"The Kurdish female guerrilla army YJA-STAR carried out a retaliation attack killing seven Turkish soldiers in honor of recently martyred Kurdish guerrillas, among them YJA council members Yildiz Demirdag and Sorxwin Ciwana Munzur."
PKK guerilla sub-commander, Sozdar Serbiliz, sits in front of a banner bearing the image of, Abdullah Ocalan, the movement's jailed founder, at a base in the mountains of northern Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region 19 November 2006. (AFP/David Furst)
Paul Schemm, reporting for AFP, has another great article from his recent visit to Qendil. In an earlier report, Schemm mentioned the women cadres and gerîla commanders that he met at one of the PKK's women's academies. He referred to them as a little older, harder, and more wary than the younger gerîlas, and what follows is the result of speaking to them about one of the biggest problems in the Middle East--the role of women:
MOUNT QANDIL, Iraq (AFP) - It took just a few minutes inside the offices of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the mountain village to figure out who was their leader.
Ronahi Ahmed was in charge, and the men in the room immediately deferred to the stern-faced woman with long curly hair and an unexpectedly brilliant smile.
Although ostensibly a member of the civilian political wing of the PKK, Ahmed still had a pistol at her belt, a reminder of her days as a guerrilla leader.
In a part of the world known for the subordination of women, nowhere do females play a greater role than in the ranks of this Kurdish movement in the rugged mountains of northern Iraq.
Once Marxist but now saying it is committed to peaceful and democratic change, the PKK retains a quasi-military structure that gives its own brand of feminism a distinctly martial cast.
"When a woman leaves her home and picks up a rifle it is no small thing -- it is a social revolution," said Arshem Kurman, a hardened guerrilla and lecturer at one of the movement's schools where women's rights are taught.
"We are opening the eyes of Kurdish society," she added, explaining how female fighters in the PKK symbolize women's empowerment among her people.
With their camps in the mountains and an emphasis on education and equality, the PKK aims to offer an alternative model for Kurdish and Middle Eastern women.
Their struggle is constant, admit the women activists and guerrillas, not only in wider society but also among their fellow fighters who themselves do not always reflect the movement's progressive attitudes.
"That is the importance of martyrdom -- it gives our cause weight," said Kurman, adding that female losses in battle and suicide bombings by women have forced men in the movement to take them seriously.
"Women are dying every day, so what better way to send a message?" she said, and described how one Kurdish woman killed more than 50 Turkish soldiers in a suicide attack in the 1990s.
During that decade the PKK launched 15 suicide attacks -- 11 of them by women. But in 1999, after Turkey jailed PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, the movement announced its commitment to a peaceful solution.
In February this year an Iraqi Kurd from Sulaimaniyah set herself on fire near the Turkish-Iraqi border in protest at Turkish treatment of the Kurds. Posters of Vian Jaf can now be found in many of the movement's buildings.
PKK leader Cemil Bayik stressed that the leadership did not want to encourage such actions, however.
"We are not saying the action was right and we criticize it openly, but as you are aware, emotion in the Kurdish people is running very high," he said at his headquarters in the Qandil mountains. "The Kurdish people respect her actions."
Bayik also displays a poster of Vian Jaf on the wall of his room.
Gaining respect and equality in the male-dominated societies of the Middle East is not easy, PKK women said.
"A woman can't stand up and talk in such a society," said Reha Baran, an administrator at the school -- a cluster of stone huts in the mountains.
"For example, in Kurdish society men are the only ones allowed to speak. If a husband is not home, then it is the eldest son, regardless of his age.
"Because of the backwardness of society, women have been pushed to the margins," she added. "Our aim is to return them to the center of daily life and society."
Female activists and guerrilla leaders converge from all over the Kurdish regions to study at this school and learn how women were deprived of their rights and what can be done to regain them.
They then take these ideas back to their villages and units and spread them throughout Kurdish society.
Cahide, who as a guerrilla goes by just the one name, travels to Kurdish towns and villages to try to present a different social model to these traditional societies.
