Monday, June 05, 2006


Kurdish woman fighter of South Kurdistan, by Kevin McKiernan.

"What is shameful is the attempt to hide the practice of honour crime by stating that this exposes the Kurdish nation to criticism. We are in the heart of a dangerous problem that needs to be discussed, understood and resolved."
~ Dr. Nazand Begikhani, Interview with KurdishMedia.

Indeed, Dr. Nazand has hit the proverbial nail on the head. Those who use the excuse of "shaming the nation" when the subject of honor murders is publicly discussed by Kurds, are, in reality, seeking to deflect attention from their own share in the guilt, brought upon themselves by silence. They also seek to maintain a status quo that benefits only one half of society. Criticism should properly be made against this attempt to hide the atrocity of honor murder and to expose this undermining of Kurdish women's rights. Because, make no mistake, honor murders are the pinnacle of an entire tradition, a tradition which must be destroyed if Kurds wish to create genuine democratic change for themselves and for the region.

Drs. Shahrzad Mojab and Amir Hassanpour co-penned an article on honor murders in 2002, and in comparing it with Dr. Nazand's interview, one finds that the situation has remained fairly static in the last four years, at least from the position of the two main Southern parties.

Gender politics in Kurdish society, just like every other society in the world, contains two components, that of patriarchal structures with accompanying misogyny, and that of struggle for gender equality, which means that Kurdistan is only too much like every other nation in this respect, with Kurds engaging in preservation of the patriarchal structure, or struggling against it for gender equality. We might ask, though, why have greater strides for gender equality been made in the West, while certain segments of Kurdish society still make excuses for an extreme method of insuring women's subordinate statusr? Drs. Shahrzad and Amir seem to have part of the answer:

The Kurdish people have lived since the late 1870s in what Mark Levene (1998) has characterized as a "zone of genocide." In this zone (Eastern Anatolia comprising Kurdistan), the Ottoman state conducted a genocide of the Armenian people in 1915 and, together with its successor, the Republic of Turkey, subjected the Assyrian and Kurdish peoples to numerous campaigns of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The Ba'th regime of Iraq ensured that this zone would continue to operate in spite of its division between Iraq and Turkey in 1918. No less than ten thousand Kurdish villages were destroyed in Iraqi Kurdistan between 1975 and 1991 and in Turkey between 1984 and 2000.

The zone of genocide continues to be an active zone of war. These wars have destroyed the social, economic and cultural fabric of Kurdish society. They have unleashed waves of male violence against women. This explains, at least in part, why there are more incidents of honour killing among the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey compared with the Kurds of Iran, whose experience of war has been less devastating.

We know that the violence did not abate with the establishment of the KRG in 1992, but that it continued in the brakujî of the mid-1990's. It is only now that the violence has ended in South Kurdistan so that the serious work of changing attitudes can begin, and this will have to be as part of the national healing process. Any discussion of gender politics in Kurdistan, will have to include a decision about the role of Islam, as well as the danger of totalitarian political Islam, and their effects on women's rights, especially the very basic right to life. It is not enough for the KDP and PUK to come to a working relationship, for the sake of economic benefit, with those who promote extremist Islam. If the parties are serious about establishing a democracy in South Kurdistan, they will have to articulate, clearly, the reasons for no tolerance of anti-democratic ideas and practices. They must also ditch Ba'athi law and habits, so that Kurdistan is cleansed of this ideological plague once and for all.

Eren Keskin has commented on the fact that violence perpetrated by the state has created a climate in which the continued use of violence has become "normal," lending support the the "zone of genocide" theory and its contribution to the culture of honor murders in North Kurdistan. Recently, forced suicides in Êlih (Batman) made international news and prompted an investigation by the UN. By far, the most extensive report on the situation came from the TimesOnline, in mid-May. But, once again, the establishment makes excuses for murder, in the form of Turkish MP's criticizing the open discussion of atrocities against women. Even though laws may be in place to punish perpetrators, there is no serious desire to change the status quo, an attitude held in common with the government in South Kurdistan.

Neither are Kurds in Diaspora immune from this curse, as there have been a number of Kurdish honor murders reported in Europe. If the defenders of patriarchal tradition are truly worried about "shame," then they should have considered the consequences that these murders would have for Diaspora communities. Unfortunately for the defenders, they aren't so easily able to wiggle out of prosecution for their crimes in the West. An unusual aspect of honor murder in the West is that I, for one, have never heard of a Kurdish honor murder taking place in the US. Why is that?

