Democratic Transformations, Kurdish Women and Regional Conflict: Lessons from Rojava and Beyond


The Greenwich Political Economy Research Centre of the University of Greenwich and Peace in Kurdistan – Women’s Alliance for Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria, held a workshop, exhibition and roundtable discussion on “Democratic transformations, Kurdish women and regional conflict: lessons from Rojava and beyond”.

Against a background of conflict and repression in the Middle East, Kurds in four countries (Iraq, Iran, Syrian and Turkey) are asserting their political and cultural rights; and transforming both themselves and the countries they live in. They pursue a democratic, secular and gender-equal political project in which women play a crucial role. The aim of the workshop and roundtable discussion was to discuss the unfolding experience; and its achievements and challenges with respect to participatory democracy, human rights, gender equality and security in Kurdistan and beyond.

The event brought together well-researched and novel findings from academics, journalists and activists from different backgrounds and disciplines – who are well placed to bridge the knowledge gap on the Kurdish political movement, its achievements and challenges, and its engagement with global democracy, gender equality and security.


To view the conference in your own time, please click on the links below to access the individual contributions from the speakers and the panel discussion. The biographies of all contributors in order of speaking are after the video links below.

  1. Introduction by Mehmet Ugur University of Greenwich and Melanie Gingell Peace in Kurdistan – Women Alliance for Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria


  1. Keynote speech by Margaret Owen OBE, Director of Widows for Peace through Democracy; Patron of Peace in Kurdistan; UK barrister and an international women’s human rights activist:

Kurdish women and their achievements in a regional and international context:


  1. Session 1:

Institution building under conflict: What do we learn from Kurdish praxis?

Ercan Ayboga , Co- Author of Revolution in Rojava (VSA Verlag).

Development of the political system of Rojava.


(ii) Thomas Schmidinger, University of Vienna.

Rojava: Autonomy in the borderlands of civil war

  1. Session 2:

Kurdish women: A gender revolution from below?


(i) Necla Acik University of Manchester and Umut Erel, Open University:

Gender and multilayered citizenship: Kurdish women’s politics and agency in Turkey/ North Kurdistan


(ii) Jo Magpie, Freelance journalist and writer:

A women’s revolution from the roots
(iii)  Houzan Mahmoud, Kurdish women’s rights campaigner.

Kurdish women fighters: the case for new feminist theorising on women in armed struggles

  1. Session 3:

The Kurdish political movement: Regional context and implications
(i) Cengiz Gunes: Open University.

The Kurdish resurgence and its regional impact

(ii) Seevan Saeed: Author of Kurdish Politics in Turkey (Routledge).

Kurdish national movement in the North: From state building to nation building

  1. Roundtable discussion:

Democratic transformations in Kurdistan – Implications for global democracy, human rights and security:


Panel Discussion with:
Arianne Shahvisi, Lecturer in Ethics and Medical Humanities, Brighton & Sussex Medical School
Veli Yadirgi, Post-Doctoral Research Associate, Department of Development Studies, SOAS
Thomas Schmidinger, Institute for Political Science, University of Vienna
Houzan Mahmoud, Kurdish women’s rights campaigner


Biographies of Contributors (in order of speaking)


Margaret Owen (OBE) is a human rights lawyer focusing on women’s and children’s rights, mainly in developing countries and those afflicted by conflict and post conflict violence. Formerly specialising in asylum and immigration cases, she then headed the law and policy section of IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation). She acted as consultant for UN Agencies before founding and directing WIdows for Peace through Democracy (WPD). She is also a founder member of GAPS-UK (Gender Action on Peace and Security), which addresses implementation of UNSCR 1325 and subsequent UNSCR on gender-related issues in the Women, Peace, Security agenda. She is a Patron of Peace in Kurdistan, and makes frequent visits to the Middle East.


Margaret Owen has a law degree from Cambridge and a Diploma in Social Administration from LSE, and is a member of the Middle Temple. She received an O.B.E in 2013 for her contribution to the advancement of women’s human rights and especially for her pioneering work on widows’ rights.