"They look at women as weak and when we go there they don't take us seriously," she said. "But as time passes, you stay and talk and start to put across your ideas... they look at you more seriously and start to listen."
Cahide admitted that they have to be careful not to alienate her audience, however.
"When I go to a village I know there are red lines. You have to know these people and their culture and how much they can handle," she said.
The young female PKK guerrillas feel that their lives, in which they carry weapons alongside men in a struggle for Kurdish identity, are still vastly superior to what they would have lived had they stayed in their villages.
As the sun set on a hillside overlooked by the towering snowcapped bulk of Mount Qandil, a dozen female guerrillas aged between 15 and 21 sat in the grass drinking tea.
They all laughed when asked if they had not preferred to stay at home and bear children rather than arms, universally shaking their heads.
"Women in these families are forbidden from learning, forbidden from leaving," said Rojbin Hajjar, a Kurd originally from Syria.
In some cases, especially in Iran, guerrillas have helped unhappy girls run away from their families to join the PKK, Hajjar added.
"We are not just an example for the women of the Middle East but for women the world over," added rebel commander Sozdar Serbiliz.
Notice the part about "red lines" and avoiding alienation? This means that PKK is sensitive to the people. This is something that anti-apocular never remember in their propaganda. Take, for example, the ban on marriage that is obligatory for certain members of PKK, since this is a common criticism of the anti-apocular. If the people did not know for a fact that this ban is enforced, would they send their children to the mountains with pride and a blessing? Of course not, given the extremely conservative nature of Kurdish society. There are a number of other reasons why the ban is necessary and practical, but sensitivity to the people's feelings on this matter is one of the primary reasons for it. Quite clearly the ban is not a burden for the gerîlas interviewed.
Schemm also previously noted that the other Kurdish parties had become "fat and corrupt since coming to power," something that can be observed with greater frequency as Kurdish youth flee the poverty and lack of future that they see in South Kurdistan. At the same time, Kurdistan's agricultural potential and village life are in danger of disappearing because the KRG, run by the two main parties, refuse to invest and promote Kurdish agriculture, from the Kurdish Globe:
Arselan Manucher, expert in Economics, suggests increased government support for villagers by saying "it has to provide them with treated seeds," adding the government should also start buying products from these domestic villagers and farmers. Manucher further raised his concern saying that prices also needed to be protected. "So far, no serious efforts have been made by the government to promote the national agricultural sector."
Although there are more than 4,500 villages in Kurdistan, and yet, most agricultural products are imported from the neighboring countries.
The head of the Suleimaniya Barn Syndicate, S. Omer, says the crops brought into the city barns are mainly imports from surrounding countries, adding that local products have never been able in to compete with foreign ones.
More than 800 tons of agricultural products are sold in the Suleimaniya barns on a daily basis, most of which are imported.
In order to effectively support local producers, a recently conducted research has concluded that 200 factories need to be built, with 4 billion ID needed to build the required processing plants.
Instead of investing in the factories necessary to provide a basis for a Kurdish economy, $350 million will be wasted on "the development of "Empire World" in the Kurdish capital of" Hewlêr. From the Middle East Times:
Empire World, which broke ground in June, covers 750,000 square meters (8 million square feet) of integrated commercial, residential, hotel, and leisure facilities in a "mini-city" all-inclusive environment, Canadian-born Hebert told reporters in Dubai.
"The site is designed to provide its users with the latest and most sophisticated technology and services," and will feature two towers, one providing office space and the other housing a luxury hotel, Hebert said.
The project will cost $350 million over eight years, he said, describing Kurdistan as "safe and secure, with a booming investment environment and a diversified economy."
Lies. There is no diversified economy in South Kurdistan otherwise Kurds would not be abandoning their villages to scratch out an existence in the already overcrowded cities, and there would be greater efforts by the KRG to provide basic services to all the people.
But this is not happening. The elites are getting wealthy at the expense of the people.
The good news is that Kurds are going to Qendil to learn how to take back society from the status quo, and then they are spreading out across Kurdistan to do just that. It is starting with women. A different social model is coming, and it's coming from PKK.
That's the best news I've heard in a very long time. You go, girlfriends.