Kurdish Democracy: Evolving Concept or Stuck on Family Business as Usual?
18 December 2022
March, Ali Reza. Image Credit: Saatchi
This article argues that there is a lack of Kurdish democracy today because the victors of World War I and progenitors of the current Middle Eastern state system declined to create a Kurdish state despite the fact that the Kurds constituted the fourth largest ethnic group in the entire region. Of course, the Kurds themselves are also to blame for this situation because of their many divisions and their lack of national awareness compared to the Arabs, Turks, and Iranians. Thus, unless they assimilated the Kurds were relegated to virtual imprisonment in Turkish (Turkey), Arab (Iraq and Syria), and Iranian (Iran) states because each one of these four states viewed potential Kurdish nationalism and possible secession as a mortal danger to their own territorial integrity. Modern Kurdish nationalism then largely developed as a reaction to this situation. This article examines the current KRG model in Iraq, the PKK/Rojava model in Turkey and Syria, and evolving gender issues to analyze whether these are evolving concepts that will help solve the Kurdish problem or merely intra-Kurdish family business as usual that will prove failures.
Introduction. There is a lack of Kurdish democracy today because the victors of World War I and progenitors of the current Middle Eastern state system declined to create a single Kurdish state despite the fact that the Kurds constituted the fourth largest ethnic group in the entire region. Of course, the Kurds themselves are also to blame for this situation because their lack of national awareness compared to the Arabs, Turks, and Iranians helped to deny them a state. (1) Thus, the Kurds were relegated to virtual imprisonment in Turkish (Turkey), Arab (Iraq and Syria), and Iranian (Iran) states because each one of these four states viewed potential Kurdish nationalism and possible secession as a mortal danger to their own territorial integrity. Modern Kurdish nationalism then largely developed as a reaction to this situation.
The practical response of these four states was to deny their ethnic Kurdish populations democracy that they feared would express Kurdish desire for independence. Instead, each existing state sought to solve its problem by enforcing an official nationalism on its Kurdish population and assimilating it. As explained by Hugh Seton-Watson: “The leaders of the most powerful nations [...] impose[d] their nationality on all their subjects—of whatever religion, language or culture [...] As they saw it [...] they were strengthening their state by creating within it a single homogeneous nation.” (2) Kurdish politics, culture, education, and even recognition was curtailed or even denied as was the case for the Kurds in Turkey (who were called Mountain Turks), or Ajanib and Maktoumeen, Kurds in Syria who were denied full citizenship. In Iraq, the Kurdish desire for democracy culminated in Saddam Hussein’s genocidal Anfal campaign of 1987–1988 and use of chemical weapons in Halabja in 1988. (3)
Indeed, the felt need to suppress Kurdish democracy justified security states (Mukhabaraat in Arabic) that denied democracy to everyone, even the majority Turks, Arabs, and Iranians. Official state repression also drained sorely needed economic resources that further weakened democracy. The refusal of many Kurds to accept this undemocratic scenario led to numerous Kurdish uprisings and continuing instability. Indeed, it is not too much to conclude that the journey to democracy in each one of these four states either failed or met problems because these states denied democracy to their ethnic Kurds. For example, Freedom House rated all four states in which the Kurds live in the Middle East as “not free” in 2021. (4) On the other hand, civil war sometimes can lead to a more inclusive and democratic state. (5) However, whether the glass is half full or half empty on this matter today in any one of the four states that contain the ethnic Kurds is a matter of interpretation.
Further complicating the Kurdish democracy situation were the large Kurdish minorities that had little or no sense of pan-Kurdish nationalism and its associated concept of democracy. Even in each of the four Middle Eastern states they inhabited, the Kurds remained divided in a myriad of ways: tribal, geographic, linguistic, religious, etc., as well as containing continuing patterns of pre-modern patronage and clientage. All of this inhibited the inculcation of the modern sense of democracy. In addition, the Kurds often fought among themselves as well as against the overriding state majority in which they lived. Thus, divide-and-rule tactics proved useful in denying the Kurds democratic right as Kurds. Finally, such non-state, Islamic extremist organizations as Hizbullah in Lebanon, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) further complicated and burdened the development of supposedly modern Kurdish democracy, especially in Iraq and Syria, but also in Turkey and Iran.
