Question: What is the story behind YJA-STAR and Kurdish women’s self-defence battalions?
Though the name YJA-Star was adopted in 2004, the process towards the militarization of women had begun much earlier. The deep contradiction within the sociological reality of Kurdistan and the strong participation of female comrades in the revolution has caused the issue of women’s liberation to incrementally become a pressing matter that is just as important as the national issue. Entrenching the militarizing qualities and the authenticity of the women’s organization as well as ensuring it’s emergence upon genuine demands had been of great importance. “When the revolution succeeds, women will also be emancipated”; at no point such a phrase was invoked.
Concerning the woman issue, it has been quite clear that emancipation would only be achieved through the very own ideas, organizations and actions of the women themselves. Concerning this issue, since the self-revelation of women’s self-power is of capital importance, the militarization of women was constituted as a necessity. Despite all its rigors, the militarization of the Kurdish woman had became a constituent element in her self-creation and self-consciousness of her own existence. In order for those women who are dispossessed of their volitions and their very selves under societies where oppressive forces are dominant, to reshape their own personalities, to become Life’s transformative force and to liberate their gender, is only possible through becoming a power themselves.
In such context, the women’s militarization had organized itself rather as an instrument of equality in social, political and cultural spheres instead of a simple military organization with only combat related purposes. A woman who cannot fold herself into a total reality encompassing the ideological, political and military spheres, becomes a basis for the false sense of power that develops in men which causes the development of a masquerading sense of dominance over women. The armies of men have taken their source from inequality and have become the instruments of deepening for slavery and domination; in contrast with this, the militarization of women is face to face with the duties of abolishing the sources of inequality and exploitation, fighting against the very causes that foment domination and becoming the army of equality and liberation.
Question: Why the militarization of women?
It is inevitable in Kurdistan for the initial field of organization for women to be the army and war. In the struggle for national liberation, no alternative was left other than militarization. Under such circumstances the only way to preserve one’s existence, honour and identity is to fight. Women’s advance towards liberation is going to be through the initial organizational step of self-militarization, this is evident. Through their defiance, women have been struggling to establish the sense that they can be involved in every field of work in life. What is aimed with the militarization of women is to shatter the male-dominant logic and the societal habitude that has sprouted from this logic.
Given the class reality, to incorporate the oppressed people and the even more oppressed women into the army and have them fight, expresses a great emancipatory outburst against classic traditional approaches. The armies of men have taken their source from inequality and have become the instruments of deepening for slavery and domination; in contrast with this, the militarization of women is face to face with the duties of abolishing the sources of inequality and exploitation, fighting against the very causes that foment domination and becoming the army of equality and liberation.
In a society, the more the level of women’s liberty, the more dynamism its level of development will have. In this respect, women’s liberation has priority. Nevertheless as the women’s liberation is continuous; a unique organization, organizational mechanisms, means of struggle and the institutionalization of those are all essential as they are fundamental requirements for emancipatory development.
Question: What are the differences between men’s army structures and women’s army structures?
As we know, armies all over the world are the most fundamental sources of political power and these armies consist of men. The level of men within armies relatively, as well as generally, represent the degree of the dependency of women. As the man’s dominance in military also represents his dominance in that society; as such, it also amounts to a dominance over women. No one can deny the existence of such relations. The relation between such a sense of a male dominated military and the undergoing repression of women is real.
There is no concept such as an army of equality. One is the army of the oppressed, other is the army of the oppressors; if there is an army completely consisting of men somewhere, then there also exists the facticity of oppressed women. Life itself indeed verifies this condition. We do not speak merely of martial militarization; in economy, in numerous institutions of social life, without the creation of women’s political and especially cultural militarization (ie. organization), a solution towards the greater problem of equality and liberation cannot be provided. Army is a type of organization for us. If we look closely, the existing reality of women whose place within society is utterly minimized, results from the quality of being a women who is dissuaded from organizing in general and creating her own army distinctively.
And this causes for wars and inequality to persist and gain root within our societies. Upon this perspective, the organization and institutionalization of the militarization of women in every aspect is essential for liberation and the creation of equality. In this respect, the non-patriarchal development of our guerrilla army is strongly connected with the endeavours of democratization. One of the fundamental reasons for developing this unique form of militarization of women is also to prevent the emergence of patriarchal characteristics. In nowhere across the globe has there ever been a separate army of women that has developed within the general army. Herein lies our principal difference.
