Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

IRAQ: Young Women Find Peace as Guerrillas

Mohammed A. Salih

QANDIL MOUNTAINS (Iraq-Iran-Turkey), Mar 19 2007 (IPS) - Saria, 20, is a bright and lovely young lady, and she has found peace in her life as a guerrilla.

In this mountain range spanning Iraq, Iran and Turkey, she has found protection too, “from the oppression of a male society.”

Saria, whose name means a female horse-rider, joined the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) when she was 14. She has in these years been engaged in several battles with Iranian and Turkish troops.

Kurds are scattered across northern Iraq, Iran and Turkey. They have been a minority everywhere, and struggled to search for rights. Only in Iraq have they found Kurdistan, an autonomous region for themselves since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

The PKK, declared a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union, has been engaged in a long guerrilla war to secure rights for Kurds, particularly in Turkey.

They have based themselves in the Qandil mountains. A visit to one of their camps showed that the Kurd fighters are not what one might have expected them to be.

In the fragile tranquility of these mountains, young boys and girls sit and chat and share their “life activities on an equal basis.” They say they feel free.

Saria does not miss the comforts that city life can offer. “In our society women are suppressed…what is very important for a woman is to be the owner of herself and her personality…our party provides this atmosphere for us,” Saria told IPS.

She comes from a poor area of the Kurdish-dominated southeast Turkey. Oppression of Kurds led her and many like her to take up arms.

“When there is all this cultural and economic pressure on you, and you cannot even freely speak your language, then it is better not to live,” says Saria, who looks tougher than most girls her age.

An old Kurdish saying goes, “Mountains are the Kurds’ best friends.” For PKK fighters it is still true.

The PKK has bases right across these mountains that stretch from Iraq’s border with Turkey in the north to the Iraq-Iran borders in the east.

The PKK launched an armed struggle in 1982 in Turkey to set up an independent Kurdish state. But it has now cut its political rhetoric, and demands only a democratic Turkish republic with cultural and minority rights for Kurds.

Many Kurds, particularly the intelligentsia, have seen this as a climbdown.

Despite the wide perception of the PKK as a terrorist organisation, its recruits are not just Kurds. Its revolutionary leftist ideology has attracted scores of non-Kurds, including Turks, Arabs, Persians and also a few Europeans.

All recruits go through a three to five month course of ideological and military training to ready them for guerrilla warfare.

“This is a freedom and humanitarian movement in which everyone can find his freedom regardless of race or religion,” says Yaser, a 30-year-old Kurd who joined the PKK 15 years ago. He says he is not there to fight “because we like war and bloodshed, but this is a situation imposed on us.”

Across the Middle East, Iraq has the highest rate of women representation in parliament and local councils, at places up to 25 percent. But in PKK it goes higher.

“Men and women are equal in PKK,” says PKK spokesman Heval Asad. Eighty percent of the party’s leadership council is selected equally from both men and women, so women will always constitute at least 40 percent of the PKK leaders.

The remaining 20 percent are elected through vote, and women also make up a considerable percentage through such election.

Guerrillas in Qandil do not marry. They say that as long as they are fighting in the mountains the time is not ripe for marriage. They believe marriage and raising children are practical obstacles on their way to “continuing the revolution.”

“However, here we don’t think in terms of brothers and sisters. We think of each other as friends with different personalities,” says Asad.

The harsh mountainous conditions and the occasional fighting have not killed the guerrillas’ desire to look good. Many of the young women put on make-up and varnish their nails. The young men have their hair neatly cut and their faces well shaven.

But they know they have a fight on their hands. “What’s important for us is to die if necessary for the cause we believe in,” says Saria.

Saria wants to become a journalist “once Kurdistan is free and the revolution succeeds,” she says. “But as long as the revolution goes on we continue fighting.”

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