In December 2013, Margaret Owen travelled to Rojava, just three weeks before the region officially announced self-government. She also visited Turkey on several occasions to support persecuted academics and to monitor the elections.

Margaret has made a tremendous contribution to raising awareness of the conflict in Syria, PYD’s principles of gender equality in action, and the political genocide against the Kurds in Turkey.


Here is a quote from what she said for her entry in MILAN SVANDERLIK’s exhibition book Outsiders in London: “Someone recently remarked that I must surely be part of the British upper middle class, to which I replied with pride, ‘No! I am a third generation economic migrant, a refugee.’ No, I really do belong to the world of outsiders;   the ‘world of outsiders’ is my true and proper home.


[We are grateful to Margaret not only for her exemplary commitment to human rights and gender equality globally, but also for reminding us that the world of outsiders is an intellectual and moral force to be reckoned with.]


Thomas Schmidinger (University of Vienna) is political scientist and cultural anthropologist. He teaches at the University of Vienna, the University of Applied Science Vorarlberg and the University of Applied Science Oberösterreich in Linz. He is a researcher at the Institute of the Sociology of Law and Criminology; and the secretary-general of the Austrian Association of Kurdish Studies. In 2014 he published his book War and Revolution in Syrian-Kurdistan in German, also published in Turkish. His Rojava photography has been exhibited in the European Parliament in Brussels.


Zaid Nasution (School of Geography, University of Leeds) is PhD Student at the School of Geography, University of Leeds. Prior to his research at Leeds, he was the head of Environmental Engineering Department, University of Sumatra Utara, Medan, Indonesia. He holds a BSc in Environmental Engineering and an MSc in Regional and Spatial Planning. In his PhD research, he investigates forest governance and accountability in Mandailing, Indonesia, with a focus on multi-level accountability relationship among governmental, non-governmental actors and villagers. His PhD research investigates Democratic Confederalism (and libertarian municipalism) as a bottom-up process of political institution building.


Ercan Ayboga, author of Revolution in Rojava (VSA Verlag) comes from a family of Kurdish labour migrants in Germany. During his studies at the Technical University of Darmstadt he was an active member of the student parliament and student union for several years as well of the Union of Students from Kurdistan (YXK). After his MSc in environmental engineering in 2003 he lived in North Kurdistan for two years where he co-founded the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive against the destructive mega Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River. In 2010 he became a co-founder of the Tatort Kurdistan Campaign in Germany. He visited Rojava in 2014 on behalf of the campaign and reflected his field findings in his co-atuhored book Revolution in Rojava. Currently he lives Amed (Diyarbakir) contributing to the work of the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, a broad movement of ecologists in North Kurdistan.


Michel Knapp, author of Revolution in Rojava (VSA Verlag) is a historian of radical democracy. His research focuses on the Kurdish issue and the construction of alternatives to capitalist modernity. His research has taken him to the Middle East, where he has studied the Kurdish Liberation Struggle and the PKK.


Necla Acik (University of Manchester) is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCCJ), School of Law, University of Manchester. She is teaching courses on research methodology and counter-terrorism. Her research interests are in youth and mobilisation, education and counter-terrorism, civic engagement, migration, ethnicity, and Kurdish women’s movement.


Umut Erel (Open University) is Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences. In her research, she employs an intersectional approach and explores how gender, migration and ethnicity inform practices of citizenship. This has first been developed in her PhD looking at skilled migrant women from Turkey in Britain and Germany (2009), then she explored these issues in the context of paid and unpaid work of refugee women in the voluntary sector and migrants in new areas of multiculture. Her current research focuses on care and citizenship among migrant mothers and their co-resident children, investigating how migrant women’s mothering practices can be conceptualized as citizenship practices.


Jo Magpie is a freelance journalist and writer, with a passion for freedom of movement, hitchhiking, Kurdistan and the wider Middle-East. Between writing about borders and revolutions, she is working on a book about long-term solo female hitchhikers.