KRG Model. Nevertheless, various concepts of Kurdish democracy rights developed, first in Iraq, followed by Turkey and then Syria. Despite earlier stirrings such as the Mahabad Republic in 1946, Iran remained more quiescent. The two US-led wars against Saddam Hussein, first to reduce him in 1991 and then remove him in 2003, led to the rise of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. Although inherently flawed by its division between the Barzanis’ more conservative Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Talabanis’ more leftist Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the KRG still developed the nearest concept to a modern Kurdish state. Democratic citizenship in the KRG began to evolve as a self-conscious sense of belonging to a Kurdish federal state as part of a more distant, but still overlording Iraq.
In the KRG the rulers were ethnic Kurds and the languages or dialects were Kurdish (Kurmanji and Sorani, among others). Even “foreign Kurds” from other states, for the first time found a Kurdish-majority homeland and at least de facto democratic citizenship in this family-run, crony capitalist proto-state. However, corruption, nepotism, and clientage inhibited the development of a democratic Kurdish citizenship sense of equal rights between the population and its Barzani/Talabani family leaders who wielded power by right of privileged birth.
Kurdish politics, culture, education, and even recognition was curtailed or even denied as was the case for the Kurds in Turkey (who were called Mountain Turks), or Ajanib and Maktoumeen, Kurds in Syria who were denied full citizenship. In Iraq, the Kurdish desire for democracy culminated in Saddam Hussein’s genocidal Anfal campaign of 1987–1988 and use of chemical weapons in Halabja in 1988.
Although the KRG has the form of a semi-presidential, parliamentary democracy complete with elections to its 111-member parliament, in reality the system remains dominated mainly by the Barzani family, which also has amassed a huge fortune. As president of the KRG, Massoud Barzani, refused to abide by the two-term limit of four years for each term and twice extended his presidency. He also used military force in 2015 to prevent the opposition Gorran party (which had split off from the PUK in 2009 charging corruption and even for a while held more seats in the Kurdish parliament than the PUK, an advantage it lost, however, following the most recent elections in 2018) from taking its place in the KRG parliament including the speakership.
Since Jalal Talabani’s incapacitation at the end of 2012 and death in 2017, the Talabani family has seen its power decline and its position relegated to a secondary status. After the advisory referendum on KRG independence in September 2017 failed to be accepted by Baghdad, the United States, Turkey, and Iran, Massoud Barzani, the KRG president resigned, but retained ultimate power as president of the KDP. His nephew, Nechirvan Idris Barzani assumed the presidency, while Massoud Barzani’s son Masrour Barzani, who also was the chief intelligence and security officer in the region, became prime minister. Illustrating the Talabani’s now lesser position, Qubad Talabani, the son of the late Jalal Talabani, has been deputy prime minister since 2014. Talabani’s widow Hero Talabani, and his sons and nephews maintain firm control of the PUK.
Symptomatic of this challenge to democratic statehood for the KRG is the lack of state control over the Peshmerga [literally, those who face death], the KRG armed forces. In reality, the Peshmerga remain divided and controlled by the two separate parties, the KDP and PUK. (6) This party division led to the vaunted Peshmerga’s inept failure to defend Kirkuk from Baghdad’s reincorporation in October 2017 following the failed advisory referendum on independence. So-called “ghost employees”—who are employees on paper but either do not exist or show up for work but receive a salary—create a corruption problem throughout the KRG, including the Peshmerga. (7) Given its prodigious political and economic problems, applying Max Weber’s famous definition of a state as a territorial entity that possesses a monopoly on the legitimate use of force for the KRG (8) is problematic. Divisions among the KRG political parties are so great that it is difficult to argue that the KRG has the monopoly on the legitimate use of force. The so-called “third wave” of democratization at the end of the 20th century (9) only questionably applies to the KRG.
Nevertheless, the KRG—albeit with the indispensable aid of the United States—had managed to face down the existential threat of ISIS, a defining moment that gave it new legitimacy. The main external threats to KRG democracy now are the rocket attacks from the Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militias carried out under the pretext of opposing the US presence in the region, and PKK interference along the border areas with Turkey that has drawn in Turkish forces. How will the newly elected Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi impact policy towards the KRG? As for the Turkish intervention in northern Iraq, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems even more likely to destabilize the KRG by carrying his battle with the PKK (see below) into KRG territory on the micro level and his pursuit of neo-Ottomanism on the macro level. (10) The KRG’s main internal threat has become the frequent protests over living standards and the lack of employment opportunities despite the rich oil resources. A strong crackdown on popular demonstrations in Sulaymaniyah in late 2020 resulted in the deaths of at least eight, probably more, people. (11) Two dozen journalists and protest organizers remain in secret prisons. Likely reflecting the democratic decline, electoral turnout in KRG elections has fallen.
PKK/Rojava Model. To the north in Turkey and then to its south in Syria developed a very different sense of Kurdish nationalism and its concomitant latent sense of democracy. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey and its Democratic Union Party (PYD) offshoot in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) were based on Marxist socialism. Fuller participation and democratic citizenship concepts prevailed among poorer people compared to the KRG in Iraq. With the failure of Marxism and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the PKK mellowed in its earlier demands for Kurdish independence within a Marxist political and economic structure. By the mid-1990s, Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader, no longer sought independence. Rather the PKK now demanded a fully democratic, multiethnic Turkey in which democratic citizenship rights included political, economic, social, and cultural rights for the Kurds as Kurds, not just as individuals.
To overcome the inherent illogic of democratic Kurdish citizenship rights within the larger realm of Turkish and Syrian citizenship, Öcalan began to develop the communal ideas of Murray Bookchin (1921–2006), an otherwise obscure American libertarian socialist and pioneer in the ecology movement. In addition, the PKK leader delved into the theories of various feminists, leftist Foucauldians and critical Marxists. Thus, the PYD proposed a type of bottom-up form of civic organization of everyone including non-Kurds that would supposedly bypass traditional governmental types and act as if the Kurds’ divisions did not matter. The people were to be directly involved in society’s decision-making process. Democracy would be operationalized through the self-government of local communities and be organized in the form of open councils, town councils, as well as local and larger congresses. These federative self-governmental institutions had no limitations. They could even be continued across traditional state borders to create multi-ethnic, democratic structures. Democratic autonomy/confederalism would provide a framework within which minorities, religious communities, cultural groups, gender-specific groups and others could organize themselves autonomously.
At the same time the KRG was holding its ill-fated advisory referendum on independence in September 2017, the neighboring, largely Kurdish population in Rojava/Democratic Federation of Northern Syria elected co-chairs for some 3,700 communes said to constitute the Öcalan/Bookchin concept of non-state democratic autonomy/confederalism, a process of self-administration developing a network of interconnected and self-administrated villages, neighborhoods, cities, and regions. (12) In a communication to this author, Salih Muslim, the PYD’s co-chair, claimed that, “we think the separation of the areas wouldn’t be [a] problem because […] no borders will be drawn around the Kurds so they can get their rights wherever they are.” (13)
The PYD leader seemed oblivious to the fact that only the chaos and breakdown of Bashar al-Assad’s control during the Syrian civil war that began in March 2011 had allowed the Kurds in Syria so much de facto autonomy and democratic rights. What would happen once Assad inevitably began to reimpose his authority? This query was answered partially in October 2019 when the United States pulled its support for the Syrian Kurds and allowed Turkish forces and mercenaries to carve out an enclave for themselves to add to their earlier invasion the previous year in Afrin, a Kurdish-Syrian canton to the west. Turkey claimed to fear putative Kurdish threats to its southern borders. However, in one particularly egregious incident, Turkish mercenaries pulled Hevin Khalaf, the female secretary-general of the Future Syria Party, from her car and brutally murdered her during their invasion on October 12, 2019.
while the history of such seemingly anarchical ideas as propounded by democratic autonomy/confederalism may be theoretically appealing to some, they have proved difficult to implement in practice. The Russian Bolshevik Revolution, for example, quickly degenerated into a totalitarian Stalinist state of terror that proved the opposite of local democracy. The reality of today’s world is that people need strong governmental institutions to be effective.
Thus, while the history of such seemingly anarchical ideas as propounded by democratic autonomy/confederalism may be theoretically appealing to some, they have proved difficult to implement in practice. The Russian Bolshevik Revolution, for example, quickly degenerated into a totalitarian Stalinist state of terror that proved the opposite of local democracy. The reality of today’s world is that people need strong governmental institutions to be effective. While the traditional territorial nation-state model pursued by the KRG has many problems, loosely amalgamated anarchical alternatives that seek to eliminate the state have not worked in practice.
Nevertheless, for the present, two distinct, competing Kurdish models of supposed democratic government have emerged. The KRG is based on the traditional idea of the nation-state, while the Syrian Kurds in Rojava and the PKK from Turkey model is based on a non-state, societal self-organization. These differences have profound implications for the nature of democracy as well as inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations. Despite their inherent limitations discussed above, it is impressive that the previously oppressed Kurds have pioneered new models of democracy in a region previously known for little more than authoritarianism.
Gender Issues. Despite their many problems in developing a democratic ethos, the Kurds have pioneered new democratic norms regarding gender issues. In my role as the secretary-general of the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC), I visit the PKK-affiliated Kurdish House or Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) headquarters in Brussels once or twice a year to participate in meetings and help plan the annual Kurdish conference sponsored by various leftist groups in the European Union (EU) parliament. I have always been impressed by the gender equality I witness. Blending into the background, I have had the opportunity to watch women giving orders to men. All related groups function according to the co-chair rule, which requires joint male and female leaders to share the office. As inefficient as such a dual head might seem or actually be, it sets the stage for gender equality and is not mere window dressing.
Both sexes have told me their duties in the Kurdish movement leave no time for marriage or other traditional gender roles. This is particularly true of the PKK and all its related organizations such as the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party/Peoples Defense Units (PYD/YPG) whose members I meet while in Brussels. (14) Indeed as long ago as March 1998, when I visited Abdullah (Apo) Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, at his safe houses in and near Damascus, Syria, I watched gender equality or at least a lot more attempts at it within the PKK than among other groups and states within the Middle East.
Compared to the many other Islamic societies around them, Kurdish women have at times exercised more freedom. Indeed, travelers have long noted how Kurdish women usually went unveiled and were allowed greater freedom, while also performing most of the hard, manual labor. Even in marriage, Kurdish women could sometimes be wooed and won, although arranged marriages also existed. Wives too were treated more equally by their husbands than they were in most other Middle Eastern locales. Kurdish women have also held a more secure financial position than did their sisters in neighboring societies. Women, for example, could more easily succeed their husbands as the head of a family even when there were male children.
two distinct, competing Kurdish models of supposed democratic government have emerged. The KRG is based on the traditional idea of the nation-state, while the Syrian Kurds in Rojava and the PKK from Turkey model is based on a non-state, societal self-organization. These differences have profound implications for the nature of democracy as well as inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations.
Kurdish women have also occasionally played prominent roles in politics and the military, among others. (15) Asenath Barzani (Asenat Barzani in Kurdish and Osnat Barzani in modern Hebrew) lived from 1590 to 1670. She was renowned throughout Kurdistan for her knowledge of the Torah and Jewish law. In addition, she was the first female head of a yeshiva, a religious school where only men studied, and was recognized as the first and only female rabbi in premodern Jewish history. Khanzad (or Xanzad in modern Kurdish) ruled over Harir and Soran in the present-day Irbil governorate during the reign of Ottoman sultan Murad IV (1623–1640). The KRG erected a statue in her honor in the city of Soran, near her former capital Rawanduz and thus adopted her as a national symbol. Mastureh Ardalan (1805–1848) was a noted female poet, philosopher, and historian. She too has also become a national Kurdish symbol. The KRG held a festival commemorating the 200th anniversary of her birth in 2005.
Although actually an Assyrian, Margaret George (Shello) was a more recent example of a Kurdish female warrior. Hero Talabani, the wife of the late Jalal Talabani (died 2017), is a well-known personality in her own right. Rewaz Fayeq Hussein was elected the new Speaker of the KRG parliament on July 11, 2019. She succeeded another woman, Vala Fareed Ibrahim, who had been elected the interim Speaker on February 18, 2019. Thirty-six or more than 32 percent of the current KRG parliament elected on September 30, 2018 are women. Leyla Zana, a female Kurdish politician from Turkey, is famous for her advocacy of Kurdish human rights. On numerous occasions, I have personally watched how she moves among men on an equal basis while holding their respect as one of their esteemed leaders.
