struck masculinity. The future of everyone depends on approaching this subject responsibly.
-Lastly is there any message you would like to give [to our readers]?
As was seen in Mosul you men do not have much to lose but the future of us women is under threat. For that reason I am saying that we should strengthen the common front of the women’s struggle. It is necessary for all women’s organizations to come to together on a democratic unified front. Women’s organizations in the Middle East and women around the world should unite around this organizational effort. An important duty has fallen to us as women in Turkey to develop a front based on democracy and a general peace among peoples. All women comrades everywhere, from Trabzon to Şırnak, should unite around the organized struggle of women.