YPJ fighters in Rojava march to the front lines smiling
While the West, and especially Europe, seems undecided and apparently defenceless in the war against terrorism, fighting ISIS is the priority in Syria and Iraq, where the heroic Kurdish resistance, involving huge female participation, gives proof of authentic and revolutionary feminism.
Ayşe Deniz Karacagil, the Turkish activist whose story had been illustrated by Italian comic writer Zerocalcare in “Kobane Calling”, died on May 29 in Raqqa. She was fighting in the YPJ, the Women’s Protection Units, an unexpected example of democracy, which unfortunately remains a one and only model in the whole Middle East area.
Ayşe was given the nickname “the girl with the red scarf” during the 2013 Gezi protests, where she was arrested, labelled a terrorist and sentenced to 103 years in prison. After initially fleeing to the mountains, she joined the Kurdish forces in the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State. In doing so, she contributed to the defence of the autonomous enclave of Rojava—also known as Syrian Kurdistan—, an inspirational, utopian experiment committed to absolute secularism, democracy and gender equality.
Jineology, also known as the science of women, is one of the fundamental beliefs of the social revolution in Rojava.T his innovative concept was advocated for the first time by Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, and represents a step forward for the women’s liberation movement. In fact, it introduces a new form of feminism built on Öcalan’s famous statement “A country can’t be free unless the women are free,” which stands in opposition to the sexist paradigm based on the subject-object dichotomy, which can be summarized as “men act, women are.” It took some time for women to acquire political and military power and to organize autonomously into a proper army, but they finally managed to establish a democratic umbrella organization.
These women embody the contrasts that define this part of the world: divided by both war fronts and irreconcilable values, only a few miles distant, opposite realities exist and cannot help but clash with each other.
On one hand we are shocked by the existence of the Al-Khansaa Brigade, an all-female salaried religious police squad, charged with punishing any woman who defies Sharia law, and just as cruel as any of their male unit counterparts. Pro-ISIS women are starting to feel empowered and went from just being jihadi brides to playing more active and operative roles. Ironically, ISIS is gaining a certain appeal by offering a new interpretation of the concept of “girl-power”, which seems to be particularly attractive to some of them.
Thankfully, on the other hand, other women are taking aim and leading armies. Last May 2016, it was the Kurdish woman Rodja Felat who led 15,000 women and men willing to die for their freedom into a first assault in order to free Raqqa.
In fact, being captured alive by ISIS is, without doubt, far worse than death itself. How can we forget Ceylan Özalp, the 19-year-old YPJ fighter who, upon realizing that she was running out of ammunition, spent her last bullet on killing herself? And what about Dilar Kanj Khamis—better known by her nom de guerre Arin Mirkan—the first reported Kurdish female fighter who carried out a suicide bomb against a number of jihadists who were surrounding her on Mishtenur Hill, in Kobanê?
Not even Yazidi women, a Kurdish religious community, have been spared from sexual abuses and brutal killings following the Caliphate expansion in Syria and Iraq. In Raqqa’s city center, in fact, two markets were allocated for the selling of women and girls, while many of other victims committed suicide after being raped or tortured by militants. In 2014, for instance, Yazidi Nobel Peace Prize nominee Nadia Murad was kidnapped and used as a sex slave, before managing to escape and make her way to Germany.
It’s hard to believe, yet astoundingly clear, that the apparently opposite phenomena described above are actually two sides of the same coin; jihadi girls deal with oppression at others’ expense while female combatants fight for freedom and equality.
Today, in the chaos of Syria’s civil war, women struggle to defend their right to speak up and, motivated by the desire of a concrete change—or even personal revenge in some cases—are desperately looking for the emancipation they have never really had.
The creation of the Rojava experiment seems like a mirage among Middle Eastern countries, and defeating ISIS will not be the end of the war for these women: their efforts will be directed towards the plague of underage marriage, poligamy and patriarchal mentality in order to break centuries of oppressive tradition.
As a matter of fact, they are not only trying to overcome an honor-shame society, but are also laying the foundations for massive progression regarding social, cultural and political structures. Classes in which women learn about emancipation and support groups for female victims of abuses are bright examples of this revolution.
The defence of women’s rights should not be taken for granted, even in Western countries, where instead the future of our fundamental values should spark a serious debate. Indeed, the mismanaged multiculturalism dream has hardly challenged them and one of the 20th-century's women’s movement goals—the freedom of choice—seems almost forgotten, so that modern feminism ends up appearing just as a faded legacy, full of stereotypes.
Jineology conveys powerful ideas that any woman can embrace. The importance of self-defence, for instance, has become incredibly relevant given the number of women that experience violence every day. Learning how to overcome any form of oppression is a good starting point for breaking the women's dependence on men.
Kurdish feminists are teaching a lesson to the whole world and we could learn a great deal from them in terms of defending rights and social progression. Our struggle now, as the privileged ones, is spread the voice of Ayşe, Ceylan, Dilar and any other brave women, let some of their stories be heard and remind that their battle should actually be every woman’s battle.
Martyrs never die, but our grandmothers’ and mothers’ achievements at least deserve to be genuinely, proudly and fiercely defended.
- Silvia Fornaroli
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