Question: Is the women’s group completely politically and militarily autonomous?
The women’s organization is autonomously and uniquely organizational within all fields of work (political – military) in general. Currently due to several disadvantages surrounding the conditions of struggle, especially in war, there is more of a combined system. To better put this, in fields of life and organizational fields we have separate positionings; but in war, common practices are held. There are both men’s military units and women’s in the war zones. Moreover, there are also mixed units, but still the unique system of female guerrillas is in effect within these mixed groups. By their participation and stance, women have a strongly determinant position within mixed guerrilla units as well. These units may have division of labour and mutual support but they do not dissolve or liquidate under one another.
There may be common actions, but still some actions may be exercised solely by women’s units, and some solely by men’s. There are actions to be held both commonly and separately in war. We speak of a women guerrilla force which provides ideological, political and military education in and of itself, which acts according to its own plans and practices through self-power – i.e. a force that organizes its own system. This is to transform women’s own volition into an organization and ensure its strong development.
Question: How are hierarchical relations between women constituted within an army organization? Is there an hierarchical organization? If so, does it present an obstacle in the face of common struggle?
When it comes to the army, usually what comes to mind are the armies of the dominant state and class structures. On the contrary, what we have is a people’s guerrilla force. And it has a structure developed upon democratic grounds. The women liberation guerrilla constitutes the most essential dynamism within the development and preservation of this democratic structure. Volunteerism is the principle for participation; nevertheless, indubitably, it is neither disorganized nor irregular.
Of course, there are rudiments of principle and discipline concerning the participation to the practice for undertaking activities within an organized structure. In this framework, every participating individual’s talents and skills are held at the maximum capacity for their own self-development and for serving the development of the organized structure. Every resource and opportunity is facilitated for the development of one’s own talents, skills and self in all levels. It is better to define this as more of a work and role coordination than a hierarchical structuring. Because the form of administration has more of a communal structure than individualistic. Under this form, administration or commandership represents the institution rather than the individual. It is not possible for someone to make decisions, plan and exercise solely on individual basis.
Of course there is a chain of command within a fighting guerrilla unit, as its absence would simply cause the annihilation of the unit in a short span of time. However, we have really strong mechanisms to monitor and criticize the command structure. If comrade structures have strong criticisms they can even discharge their commander using their common will. We have a system where every action, education or meeting is collectively evaluated; a system where such direct democracy is exercised even though its is a military organization.
Question: Are the experiences of these women being recorded?
Generally, since there is a historical consciousness being developed through the transformation of the resistance and efforts of women into continuous gains, the guerrilla women have diaries. The keeping of these diaries creates multiple effects and results. While the emotional intensity of guerrilla lives find expression through the voices of the writers of these diaries; a quite vast and rich historical interpretation is also brought upon through the collection of individual feelings and interpretations of each friend.
Also everyone acquires a talent in expressing one’s own feeling and life in a literary language. These diaries also bring along them the existence of women in history as subjects. As whatever is being lived and the one living them are written down in unison, it is possible to state that the women are writing the history of their own liberation.
Question: How are your educational programs for women?
Besides ideological and military education, there are also unique education programs that analyze every type of systemic assault against the woman gender. Moreover such kind of education programs are also held in common environments where a basis of self-questioning in every manner for men is provided. Wherever women units are present, we educate about neolithic women’s revolution, the history of the exploitation of women (mythological, religious, philosophical, scientific), history of women’s resistance, effects of social sexism and jineology studies (we call these genuine education) and our male friends also get educated in this framework, and further analysis are made in order for them to overcome their patriarchal personalities.
The ones providing this type of education are women. Academies are organized especially for these unique concentrated studies. In these academies every person strictly analyzes their own life and presents to the others their psychological, sociological etc. findings in relation to women. Furthermore military and ideological education are covered integrally. In military education what is taken as principal is self-defence from women’s perspective.
Question: What is the concept of self-defence? Feminists emphasize individual self-defence. What is your approach?
Our sense of self-defence does not only amount to physical defence, but it also involves a self-defence against every possible kind of assault from the patriarchy. First of all, the self-defence of women through the use of their social reasoning against the patriarchal system’s attacks aimed at mentality is taken as a basis. This type of defence also provides a defence line against attacks on different levels (cultural, economic, military etc.). If it can be said that these are all out attacks against women, against society as a whole; then it must also be said that struggle and resistance need to be all out as well.