I have one guess as to why it is that we have not seen honor murders among the American Kurdish communities, and it is because the emphasis in the US is on the integration of immigrants into society. As an immigrant country, the US is used to the idea of integration and of equality under the law. A murder within any immigrant community is going to be investigated as a crime, and it is unlikely that the American public would permit weaseling over anything as serious as a charge of domestic murder, no matter whether such an act of murder is part of a long established "tradition" within the immigrant community or not.

Europe does not have a tradition of integrating immigrants. Instead it encourages ghettoization while discouraging "interference" with transplanted cultures. A lack of enthusiasm for integration out of fear of being labeled "racist," has allowed the tradition of honor murder to continue, along with the mysogyny that created it.

This fear of being labeled "racist" is also what keeps feminists in academia silent in the face of murder, although they have additional fears of being labeled "Orientalist" or "colonialist." As a result, they end up as de facto supporters of an oppression they claim to oppose. They end up making common cause with those who insist that a public discussion is "indecent" or brings "shame" to the Kurdish people. This is the shame of academic Western feminists, and until they overcome their own selfish fears of shame, we cannot wait for them to raise their voices to defend Kurdish women, or others.

What must happen instead, is that which is already beginning to happen--an awakening to the problem by Kurdish society in both Kurdistan and Diaspora. Dr. Nazand's interview is a testimony to the fact that there are ongoing efforts to improve the status and life conditions of Kurdish women in South Kurdistan. Women like Eren Keskin, in North Kurdistan, are still in the battle. KONGRA-GEL carries on with active encouragement of women's participation in the life of the nation, and that organization can do even more by purposely cultivating Kurdish women for leadership positions in political and military organizations. In fact, KONGRA-GEL would do very well to create a mentoring program for this purpose, in which longtime women members pass on their knowledge and experience to the newer and younger ones.

The good news in the Diaspora, especially in the US, is that young Kurdish women are beginning to take up the torch for Kurdish women's rights within the greater Kurdish struggle, as can be seen from a speech given by Sheinei Saleem at this year's KNC of North America conference.

As young Kurdish women like Sheinei enter the struggle not only for Kurdish women, but also for the Kurdish people as a whole, young Kurdish men will also have to take a stand on the issue and their contributions will be equally valuable, since it is impossible to heal Kurdish society while half of the population continues to suffer. We know that not all Kurdish men approve of, or engage in, attitudes that perpetuate honor murder. In fact, we know that Kurdish women themselves, in the absence of men, have enforced the vile code of honor. Young Kurdish men must support their sisters with the same enthusiasm and perseverance that many generations of Kurdish women have shown men in the armed struggle. Mutual support is the only path to victory and it is the honor of Kurdistan.

Serkeftin, xwişkên û birayên min!


heftirik said...

hevla hêja, dest xweş!!

niviseki gelek rast û cihde ye.

well as you said whenever that issue; honor killings etc, comes to the surface suddenly we hear that "it is not time to talk about hose things. we have more importan things to do, such as; fighting with the enemy, and our rgihts. we have to get our rights first then we can solve this problem" but unfortunately as ou said in your well-written article this is just beating around the bush, and escaping from the harsh, sever reality of the problem.

no matter what plight we, the kurds, are in,whether in wars with enemies, or political struggles we should kep that important, and burden-some problem on our agenda always. and not only keep it on our agenda but also giving it some priorities with some other very vital issues.

but i still believe that the women recruits, are very knowledgeble about their rights since many of them join the partî to escape the opression and discrimination they face from within their own society. and they will be a first step to eradicate that shameful act, and hopefuly to give our fellow sisters, and mothers more rights. in fact more rights than men have, some king of "positive-discriminition" i am nt sure whether this term is used like that in english, but i am only trying to say that women shoudl be given more rights compared to men; i.e. a company should have at least, lets say, 30 % of the workers women. lie the usa does for the minoritites(blacks)...

and i, personally, am a strong believer in, and supporter of the women rights....

her biji keç û jinên kurdan,
her biji kurdistan!

Anonymous said...

The "zone of genocide" theory is at the least, arguable. There are no solid proofs to this theory.

