Part III: Killing the Dominant Male – PKK and Women’s Revolution
PKK, the Workers Party of Kurdistán: many people know their name, few really know what their struggle is about. Www.farc-epeace.org had the opportunity to speak with two representatives of the PKK’s women’s organization – PAJK, Zelal Dersim and Asia Dicle, about the situation in the Middle-East, IS, the role of the United States, the peace process with the Turkish government and, last but not least, the PKK struggle for freedom. This is the third part of the interview.
“History, in a sense, is the history of the dominant male who gained power with the rise of classed society” ~Abdullah Öcalan
Liberating Life: Woman’s Revolution is a collection of different articles written by Abdullah Öcalan – PKK’s supreme leader – on gender and women’s liberation. Öcalan, through study and practice since the seventies, came to the conclusion that the enslavement of women was the start of all other forms of enslavement. This conclusion has led PKK to make important theoretical and practical progress on the emancipation, organization and, ultimately, the liberation of women. Öcalan’s theory and findings are to be found in the aforementioned collection of articles. About the practical application and organizational impact of this theory, we spoke with Zelal Dersim and Asia Dicle, two representatives of the PKK’s women’s organization PAJK. According to them, the freedom of society depends on the freedom of women.
Peace Delegation: Could you give us a general overview of the historical development of women’s participation in Kurdistán?
Zelal: After the decade of the nineties, there are all the time new and more women’s organizations coming up; women start to organize themselves economically, socially and politically. In the beginning their role was mostly passive; however, this started to change, it became more active throughout the years, within the party but also within society. We have now come to a point at which we have a political system, which appoints two representatives on all levels: one man and one woman. This is the case for example in Rojava, where the regional parliaments in a town or a city work like this. People don’t choose just one mayor; they choose two, always. It has to be one man and one woman. This system is also applied within PKK. Within the higher ranks of the movement, where strategic decisions are being taken, there are always a man and a woman, with equal power.
Asia: There was an important event that pretty much changed the way in which female commanders were perceived by men. In 1992, Turkey, United States and the Peshmerga forces were waging war together against PKK. Many commanders were fighting this war in a mountainous area. There was one important, strategic mountain in that area; the commander who was fighting with his troops on this mountain decided to surrender and leave it to the enemy. Well, a female guerrilla fighter called Beritan, who wasn’t even a commander but who had a great authority over the troops, said she didn’t want to leave the mountain. She fought until everyone around her was killed. The Peshmerga arrived and saw that there was only one woman left. She took her weapon and destroyed it because she didn’t want the enemy to have it. She destroyed it with stones. Everybody is watching her and they tell her to get down and surrender. But at that moment, she throws herself off the mountain and kills herself. That is when a lot of Peshmerga decided to stop fighting and the combat situation completely changed. Her behaviour made the enemy respect PKK and our female combatants. From that moment on, female commanders started to rise at all places.
PD: But in a military situation it would be complicated to have two persons taking decisions….
Asia: Within the HPG guerrilla forces, female guerrilla combatants have organized themselves in separate units called YJA Star: the women’s self-defence forces. They have their own headquarters and their own school for commanders. YJA Star often pauses the war, in order to give more importance to education. Then all women come together to discuss about social problems, politics but also specific problems of women and conflicts between guerrilla fighters. By the way, our Party (PKK) also has its own women department called PAJK, which we represent.
PD: A widespread symptom of patriarchy in Latin America is what we call machismo, which is present in all corners of the country and the continent. Does it exist in Kurdistan?
Asia: During the decade of the eighties, when women wanted to join PKK, our male fighters said: “but we are talking about war here, you are weak, you can’t handle weapons”. They didn’t believe that women could fight like men; this has been an enormous problem in our movement. After that stage, when women were finally allowed to join, they said: “OK then, but you can’t participate in the war, you will have to participate in women’s tasks, just like in society: cleaning and cooking. The development and understanding about the role of women within our movement has been slow and gradual since the beginning. At the beginning, when we thought of a revolutionary person, we also thought of him being a man. What is in your mind, is always a man. For example Ché Guevara is a man; people always say: we want to be like Ché. But I am a woman, I am different. That was something that was lacking; the consciousness that the image of a revolutionary can also be a woman. To overcome these prejudices has been difficult.
Zelal: When you talk about freedom for our country, millions of people will agree. When you talk about freedom for women, very few people will join you. They say: “I don’t want anybody to influence in my relationship with my wife or my girlfriend”. First we have to explain them that to achieve a free homeland, you have to achieve the liberation of the people who live in it. If the people aren’t free, the country can’t be free, either. We have to do a great educational job to make men and women understand this and make them aware. In this process, criticism and self-criticism are essential; if a man doesn’t respect a female commander, this means he won’t have any opportunities anymore in the future, because 500 people come together and he will have to respond for his behaviour before all these people. This is a very important principle within PKK, a priority. After criticism, of course there should be a change in behaviour.
Asia: Something else is the way men perceive or treat women’s bodies. For many men in our society, the women are symbols of their honour. If you want to destroy a man’s honour, you attack his wife. This is a very strong element in our society. And what happened? When women joined the PKK and were killed in the war, their corpses got in hands of the army. The army plays with their bodies, they rape them… This is to make the Kurdish men feel that their honour has been taken away. So at the beginning the male combatants didn’t want to accept the reality that we are fighting a war and within this war, our bodies are the same and it is equally terrible that the enemy does those things with male or with female bodies. Of course this whole idea is based on our patriarchal society and that was the way they perceived it. But things have changed now.
Solidarity Message from Women of FARC to Kurdish Women
Women guerrillas of the Colombia Revolutionary Liberation Army (FARC-EP) have sent a solidarity message of sisterly, revolutionary and internationalist greetings to all the women of PAJK, PKK and YJA Star women guerrillas. The message, signed by Victoria Sandino and Aleksandra Narino on behalf of the women guerrillas of FARC-EP reads as follows:
“From the Mountains of Colombia and Cuba, Havana, we, the women guerrillas of FARC and Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces send all our sisterly, revolutionary, internationalist and solidarity greetings to all the women guerrillas of PAJK-PKK and YJA-STAR.
We embrace the revolutionary women, struggling women fighters and our sisters wholeheartedly as revolutionaries.
As the ones deprived of freedoms, as the ones doomed to poverty, we send our sisterly greetings for life, for freedom and for all the women.
Biji (Long Live) FARC-EP!
Biji (Long Live) PKK!
Biji (Long Live) PAJK!
Biji (Long Live) YJA STAR!”