However, as you have asked, feminists have grounded their thought on an individualistic sense and style of self-defence. How can a defence be maintained individualistically by such precautions as pepper sprays, needles, sticks, karate etc. ? We do not regard these with contempt but we still do not find this approach successful in terms of the given results. Today if we are to consider the massacres committed against women, we can observe that the general defence mechanisms present in society are not preventative mechanisms in respect to the assaults aimed at women.
For this reason, all across the globe violence and massacres against women are deepening everyday under new guises. For women to defend themselves ideologically, socially, legally and economically, and for them to guarantee their life/freedom; ensuring the organization of every woman in society is crucial. Women have to be educated upon this principle, and have to construct their own communes and collectives.
Question: Is it true that domestic violence has increased in places where guerrilla forces have retreated? Have women guerrillas contributed to the prevention of domestic violence?
Becoming a force through genuine organization upon the basis of self-liberation, this as a great social revolution, is an assurance not only for Kurdish women, but for all women. Under the contemporary capitalist system, which is forced upon women as a life with no alternative, the fact that even the existence of the women’s liberation movement is providing an alternative life which is opposed to the decimation of women is a fact that has now become unquestionable.
Especially in places where guerrillas are present, the occurrences of great changes within family relations has become a societal reality. In so far as how the relations between women and men are supposed to be goes and as a force in creating a change of mentality, we can say that the guerrilla acts as a model of a way of life – not merely as an armed force. By forming one-on-one relationships with women, the women guerrilla have not only supported them in gaining consciousness regarding their own identities, but also have always made them feel secure and spiritually powerful. Women have boosted morale through the use of such practices and have strived to build up the organization of women in an unprecedented way.
Question: What are the differences between jineology and feminism?
First of all, it would be better to begin by stating that jineology is not a Kurdish feminist theory. The failure of feminism (or feminisms) that was developed in the West in light of the legacy of the women’s tradition of resisting, in regards to developing a united theory aiming for the liberation of all women has brought along a fragmented approach that characterizes women based on the position they belong in. The inability to form consensus even on the definition of woman, to analyze the system of exploitation in it’s entirety and to construct common fields of struggle has brought along weakness when it comes to getting results, despite all the great efforts.
In this line, the concept of Jineology (science of women) rather than Feminism may better fit the purpose. The reason why is because it is indubitable that women constitute the broadest physical and conceptional segment of social nature. Upon this perspective, Jineology would greatly contribute to the revelation of women’s position, starting from the history of their exploitation and further continuing with her economic, social, political and mental exploitation. It is without doubt that elucidating the status of women is only one dimension of the issue. What is more crucial concerns the issue of liberation. It is commonly stated that the society’s general scale of freedom is proportional to that of the women.
However, how to follow up on this true statement is important. Freedom and equality of women do not determine social freedom and equality only. It also requires a theory, a program, organization and mechanisms of action. More importantly it also demonstrates that democratical politics cannot exist without women, that even class politics would be deficient and the improvement of peace and the environment cannot take place either. It is necessary to draw women out of the “holy mother, principle of honor, indispensable and irreplaceable wife” statuses, and investigate the reality of women as a subject-object sum.
As a matter of fact, one of the most important aspects of such an investigation would be exposing the great whitewashed villainy that masquerades as love (rape, murder, violence, unending swearing being the foremost). The list continues to being exploited as; the mother of all labours, owner of free labour, worker with bottom wage, being the most unemployed, a source of the endless desires and oppression of men, a birth giving and child rearing machine for the system, an instrument of advertisement, sex-porn etc.
Being a system of exploitation, Capitalism has developed more mechanisms for the exploitation of women than all of those that came before it. In truth, no other social phenomenon has ever been subjected to colonialism the way women have been as body and soul. It should be understood that women are being restrained under a colonial status with hard to define borders. In light of such truths, it is without doubt that the feminist movement should be the most radical anti-system movement. Initially legal equality was pursued. This sort of equality, which does not mean much, seems to be generally provided today. It seems there are improvements in appearance regarding human rights and the others such as economic, social and political rights. In appearance women are free and equal with men.