The following statement totally neglects a number of other reasons for the possibilities that honour killing is less occuring in Eastern Kurdistan ("Iranian" part):

"This explains, at least in part, why there are more incidents of honour killing among the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey compared with the Kurds of Iran, whose experience of war has been less devastating."

One reason neglected is that the astonishing trend of honor killings occurs primarily in Kurdish Tribal societies. Kurdish tribal societies that exist and have existed in Northern Kurdistan and Southern Kurdistan ("Kurds of Turkey" and "Kurds of Iraq") are simple not as abundant in Eastern Kurdistan - and therefore their influences and ideologies are not abundant either. The number of tribes in Eastern Kurdistan is at a much smaller number. A theory could therefore be made that a lack of these tribal societies (or simply the lack of influence from these societies) leads to a fall in the number of honor killings. This could be a reason, ignored by the authors/analysts.

Also, someone should look into the number of honor killings in present-day Southern Kurdistan as oppose to Saddam's era. The KRG has opened a number of protection centers in the Slemani province for young women who have been threatened by honor killings. They have also made the practice illegal. These are two things Saddam and the Ba'athis did not do because they were happy to see Kurds kill each other for stupid reasons. I am sure as a result of the KRG efforts, there has been a reduction in honor killings. Not to say that it is still not a big problem though.

Mizgîn said...

Roj baş û gelek sipas, heval Xelef.

You know that this idea of "waiting" for when things are better or for a free Kurdistan reminds me of the attitude of the Turkish Left toward Kurds in the 1970's. We had to "wait" until the revolution was complete and Turkey was "liberated" before addressing the Kurdish situation. This was one of the reasons for the formation of the PKK. As the Turkish Left expected us to "wait" while Kurds suffered, so now are their people who expect us to wait while our Kurdish sisters suffer and are murdered?

That excuse was befr in the 1970's and it's befr now, and the springtime thaw is long overdue.

The gerîlas, both female and male, are educated in this subject, and I think it's going to have to be that way for there to be any success. I don't see that equal rights for women is inherently threatening to men or anti-male. It is a positive thing for both, because I see this problem as one that creates psychological deformations in men as well as in women, and how does that kind of damage help society as a whole?

We have to arrive at the point that we see that males and females have more in common, as a species, than we have as differences. Check Maslow's hierarchy of needs as an example of an idea of what I'm thinking about here. Men and women may think in different ways, but both think. Just because they may not think in exactly the same ways, and therefore act in exactly the same ways, doesn't mean there is something wrong with the thinking or acting per se. Hell, no two individual humans think or act in exactly the same ways in every situation.

So we need to seriously lighten up here, and start noticing the things we have in common instead of simply making more division by over-emphasizing differences. It's a matter of national suicide.

Anonymous, the only proofs that we have for the "zone of genocide" theory is Anfal, the dirty war, and those kinds of things. The reason I picked up on it was because I had been doing some researches into Eren Keskin's work, and I think she is onto something in saying that over time, violence has become "normal." Remember that she is speaking from a Bakurî perspective, but I think it holds true across the board (more or less, depending on the situation in each part of divided Kurdistan) because we know that people become desensitized to things like violence. Studies also indicate that those who are abused as children, grow up to become abusers unless there is an intervention. I am no psychologist, but I think I see a connection in this regard.

However, you are correct that there are other aspects of the problem, and I will not say (and did not say) that the "zone of genocide" theory is the whole answer. I do agree with your ideas about tribalism and with your comments on the efforts to eradicate this problem in Başur. In fact, Christiane Bird, in her book A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts, gives a really good report on the efforts that you mention in Silêmanî. She points out that the women who established the shelters and make the efforts to negotiate a safe and successful reconciliation between the woman and her family, do so from Kurdish tribal traditions.

Tribalism is, therefore, not all bad and not all good. We have to decide what is good about it, that should be kept, and we have to do the same for the bad. I think, too, that when we look at Western ideas and institutions, we have to decide what it is about each that we like and want for Kurdistan while at the same time deciding what we don't like about these ideas and institutions. Then we can draw from the good in Kurdish culture (for example, from tribalism) to fill the void and create something modern, workable, and equitable for Kurdistan.

Or do we not like any Western ideas or institutions?