In recent years, as already noted, Kurdish political parties in Turkey have mandated gender equality in their leadership roles. Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, has been a very strong advocate of female equality. (16) Indeed, on one occasion, he declared: “The key to the resolution of our social problems will be a movement for women’s freedom, equality and democracy; a movement based on the science of woman, called jineoloji in Kurdish.” (17)
Numerous women have recently occupied prominent positions and fought in Kurdish militias. For example, Hevi Ibrahim was appointed prime minister of the Afrin canton in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). Ramziya Mohammed was the finance minister of one of the Rojava cantons, while Asia (Asya) Abdullah was co-chair of the ruling PYD in Rojava. Aysha Hisso was elected the new PYD co-chair on September 27, 2017. Kongra Star is the confederation of organized women’s structures in Rojava, and the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ), a female military force. Rojda Felat, a YPJ member, was also the overall commander of the combined Syrian Kurdish-Arab forces known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which took Raqqa from ISIS in October 2017. Figen Yuksekdag was the co-chair of the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), the leading pro-Kurdish party in Turkey, until she was convicted on questionable charges of terrorism and lost her seat in parliament in February 2017. Nilufer Koc was the co-chair of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), a broad-based body associated with the PKK. Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the KRG representative in the United States, exudes a confident leadership role among her male Kurdish associates in Washington, DC. In private talks with her, she has told me that for the most part there is no gender discrimination against her, although she is sometimes left out of the loop during male social gatherings.
Despite these positive examples, women’s rights or the lack thereof, are increasingly issues in Kurdistan. Kurdish women in Turkey, for example, have sometimes been subjected to various forms of state violence including rape and sexual harassment, especially during the years of violence associated with the PKK in the 1980s and 1990s. The KRG in northern Iraq has recently sought to deal with honor killing, the murder of women by their own families because the women have somehow dishonored their families by infidelity or otherwise.
In Rojava, women, in general, have been given the right to divorce, which previously was an entitlement reserved only to men, to inherit property on an equal basis with men, and to keep their children and their homes in a marital breakup. Polygamy, and child and forced marriages have been banned. The Social Contract of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (Rojava) proclaims the elimination of discrimination against women in all spheres of life, while in the political sphere mandates a 40 percent quota of women from the federal administration to the small neighborhood communes. Shariah law provisions that gave a woman’s testimony in court only half the weight of a man’s have been eliminated.
Despite these positive examples, women’s rights or the lack thereof, are increasingly issues in Kurdistan. Kurdish women in Turkey, for example, have sometimes been subjected to various forms of state violence including rape and sexual harassment, especially during the years of violence associated with the PKK in the 1980s and 1990s. The KRG in northern Iraq has recently sought to deal with honor killing, the murder of women by their own families because the women have somehow dishonored their families by infidelity or otherwise. Similar concern regarding honor killings has also been expressed in Turkey. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a very important issue too often ignored or downplayed. Female Kurdish refugees and widows suffer more than their male counterparts do.
Although the KRG parliament now requires that women constitute 30 percent of its membership, Dr. Choman Hardi, the founder of the Center for Gender and Development Studies at the American University in Sulaymaniyah, questions the actual effectiveness of such a mere quota system. (18) “We saw that many of the women who ended up in these positions were chosen because of their political affiliations, regardless of their capabilities as politicians and leaders.” Hardi added, “in fact, some people believe that they were chosen intentionally to be ineffective so that they don’t threaten the system.” Indeed, she even declared, “I think that including women in the second sense is just another cheap trick by those in power.” Clearly, despite progress, much still remains to be done regarding women’s rights in Kurdistan.
1. On this point, see Robert Olson, “Five Stages of Kurdish Nationalism, 1880–1980,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 12:2 (1991), pp. 392–401; M. Hakan Yavuz, “Five States of the Construction of Kurdish Nationalism in Turkey,” Nationalism & Ethnic Politics 7 (Autumn 2001), pp. 1–24; and Hakan Ozoglu, Kurdish Notables and the Ottoman State: Evolving Identities, Competing Loyalties, and Shifting Boundaries (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004).
2. Hugh Seton-Watson, Nations and States: An Enquiry into the Origins of Nations and the Politics of Nationalism (Boulder: Westview, 1977), p. 148.
3. Joost R. Hiltermann, A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); and Middle East Watch, Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign against the Kurds (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993).
4. Freedom House, “Countries and Territories,” Freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2021/democracy-under-seige, accessed August 6, 2021.