However the most crucial trickery lies herein with the very type of equality and freedom. Establishing freedom, equality and democracy for women who are mentally and bodily taken captive and sentenced to the most profound type of slavery – not only by the official modernity, but also by the hierarchical and statist system which has penetrated the social fabric of civilizations of all times – requires extensive theoretical studies, ideological struggles, programmatic and organizational practices and most importantly it requires strong actions.
The system has transformed family into an institution where it’s suffocated by all the contradictions of the system. Marriage, wife-husband and children all the while not yet having transcended their former feudal relations, are living the life of a prisoner under siege by capitalism’s inexorable relations. While family is considered sacred in Kurdistan, it has been backed to a corner especially because of the economical and educational shortcomings as well as health problems and the yet-to-actualize liberation.
The condition of women and children is a total disaster. The phenomenon of honor killings are in truth the symbolic representations of the status of life in general. Honor, of which the society is deprived, has been made a thorn in women’s flesh. Thus tattered manhood gets its revenge from the women. In the current conditions, only through a general democratization of the society can a path towards the solution for the crisis of family be opened. It is not the right approach to claim the issue of state precedes the issue of family. Both of these phenomena, which are in a dialectical relation, require to be treated together in order to be resolved.
The consequences of the approach taken in real socialism, putting priority on the state and claiming the turn for society will eventually come, are apparent. No serious social problem can be solved by giving priority to a single problem. To adopt a holistic approach, to give sense to every problem by understanding them within their relations to one another, and to adapt the same approach on the path to the solutions is a better method. Just as understanding the state without understanding mentality, understanding family without understanding the state, understanding men without understanding women would be amiss, it would as well be so to reach a solution without doing the reverse.
The reason why family preserves its power relative to other social relations that are more rapidly dissolving is because it is the only social sanctuary. One should definitely not underestimate the family. Our criticisms do not necessitate its total refutation, but exhibit the need for its reinterpretation and restructuring.
About transforming men
It is important to prioritize the issue of men in a more stressing manner than that of women as an order of business. The analysis of the sovereignty and power of men is no less important than the slavery of women, it might even be harder to do this. It is not women but men who do not lend themselves to transformation. When men abandons the dominant male figure, he feels like a ruler who has lost his kingdom or a similar halfness.
Actually it is needed to show him that this most hollow type of dominance deprives him of freedom, and that it makes him into a total conservative. Concretely speaking, the struggle for women’s liberation has to be performed jointly from forming their own party to founding a massive women’s movement and from all kinds of non-governmental organizations to democratic political institutions. Women may have a free personality and identity only so far as they have emancipated themselves from the hands of male and societal dominance and have gained power through their free initiatives.
Question: What is your ecological paradigm?
Philosophically as well, nature is seen as a power that enables humans to achieve self-consciousness. Coming from this aspect, we see that there is a tight connection between the ecological crisis and the social crisis (or rather the decimation of societies). Therefore what lies within the foundation of the ecological crisis is the fall from the principle of moral society. It is quite apparent that this principle of moral society was also devastated within the reality of women.
A society which does not hand the principle of moral society its place has neither internal, nor external sustainability. Current reality explains this condition well. The practical activities we handle in the mountain conditions are; for nearly 10 years ecology had been amongst all our educational programs’ core lessons for creating an ecological consciousness. Moreover, the clearance of mines from terrain where civilian populations live are being handled by HAWPAR, alongside planting trees in locations where forests were burnt by heavy shelling. We also live without causing any harm to the environment we live in, all the while maintaining friendship with the animals.
We do not hunt the endangered mountain goats. It is forbidden for the peasants to hunt the mountain goats as well and also cutting down green timber is prohibited. Also all forces stationed on the mountain have the opportunity to do organic horticulture for production and for ecological reasons.
Question: Lots of women guerrilla reject to eat meat under mountain conditions. What are your thoughts on this?
We can say that it is a preferential situation that has risen upon the development of social ecological consciousness. Regarding this issue, the assessments of our leadership has also turned the attention of our guerrilla friends to the culture of eating meat. Thereto, historically speaking, we consider the culture of hunting as one of the factors that create war and violence. If it’s considered that eating meat is not a strict nutritional necessity for human kind, and that it merely constituted 20% of nutrition even in the culture of the hunter-gatherer era, it can be seen that today’s meat eating habits have become very exaggerated.
Furthermore the livestock industry, which the big monopolies have a hold of, has created a horrid massacre and the results are harmful for human health. Seeing animals merely as food to be eaten rather than as part of the entirety of nature also contributes to such occurrences.
Question: How will your envisioning of the future be if peace was made? What will happen to the women‘s armed forces if peace was to be established, will you continue the struggle against male violence?
For us there is no such situation as before or after the revolution. Because what we mean by revolution is innovation, change-transformation i.e. something that is always happening as we are navigating through moments of freedom. Revolution and struggle are part of our lives. It is a lifestyle for us. How can anyone remain apart from it while life itself is constantly changing? Isn’t this the reason of the social problem that is experienced today? Estrangement from the cycle of life… We have never opted for such a life, and we never will. Thus we have never had such agendas. For us, struggle does not mean something to be temporarily exercised, it is not something that we seek to deviate from after saying “the revolution has happened, peace is here”. We do not approach the phenomenon of revolution as a secondary job, as an extra job. We also do not consider it as an adventure. For us being a revolutionary is a form of living, it is the formation of human energy for communality.
We approach this matter philosophically, ideologically and biologically. Human kind always pursues what is new. It is a never ending path, especially for women. It is a quality of women’s nature, a quality of being human. A condition of peace that is to be developed would serve a great basis for the deepening of the revolution. The real revolution would start after that. In relation to this, women struggle as well is a struggle that will always continue. Because we have the patriarchal system of thousand years, the male mentality against us.
To shatter its patterns, institutions and forming women-libertarian system requires a great war and struggle. The problem is not only women being armed or not. It is an important aspect of the struggle but not the only one. We did not had a reason and practice that claims initially a revolution should occur, then the issue of women would be solved, and we would not ever have. This solution would develop alongside the women struggle because the sources of all problems begin upon the enslavement of women. It is a long term struggle. It is possible to solve the Kurdish issue politically but the real solution would be social. And in this aspect the biggest role again falls upon women’s shoulders.
Question: What are your thoughts regarding the Gezi resistance and the forums which might be considered as its continuation? What are your suggestions to overcome sexism in these forums that are mixed formations?
The occurrences during the Gezi resistance represent a new era in Turkey. The anger accumulated amongst people against the anti-democratic practices and tyranny have burst into a resistance and its effects were immense. Gezi represents the resistance and democratic-libertarian side found within the peoples of Turkey. It is a development that has also boosted our morale as a movement. We consider it as a promising progress for the democratization of Turkey.
It might be an important basis of struggle for the democratic self-organization of the Turkish people and for them to create a common basis of life with the other peoples. For this, they can especially take the knowledge and experiences of the democratic struggles of the Kurdish people. Of course this should not merely remain within a single period. It should not remain as a periodical resistance, a periodical response, a periodical democratic praxis. Gezi has created a basis, and this basis must be strengthened all around Turkey. The spirit of Gezi represents the common spirit of resistance for the Kurdish and Turkish peoples and this spirit must be more prevalent, deepened even more.
However, democratic segments in Turkey are from time to time keeping a slow pace and they remain in a liberal positioning. In Turkey there are many events where the people may exhibit a great resistance. The process of December 17th, and lately the horrid disaster that is the Soma Massacre are some examples of this. The people have a great thrill and anger but the force that is to lead them is weak. This anger cannot be transformed into an organization. It is apparent that the classical left cannot lead this process. From this aspect, the groups and movements that represent the democratic segment in Turkey should make themselves reach a position where they can lead the people. Readily there are steps towards this direction, but they are weak ones. The voice of the democratic front of Turkey should be stronger, its steps should be more radical.
The ones to lead this process are again the women. Women have the potential to strengthen the dynamics of struggle on a democratic basis and in mixed environments. Without the women’s struggle, no grounds can be open to freedom, to democracy or to equality. Women should rejoin all the fields they were excluded from, they have to demonstrate their color, voice, ideas and should do so in every mixed environment. They have to struggle for their difference. For this they have to train, analyze themselves more strongly, initiate the change and transformation first in themselves and then they should impose this on men. There has been, there possibly is and will be many backwards approaches against the women’s liberation struggle.
Nevertheless, if the women’s movement creates an organizational web based on concrete grounds, depending on how inclusive it becomes and if it adopts a collective working manner, such backwards approaches would be in vein. And the labour of women and their efforts would be more socialized. In the current situation, the fundamental reason why the labour of women is ignored within various different movements and organizational fields is because there is not an organized stance. In these types of situations, if we see an approach that ignores the labour of a woman friend or a women’s unit and if this approach is not overcome, we, all the women respond to it as a whole.
Even if some are not participants of that particular work, all women come together to expose this situation and call to account the responsibles while taking a stand against it. Thus no man can approach a women as he likes. Besides, as there is an equal representation in all our mechanisms this organized attitude can get results in a quite short amount of time. Our women friends that are at the level of representatives in all our organized structures have to ensure the representation of the women’s will is present there. We also have a process constructed upon the basis of democratically settling issues, in case they fail to do so. Of course the bases or understandings are different but still in those types of situations, we believe that the common attitude of all the women, as much as it can be reflected, would provide results. Men are quite inclined to talk a lot about women’s liberation and subsequently fail to reflect these talks to their practices. Exposing such types of individuals and formations within that very ground causes them to tidy themselves up. In this respect, especially mixed environments prove to be a working ground where women should more actively participate and look after.
Question: It is within your aims to spread the struggle across the globe to all women. What are you doing to accomplish this? Which women’s groups are you in contact with?
The struggle of all the organized and fighting women in every corner of the world support each other. What are your efforts regarding the constitution of such an alliance? The women issue is a universal one and thereby its solution would also be universal. As a women’s movement we do not consider their problems as merely pertaining to race, or region, or class. Under the historical perspective, as well, we are seeing that women are the ones that were exploited first, enslaved first and estranged from social values and labour. The most strong struggle against the woman-enslaving mentality and practices can be managed through the cooperation of the women’s movements and through expanding the organizational grounds to broad women masses.
As a women’s organization, creating this common ground of struggle is a strategic approach for us. While the women’s liberation movement is both local and universal, it rests on international values, is open towards different identities and considers women to be on common ground; it also has a stance that keeps the struggle up against the mentality that fragments women in every respect such as class, race, culture and that strips them of their own will by mystifying their identity as a woman. As a movement we participate wherever women’s struggle is being held up on common grounds, we share with everybody on these common grounds the color and difference of the struggle of the free women of Kurdistan, and we discuss our thoughts regarding the women’s struggle with everyone.
We share our concrete practices and experiences with every women in those common platforms. Our works on women’s diplomacy practices are being actively held in every area we are organized. We are in contact with the women’s movements and organizations in every country and usually organize joint works together. Of course being a movement rooted in the Mesopotamia region, one of our fundamental aims is developing a common ground of struggle with the women of Middle East.
The Middle East Women’s Conference held in 2013 was an important step in this respect and it has created a stronger basis for connection with many women’s movements. Alongside this, the Jineology Conference we held in Europe this winter has created an important ground both for the subject of Jineology and for the women’s liberation struggle. Women from various regions, of different identities, cultures and with different experiences of struggle had come together and discussed the issue of the science of women.
Also the Democratic Islam Women’s Workshop, Alevi Women’s Workshop held in spring, and the works of Democratic Islam Congress have proved to be an alternative ground for struggle in reconsidering the common religion and cultural values of this region and against the exploitation of women by the fundamentalists, which is one of the mindsets of the capitalist modernity. Besides these, especially in Turkey and Europe there are forums, workshops and platforms about women being organized. There is a serious level of relations between feminist movements and common actions are being held. Women from numerous regions of the world are forming relations with our organizational mechanisms to establish connections, especially to come to the mountain area to get more familiarized with the movement, and to create common grounds of struggle and they develop lots of suggestions.
Certainly while the current stage represents an important level, we recognize that we have some lacking, deficient sides about our openness to the world as a women’s movement. However while this is partly due to us, there are also the effects of policies that were internationally popularized which were developed as concepts by the sections we are struggling against. There is an international blockade over our movement preventing it from reaching out to different peoples and sharing its experiences of the struggle. Black propaganda and special war practices are preventing meetings that might possibly carry the influence of the experiences of our movement, which might strengthen them and also help us better explain ourselves. Criticism alongside self-criticizing would be appropriate regarding this issue.
Interview: Evren Kocabıçak (March 23th, 2015)