Example: The Japanese seem to be very good at this sort of adaptation. They will look at the West and see something they like and they will take only what they like, fill the remainder of it (the void left by stripping off what they perceive to be bad about the Western idea or institution) with something drawn from Japanese tradition and culture. What they end up with is something that is very successful for them. It permits them to integrate with the rest of the world while maintaining their own culture.

Dr. Nazand says, in the interview, that she sees South Kurdistan at the very beginning of nation-state building. I agree with her and that is why I think we have to start thinking about how we want the future to be. In the paragraph where she mentions all this, I think I am very much in agreement with her. At the same time, we cannot drop the ball on honor murders. As I mentioned earlier, we cannot relegate this issue to some distant point in the future when we reach utopia.

Utopia has to begin now, but it ain't gonna happen unless we make it happen.

Anonymous said...

The problem is she makes reference to the idea of the "zone of genocide" and makes no mention of the effects of tribalism and tribal mentalities in the whole situation. I suppose during the harshest times in Eastern Kurdistan, and the encouragement of the Islamic Regime to punish women (and encouraging honor killings instead stop them) would mean that these killings would be on the rise in the East, but that is just not the case. Instead, like she mentioned, honor killings are less in the East. There should be other factors looked at besides "zones of genocide". After all, Iran is no utopia for Kurds. It is actually harsher in some of it's own ways.

But I agree with one thing. This issue should be brought out in the open and national pride should be no excuse for not publicizing it. Biji kec u jinen Kurdan.

Vladimir said...

Rasti, did you also read the report about honour killings of the UN rapporteur for violence against women. She visited Batman and other Kurdish cities.

I would love to see your analyses of this article:

I can see a typical Turkish behaviour towards Kurdish culture here and a Kemalist ideology which portrays some elements of the "Turkish society" as backward and conservative (In this case Kurds from the Southeast). Despite of this mentality, it's true that honour killings are a regular feature in Kurdish culture and should be eradicated.

She notes: The family unit remains of paramount importance across Turkish society, and adultery or sex before marriage can be seen as "crimes" by socially conservative, backwards elements.

Ertürk charged that "authorities", too, often lack the willingness to implement these laws" and "politicians and administrators are often inclined to arrange themselves with local power norms at the expense of women's rights."

But I think you can read it for yourself.

And don't forget to visit

Mizgîn said...

Vladimir, I referenced the TDN article in the post.

Of course they cannot say that Kurdish society is backward or that there are some aspects of Kurdish society/culture that are backward because Kurdish society/culture does not exist according to official Kemalist discourse.

We know that honor murders are backward, but they are merely the tip of the iceburg sticking up out of the water, while the whole iceburg has to do with human rights in general and women's rights in particular within a Kurdish context. Unfortunately, Turkish meddling in Kurdistan has contributed to maintaining backwardness because it suits the status quo and, which is Turkish domination of Kurds.

What does the Ankara regime care if Kurdish women are murdered, or if societal attitudes that guarantee the perpetuation of this backwardness remain? Look, all those who commit these murders are contributing to Kemalist domination because they are murdering those within the society who are capable of bringing more Kurds into the world--the women--and not only in a merely physical sense. who is it that has the greatest effect on the development of the children? The women. Who is it that teaches them Kurdish? The women.

The hand that rocks the cradle, is the hand that rules the world--or in this case, Kurdistan, and every welatparêz should recognize this. As such, every welatparêz should ensure that the women become lions for kurdayetî so that this will be passed on to the next generation. Every welatparêz should ensure that Kurdish women are treated with dignity in the home, when they are girls, so that they will grow up to demand respect from everyone else. In this respect, too, Kurdish fathers do not realize the importance of their influence on their daughters. How the father treats the mother is observed by the children, and the daughters will learn how they should be treated by observing this relationship, so the relationship betweent the parents is of utmost importance as well.

This whole issue of honor murders and lack of women's rights is a nice, neat, clean answer to Kurdish population control, don't you think? Because it doesn't directly reflect back on the regime. They can just stand there in Ankara and wring their hands and complain, "What to do?? There are simply certain "elements" in Turkish society that are too backward and ignorant to control this problem."

It is a fact that Turkish "authorities" lack the willingness to enforce punishments against honor murderers, nor do they bother to support women's rights or rights for Kurdish women. The Times article included in the post contains proof of that. It is far more important to ignore the reality for the sake of national image than to admit a public discussion, or worse, public action, against the mentality that perpetuates the reality.