‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadi’- Reflections on the funeral march in Paris

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There I was walking amongst the many thousands of people, Kurds and non-Kurds alike, in the funeral procession of the murdered Kurdish activists in Paris.

Unlike the majority of women, I was not in the forefront but walking with the men further back. My reason was that I wanted to be able to take more photographs and move freely at my own pace.

What I saw around me were men of all ages, shapes and heights but all with a Middle Eastern look. That look with the dark eyes and the dark hair, and then some with beards and moustaches.  All these men with that look. That look that so often faces so much prejudice.  Prejudice of being stubborn, patriarchal upholders. Prejudice of being honour killers, wife beaters and the keepers of home prisons. So much prejudice.

These are the same men who have to defend themselves every time someone, somewhere, sharing the same hair colour as theirs, does something directed at women. These are the men who were everywhere that day, who in their loud, dark voices, sending powerful vibrations into the air and through the hearts of those attending, were chanting: Jin, Jiyan. Azadi! (Women, Life, Freedom!)

The voices of those men, that chanting and that overwhelming sense of belonging to a community seize to leave me even when I shut my eyes to sleep.

I arrived home with only a dozen photos. I could not take any photos or do anything else when the march started and the flag draped coffins arrived.

I was mesmerised yet utterly sad. Crying yet unexplainably joyful. It was as if hell had broken loose but I was amongst the bravest of angels protecting me, all at once.

Thousands of men, women and children stood and chanted in one, loud, synchronized voice: Shehid namirin! (Martyrs do not die!)

The coffins were lifted onto the shoulders of mostly women and the proceedings started, heading towards the place of the memorial, which happened to be a beautiful grand hall with chandeliers gracing the ceilings.

It was most probably used as a wedding parlour normally.

Ironic I thought to myself. Here three brave, feminist women are being remembered. Three women who dedicated their lives to free the Kurdish people but fore mostly Kurdish women. Three women who did everything they could to free themselves from the shackles of patriarchy, from the limits set by society, from the prohibitions and borders set by the rulers of Kurdish lands. Now these three women are being remembered in a wedding parlour, where too often around the world powerless young women are being draped in the colour of the dead and gifted away for a loveless, and hopeless life. Ironic to say the least.

When I finally reached the door of the parlour, I regained my strength. It took strength to show my respect without letting the sad melody of people crying break me down. It took strength but it also gave strength. It was a vision to see the white walls of the parlour against the pillars draped in the purple colour of the feminists, tied together by the reds, greens and yellows of the Kurdish flag.

I walked slowly. Looked around. Took everything in. The sadness. The pride. The sense of loss and sorrow. The beautiful colours surrounding the coffins. The most beautiful of women in the photos on each one.

The emotions were in uproar and my eyes were tired of crying. The tears were falling and I soon joined the melody of the sad. Hearing Jinen Azad by Delila playing for the women outside, loud as a whisper, joining our melody, did not help the tears stop.

I left and joined the gathering outside. This time I was surrounded by women of all ages. They were outside waiting, chanting slogans and reading poems, talking and discussing. I saw old women in groups talking about their grief and sorrow and of children lost. I heard young women talk about the road to Qandil, the unfinished projects of the fallen women and of future projects needed for the Kurdish cause. My tears stopped there and then.

I will not cry again. These women were not victims. They are heroes. They have paved the way for the next generation of female Kurdish heroes. One does not cry for heroes. One continues in their path!

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Young Kurdish Woman Found Stabbed in Swedish Town

Mona Eltahawy has in in her latest article”Why do they hate us” discussed the situation of Middle Eastern (Arab) women. For those of you who do not know Eltahawy, she is an Egyptian-American columnist who in November 2011 was detained by military intelligence in Egypt for 12 hours. She was severely beaten and sexually assaulted.

Eltahawy comes to the conclusion that women must be hated for the vicious crimes against them to be accepted, institutionalised and upheld as they are. Naturally, with her article came a flood of criticism against her for allegedly portraying women in these countries as weak, powerless and also for connecting Islam to the crimes against them.

That was three days ago. The same day as a young girl named Maria was stabbed to death, allegedly by her 16 year old male relative for having stained the honour of her family.

Photo: Expressen

The girl who is of Kurdish origin had been found stabbed to death in a city in the south of Sweden. The media is quick to label it an “honour crime” although these are the most unfitting words to be used to describe an act together.

While the investigation into this murder is ongoing (another suspect, this time a woman, was also arrested earlier today) I cannot help but see the discrepancy in the debate about women’s rights in the Middle East.

As a Kurdish woman myself, I was also 19 once and lived in a household with my parents (first generation political refugees) who were slowly acquainting themselves with the new country which was now our safe heaven. I however remember these times as joyful times  filled with new discoveries, both within and outside my family frame. I remember my first time moving out to a flat on my own, with my dad helping me and I remember that first cold beer after the move was finished, also with my dad. I do however also remember my friends who were not as lucky as me and who had to hide their interests, views and souls from their families.

There were also those who did not make it. I remember Blesa who was stabbed by her father, in the park across the road from our house, after he had killed her younger sibling. I remember her and I remember my own life.

We were both young, Kurdish women with ambitions, hopes and plans for the future and we were neighbours as well as classmates. She is however not here anymore and I am and that difference is the best way to describe the vicious and horrible act of murdering women, which many call honour killings.