5. In general, see Elisabeth J. Wood, “An Insurgent Path to Democracy: Popular Mobilization, Economic Interests, and Regime Transition in South Africa and El Salvador,” Comparative Political Studies 34:8 (2001), pp. 862–888; Leonard Wantchekon, “The Paradox of ‘Warlord’ Democracy: A Theoretical Investigation, American Political Science Review 98 (February 2004), pp. 17–33; and Mehmet Gurses and T. David Mason, “Democracy Out of Anarchy: How Do Features of a Civil War Influence the Likelihood of Post-Civil War Democracy:” Social Science Quarterly 89:2 (2008), pp. 315–336.
6. Wladimir van Wilgenburg and Mario Fumerton, “Kurdistan’s Political Armies: The Challenge of Unifying the Peshmerga Forces,” Carnegie Middle East Center, December 16, 2015, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/ACMR_WilgenburgFumerton_Kurdistan_English_final.pdf
7. Michael Rubin, “The Continuing Problem of KRG Corruption,” in Michael M. Gunter, ed., Routledge Handbook on the Kurds (London and New York: Routledge, 2019), pp. 329–340.
8. H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds., Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1948), p. 78.
9. Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).
10. On Erdogan’s potentially seismic ambitions, see by M. Hakan Yavuz, Nostalgia for the Empire: The Politics of Neo-Ottomanism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020); and Erdogan: The Making of an Autocrat (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021).
11. Chloe Carnish, “Iraqi Kurdistan’s Authoritarian Turn: Western Ally ‘Discards Idea of Democracy,’” myFT Daily Digest, May 10, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/cd943209-b26b-45b2-a34a-eOd432b2e3f1m; and Hakeem Dawd Qaradaghi, “The Dark Side of Democracy in Kurdistan: The Rule of Two Clans,” Culturico, February 6, 2021, https://culturico.com/2021/02/06/the-dark-side-of-democracy-in-kurdistan-the-rule-of-two-clans/, accessed August 6, 2021.
12. Joost Jongerden, “Governing Kurdistan: Self-Administration in the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq and the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria,” Ethnopolitics 18 (January 2019), pp. 61–75. For further background, see Harriet Allsopp and Wladimir van Wilgenburg, The Kurds of Northern Syria: Goverance, Diversity and Conflicts (London: I. B. Tauris, 2019); Thomas Schmidinger, Rojava: Revolution, War, and the Future of Syria’s Kurds (London: Pluto Press, 2018); and Michael M. Gunter, Out of Nowhere: The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War (London: Hurst & Company, 2014).
13. Salih Muslim, email to the author, dated July 10, 2013
14. For background, see Shahrzad Mojab, ed., Women of a Non-State Nation: The Kurds (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 2001); and Anna Grabolle-Celiker, “Kurdish Women,” in Michael M. Gunter, ed., Routledge Handbook on the Kurds (London and New York: Routledge, 2019), pp. 239–256. A recent issue of the scholarly journal Kurdish Studies 6 (May 2018) was entirely devoted to women’s issues. See in particular Nazand Begikhani, Wendelmoet Hamelink, and Nerina Weiss, “Theorising Women and War in Kurdistan: A Feminist and Critical Perspective” pp. 5–30, which connects “our topic to feminist theory, to anthropological theory on war and conflict and their long-term consequences, and . . . also their resistance and agency as female combatants and women activists,” p. 5. See also Dilar Dirik, The Kurdish Women’s Movement: History, Theory, Practice (London: Pluto Press, 2022).
15. The discussion in this paragraph, is largely based on Ofra Bengio, “Game Changers: Kurdish Women in Peace and War,” Middle East Journal 70 (Winter 2016), pp. 30–46
16. Abdullah Ocalan, Liberating Life: Woman’s Revolution (Cologne, Germany: International Initiative Edition in cooperation with Mesopotamian Publishers, Neuss, 2013).
17. Cited in Abdullah Ocalan, The Political Thought of Abdullah Ocalan, Kurdistan, Woman’s Revolution, and Democratic Confederalism (London: Pluto Press, 2017), p. 93.
18. The following citations were taken from Wladimir van Wilgenburg, “Despite Female Parliament Speaker, Experts Say Political Equality Still an Issue in Kurdistan Region,” Kurdistan 24, March 3, 2019, https://www.kurdistan24.net/en/news/bc80e504-03b1-44e7-ae3c-9d68c3498abd