Houzan Mahmoud is a Kurdish women’s rights campaigner. She was born in Iraqi Kurdistan and currently working and residing in London. She is a cofounder of Culture Project, a unique platform for Kurdish writers, feminists, artists and activists. Her articles have published in UK outlets, including The Independent and The Guardian, The Tribune, The Newstaetsman and others. Houzan’s national and international campaigns include campaigns against the imposition of Islamic sharia law in Kurdistan, on Iraqi constitution, and world-wide campaigns and advocacy for freedom of expression and secularism. She has written various articles on the situation of women in Iraq, Kurdistan and Middle East, which have been translated into and published in many languages.


Cengiz Gunes (Open University) completed his PhD at the Ideology and Discourse Analysis Research Programme, the Department of Government, University of Essex, UK. He is the author of The Kurdish National Movement in Turkey: From Protest to Resistance (London: Routledge, 2012) and co-editor of The Kurdish Question in Turkey: New Perspectives on Violence, Representation, and Reconciliation (London: Routledge, 2014). His main research interests are in the areas of peace and conflict studies, the Kurds in the Middle East, the international relations of the Middle East and Turkish politics. Currently he works as an associate lecturer at the Open University, UK.


Seevan Saeed (Author Kurdish Politics in Turkey) is an independent British-Kurdish academic, originally from Kurdistan. He attended primary and secondary school in the compulsory camp near Sulemaniya and received his BA degree in sociology in Salahadin University in Arbil-Kurdistan. In 2001, he arrived in the UK as a refugee. From 2004-2008, he studied for his BA and MA degrees in Sociology at the University of Wolverhampton. He completed his PhD in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter in 2014. He worked as a Human Rights activist and managed projects within NGOs in the Middle East between 2008 and 2010. His last book, Kurdish Politics in Turkey, is published in the UK in 2016 by Routledge.


Yagmur Savran is a PhD student in Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, UK. Her thesis focuses on the prospects and obstacles for a political solution to the Turkey-PKK conflict. Her publications and conference presentations include: The Rojava Revolution and British Solidarity; The Influence of Murray Bookchin’s Radical Theories on the Kurdish Movement in Turkey and Syria; Representative democracy AND direct democracy: The case of the HDP in Turkey and the PYD in Rojava


Arianne Shahvisi is Lecturer in Ethics and Medical Humanities, Brighton & Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex.


Arianne Shahvisi has research interests in the philosophy of science and applied ethics, with current projects focussing on reproductive ethics, social epistemology, scientific methodology, and the ethics of labour.


She teaches courses in feminist bioethics, global health ethics, social determinants of health, and the philosophy of mind. Arianne serves as an editorial board member of Kohl: Journal for Feminist Research on Gender and the Body in the MENA Region.


Alongside her academic work, Arianne engages in campus and community activism, focussing on gender, race, migration, and academic freedom. She has written commentaries on these issues for the New Statesman, Jacobin, Open Democracy, and Truthout, and was awarded the Kamal Salibi Award for services to academic freedom in 2015.


Veli Yadirgi is Post-Doctoral Research Associate, Department of Development Studies, SOAS. Veli holds a B.A. in Philosophy (King’s College, London), an MSc. in Global Politics (LSE), and a PhD (SOAS), and has worked as a political correspondent and editor in different media companies in Europe.


He has conducted a comprehensive historical research on economic development of Kurdistan, in which he discovered the causes and consequences of de-development. His research will be published as a monograph titled: The Political Economy of the Kurds of Turkey: From the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. He traces the origins of the ‘Kurdish Question’ in Turkey in a forthcoming article titled: ‘The Political Economy of the Kurdish Question in Turkey: De-development in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia’ to be published in Routledge Handbook of Kurdish Studies, edited by Michael M. Gunter.


The Greenwich Political Economy Research Centre of the University of Greenwich and and Peace in Kurdistan – Women’s Alliance for Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria,