Kurdistan // Zilan Dyar: “Our goal is to build a link between our revolutionary practices and a social science.”~ 16 min

Zilan Dyar, representative of the Kurdish women’s movement

By Bruno Garrido

When we conducted this interview, the hunger strikes in Turkish prisons were still ongoing. The movement recently decided to end its action after its demands were met.

We spoke with Zilan Dyar, representative of the Kurdish Women’s Movement. We talked about the history of Jineolojî, how women’s organizations are structured, and the developments in relations with Western feminist movements. We also talked about Bakur, a region not often discussed, and about the struggles in Turkish prisons against the Erdoğan regime.


Bruno Garrido // Can you briefly explain what Jineolojî is all about?

Zilan Dyar // We can define Jineolojî as the 40-year accumulated experience of the Kurdish women’s movement. In these 4 decades of struggle, we achieved concrete progress. Nowadays, there are cooperatives, academies and organizations managed by women, following the system of democratic confederalism in the four parts that form Kurdistan.

Throughout this process, we have seen how deeply embedded patriarchy is. Our goal – as our leader Öcalan also points out – is to build a link between our revolutionary practices and a social science. What we see throughout the world is that many revolutionary processes ended due to their inability to have a scientific analysis of their own processes. This is a vital need for our own movement.

It also follows our own need, as women, to see ourselves from a more scientific point of view. Abdullah Öcalan says that women are the people about whom the world has lied the most. Since the beginning of society – 5000 years ago – patriarchy has built the image of women through lies and omissions. It is necessary to acknowledge the points at which these lies were built in order to achieve a more scientific analysis. The analysis must not be partial, the different oppression’s cannot be partially analyzed.

Jineolojî seeks to analyze social problems from a women’s perspective. We aim to analyze these problems through women’s knowledge and emotions, building the relationship between woman and nature, life and society. Jineoloji appeared as a concept 11 years ago, and was put into practice 8 years ago. Jineolojî’s idea is to respond to local needs and, as such, it is a work-in-progress science, it has no fixed method or concepts. The practice is dependent on the territory where it is applied.

The first step is to build a science that is based on women’s perspective, then find our own methods and put it in practice.

BG // You point out problems with the way social sciences develop, and the omissions they cause…

ZD // Our criticism is based on the fact that the methodological basis of social sciences is problematic because it omits women. Jineolojî seeks to reverse this methodological basis. Positivism excludes women’s experience-based knowledge, dividing society into objects and subjects when it is doing its analysis. It’s also important to mention that social sciences affirm they exist to solve the problems of society, but they put a barrier between science and society. Even people who identify themselves as against the system have the problem of thinking by the same method of social science. For us, Kurdish women, to get rid of this [positivist] mentality is, in itself, to be against the system.

Illustration of Kurdish woman making the V sign

BG // Nowadays what structures exist around Jineoloji and the women’s movement?

ZD // Jineolojî was born from the need to create a science based on women’s perspective. So far, we have been through the process of self-identification. Last year we held a conference where we reflected on the future of Jineolojî and put into practice the topics in which our science is interested. For example, building the practical link between Jineolojî and ecologism, Jineolojî and education, etc.

We are in a transition process, Jineolojî has a comprehensive attitude in the way that it analyzes society. At first it seemed very scary to think about the same problem through diverse views. Now, even with a smaller problem, we try to build a connection between past, present, and future. We decided to create groups to analyze more deeply the different themes (religion, mythology, history …) connecting the different branches of science and Jineolojî.

We use the old knowledge, that was already built by women, knowledge that often was omitted. Today, our work is to explain that certain themes have been analyzed in a partial way. This is the path we want to follow, while we seek to open new approaches by carrying out important works, such as the re-education of society from the perspective of Jineolojî.

For example, in the YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) there are 127 academies and, in each one of them, Jineolojî is taught. In Rojava we have 4 academies where we train women who seek to expand the teaching of this new science. We also have research centers in Jineolojî, where we study central themes on how to act. We look at the history of the Middle East and seek the perspective of women.

There is also a Jineolojî University, which began with a two-year course, and now has grown to four years of training. This University should not be understood in the same way as it is in the West. Diversity is a significant factor, so we make an effort to escape conventional training. We created a method of socializing information where there is no teacher-student hierarchy. We seek to find and expand the best of each woman, to dismantle the mentality built by the patriarchal system.