It is Eltahawy’s article and it is Blesa’s life story. It is Maria’s life story and it is my personal experiences. It is not black and white and the more efforts are put into making it so, will only derail us from helping more young women escape the vindictive knives of scorn families.

We must stop labelling women who speak up about these crimes as racists, Islam haters, Kurd haters and as women who have forgotten their roots and where they come from.

I am speaking up about this and I know where I come from. I come from the land of a people who do not kill its women systematically but a place where some due to societal pressure, religious fundamentalism, illiteracy (many times not though), war trauma, disdain towards women and their sexuality, fear of losing power etc do kill young and old women. I can do this as I know that it is not a Kurdish thing, or a Muslim thing or a Northern/Western thing.

It is a “women being killed thing” and that is enough for me to stand against it. It must be said however that there are many with Eurocentric views out there who do everything they can to label the murders of young women, especially in Europe, as just that to promote their own xenophobic ideas and political programs.

I will however not keep quiet about a crime that affects so many young, talented women to prove that I am patriotic or Muslim etc as a reaction to that. Xenophobia must be answered with knowledge, knowledge about extreme life styles and beliefs, away from the everyday religions and ethnicities.

If you want a more analytical aspect as to why there are so many Kurdish “honour killings”, I suggest you read up on how masculinity is shaped and developed. There are many good books out there on the subject. Then look for how that masculinity is shaped and developed in war struck regions. Read up on how a man is deprived of his ethnic identity due to assimilation policies, his identity as a provider due to poverty, his identity as powerful due to the occupation of his land and the effects of that on his psychological development. Then read some more about how all of these deprivations are handled by a man with nothing to gain or to lose and how he maintains power in a world where he is told he has none. He takes it from the ones around him, the ones the society always is depriving of basic rights. The powerless man is always powerful in relation to the women of the society. What he cannot change in the society and the aggression he cannot unleash at the powerful, he unleashes at the powerless. This is not defence- these are facts.

This is a far bigger issue to be reduced to a discussion about ethnic or religious belongings.

I can read Eltahawy’s article and criticise it for not mentioning the position of minority women within the spectrum of the Arab spring but I should not criticise her for merely pointing to the current situation of women which by the way should be history when we now are more than a decade into the millennium.

The women who live to get a pat on their shoulder from the groups that wish to uphold honour killings, have lost their souls. It is with them as it is with the village guards who sell information about Kurdish refugees in the villages in Turkey, and it is just the same as one stepping on you to reach a new step on the career/societal/family latter.

We must stop protecting ourselves from evil by upholding evil itself or we might read about the tragic murder of yet another young woman, maybe one who herself or her female relatives once were patted on the shoulders as well?

If we do not want to ask ourselves why they hate us, let us at least ask why we hate ourselves?

Runaway to Nowhere

Runaway to Nowhere is the first novel by Kurdish-American author Qasham Balata. She was born in Duhok (South Kurdistan) in 1968 and now lives in Boston, MA, USA.

From the author’s website, she says:

My novel’s events happened during the Kurd’s uprising after the first Gulf War and their mass exodus from Northern Iraq to refugee camps along the Turkish and Iranian borders and when the western journalists compelled the first Bush administration to establish the safe haven better known in the 1990s as ‘the Northern No-fly zone.’ In my book I wrote about modern Kurdish history, tradition, and women.

Kani Xulam of the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN) published a reflection on the book yesterday on the AKIN website and he describes it as a book about love, war, and the haplessness of the Kurdish woman.

It is about the cruelty of the Kurdish man. It is about the brutality of Arabs. It is about the fickleness of ‘Great Powers.’ It is about the dearth of virtue. It is about the absence of honor. And yes, it is also about the transience of freedom.

With some levity, the reflection continues and discusses how brides are chosen at funerals. They are chosen at funerals ‘one character tells us in the book, to avoid an ugly bride, for in Kurdish weddings, the Kurdish maidens put on a lot of make up.’

But it is a serious novel that tells a story of love and loss and separation. Xulam’s reflection continues…

It is a war drama. It starts off in a place called Mosul. For those of you who don’t know of the place, it is a dusty city on the banks of Tigris. But for the narrator, a Kurdish woman, who attends its university, it comes close to being idyllic. Initially, you are thrown off by the incongruence of the comparison, but soon you realize that even Nome, Alaska would have qualified for the same description. The reason: it is away from home.

Pray to God that war has not knocked on your door for a visit, says Xulam’s reflection. He mentions war and the mountains and their indifference to the young and the old.

In the words of one character, they [the mountains] devour especially ‘children under three years old and [the] elderly.’  Cold wears the robes of the angel of death.  Hunger and thirst aid and abet and thousands are lowered into shallow makeshift graves.  You can’t help but remember your Thomas Hobbes from college.  Life, as the English philosopher once so memorably put it, is ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ in the spring of 1991…

Author, Qasham Balata

The reflection leaves us with a wish from Nareen, the narrator, who ‘becomes the reluctant chronicler of this mass exodus’ to the mountains. In a conversation Nareen has with her American photojournalist friend, Emily, she says she wishes ‘we had a united Kurdish state –a wish that will continue to live in my heart and the hearts of millions of Kurds across the globe.’

To read the rest of the thoughtful reflection penned by Kani Xulam, visit the AKIN website.

To learn more about the author, visit her book’s website.

After that, go buy the book!