BG // Jineolojî seeks to dialogue with different feminist movements, what is the relationship between feminism and Jineolojî? Are there differences between Western feminisms and Jineolojî?

ZD // Kurdish women are more visible and known in the West for their struggle against Daesh, but we have always been analyzed and understood from a Western perspective. The ideology behind our movement was not well understood, the West’s interest was to judge the Kurdish guerrillas from an exotic point of view, not wanting to understand the ideological battle behind the movement.

Our contact with feminist movements was strengthened in recent years, especially since the 2000s. Until the new paradigm, the relationship between the different forms of feminism and the Kurdish women’s movement was basically a relationship of subordination, in which we constantly had to prove our worth. We tried to resist the effects of feminism. Now we can name concrete achievements made with our institutions. We try to demonstrate that we are following a different path to women’s liberation yet, sometimes, we find it difficult to fit this into the feminist perspective. This relationship between the Kurdish women’s movement and the feminist movements is made easier through Jineolojî.

Finally, our fundamental critique of feminism is that we believe no woman should use the main tool used by men, which is to define the other. Every women’s movement should make their own definition. We do not try or want to fit any struggle for the existence of women into feminism, neither to incorporate them.

BG // Within the Kurdish movement, the most important analysis tools seem to be gender and identity. Öcalan talks a lot about the concept of “Xwebûn” – knowing yourself. If we apply it to Jineolojî, it may help explain what it means to be a woman. How does Jineolojî analyze what it is to be a woman?

ZD // We are often misinterpreted due to the frequent use of the word woman. What we are looking for is not to distinguish men from women, as men do when they criminalize women’s identity. We are not talking just about biology, we are talking about an integral perspective on the role of women in society and the values they add to it.

Xwebûn as a concept is not only for women. However, if we wish to analyze it from this perspective, first there is the existence, then the awareness of it, and, after that, the shape.

The existence begins by rejecting the various roles assigned to a woman, so that she may become aware of her own existence. Only after that can we build an identity. Xwebûn is not something that has an end, it is a path that we need to go through.

BG // Jineolojî identifies areas of action, for which it proposes a re-reading from the women’s point of view. Can you give us a glimpse of what these areas are? And how does the relationship between practice and theory work?

ZD // Jineolojî defines areas of action within politics, history, health, economics, ecology, demography, ethics, aesthetics and education. For all these areas, which fall within the social sciences, Jineolojî seeks to give a women’s perspective.

We also try to understand how we can transform existing institutions from this perspective. We have two parallel paths. There is a misunderstanding in society, where it is believed that we should come and intervene on a certain subject. But what Jineolojî actually does is to build a base, and once society has this base, it must fill the content of each subject. Otherwise, we will never leave the dichotomy of the object / subject, which means to keep us imprisoned in positivist science.

BG // The Kurdish movement calls for self-organization as a way of building structures beyond the State. What are the inefficiencies of States in improving the situation of women? How has the relationship of Kurdish women’s movement and self-government in Kurdish cities been?

ZD // We can’t speak of inefficiencies of the State because the existence of the State is in itself an existence against society as, in any place where the State is, institutionalized misogynist practices exist. It’s better not to have a State. What Jineolojî is looking for is to build alternatives in areas where the State has not yet arrived. Personally, I do not believe there are such places. We seek to dismantle the misogynist mentality and the institutions of the patriarchy.

The women’s movement works in parallel with the autonomous administration. This is not to say that we are totally different, but that wherever it is necessary to elect a representation related to women, it is we, the women’s movement, that elects it. Sometimes, social urgencies carry the risk of deviations from the principles agreed upon. The women’s movement has an important function in society. For example in cases of populism or centralization of power, the women’s movement becomes the mechanism of control, defending society’s values.

I have seen it happen a thousand times, [eg, accumulation of power, misogyny]. Once we had a man who was involved with several women and they were all married. Each time these women noticed that this man was building a network to abuse women, they were threatened with their affair being exposed to their husbands. In this case, the general decision of the [Kurdish liberation] movement was to force the man to pay an amount of money to each of these women.

However, the women’s movement firmly stated that retribution for such abuse must not be material. The solution should be to solve the social causes behind these actions. Giving seminars and educating society so that the negative general view of women can be transformed.

Another example; the women’s movement intervenes in the decisions of the general movement, when it notices that the practices the movement wants to follow are populist, pragmatic and forget the role of educating / raising awareness in society. The women take the lead and say that we should follow another type of path, towards a greater awareness of the movement as a whole.

BG // What prospects do you see for the future of DFNS, now that the territorial end of ISIS is a reality?

ZD // Very briefly, Rojava did not start with Daesh, and will not end with it. What we try to build there is an anti-system society, which means a constant risk as our fight is against the system, against capitalism.

BG // Leyla Güven and hundreds of other revolutionaries are still on hunger strike. From Leila Khaled to Angela Davis, there was plenty of support. But in the West, these acts have been silenced. Why do you think this happens?

Leyla Güven held a hunger strike for 200 days. Throughout the action, more than 7000 people joined the hunger strike.

ZD // It is an important question, but we see the same silence in the West on several other issues. For example, Rojava is important and many people are talking about it but nobody wants to talk about Bakur’s situation. The militants are important, but they silence our leader. We see that whenever matters connected with the Kurdish movement are spoken of in the West, it is always in a partial way. Because there is a leader whose ideology is a response to the chaotic situation throughout the area, both to the Kurdish people, as well as all groups living in the Middle East. Öcalan’s proposals for peace in Turkey were very simple.

But what has happened in Turkey since 2005 is an advanced state of fascism, that criminalizes all of those who do not line up with the practices of the ruling party [AKP]. The actions of Leyla Güven were meant to end this advanced fascism. She doesn’t want more people to die.

So far, the dominant tendency of the regime is to isolate Öcalan from the Kurdish people. No one spoke of the relationship between the two parts, but this action made visible the strong bond / connection between Öcalan and the Kurdish people. We need to give visibility to the revolution happening in those territories.

The hunger strike action was an initiative of Leyla Güven, to which we must show our full support, and make their fight visible. She is a woman who opposes the State head-on and seeks to build peace together with society. Just because of this, I believe we should support her without questioning her reasons. Because it is resistance and because this is a resistance that develops around a woman who does not surrender to the reality forced upon her and her society.

BG // When we talk about the Kurdish movement, the first thing that comes to mind is Rojava and sometimes we forget other areas. For example, in Bakur, the region you come from, we can observe a revolutionary process similar to Rojava which has been brutally repressed by Erdoğan. What can you tell us about Bakur?

ZD // Bakur is the area where the movement was born, it is where our culture was born and also, for that reason, where the resistance against the regime began. The people of Bakur have always been subject to genocide, and in Başûr the situation is similar. But there the people got tired of the deaths and gradually became more afraid, deciding to follow another path, and to become part of the system. In Bakur, since the formation of the Turkish Republic, there was always resistance, and they haven’t given up their struggle.

For example, the resistance in Sur and Cizre, with Kurdish self-governments, will remain in our collective memory as a shameful day for humankind. It will take hundreds of years to heal the trauma there. This resistance ended in genocide, and few people in the world will know what happened there. The United Nations published the first report about the massacre more than six months after the events.

The State is trying to kill the will of the people to self-organize, the will to decide on their own life. They failed their mission. They wanted to return to the time of the first Serîhildan [resistance of the 90’s] where by fear, nobody acted. The State created an atmosphere of death, but this time failed as this area has a strong seed. The PKK says that “we are heirs of this seed”. The party managed to join a culture of resistance, and so the State never succeeded in ending the people of Bakur.

It has been 134 days since the hunger strike began in Turkish prisons, but a lot of people believe that there is no resistance in Bakur. This is not true. Even if only one mother stands in front of the prison, surrounded by the police, the resistance continues! Between 2009 and 2015, people were always on the streets. For me, nowadays, if only one person remains in the resistance, it represents a show of something greater. Many years ago, resistance also started like this, with only one person, with Mazlum Doğan

BG // How was your contact with the feminist movements in Portugal?

Meeting of Coimbra gathered more than 30 women from different movements in Portugal

ZD // As we do not have a common language, it is difficult to say too much in detail, it is difficult to build a deeper relationship. But I am not here as an individual person, I have the honor to represent all the values of the Kurdish movement, and I thank all the women who gave me this role of representation.

BG // Do you have any personal dreams?

ZD // If the resistance was not so hard due to the hectic time we are living at this moment, I would like to talk more about people whose stories where made invisible by the world. I think we have managed to create a culture of giving martyrs the value they deserve, but there are so many women we do not know who have stories that deserve to be told. I personally would like to hear and tell these stories, some of which I have also experienced. I do not know how, but I really would enjoy doing it.

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