Interview of Kurdistan Report with the representative of the Jineolojî Committee Europe Zilan Diyar

The Kurdish freedom movement’s struggle for women’s liberation has brought important achievements for the development of Kurdish women over the past 40 years. One aspect of this struggle is the fight against patriarchal masculinity as an important contribution to gender liberation. Can you describe your discussions about masculinity or the transformation of men?

We can trace these discussions back to the founding of the Kurdish Freedom Movement. Women of the first hour have fought a struggle of survival for the development of the struggle and have been confronted with blockades by the patriarchal masculinity. Even though the PKK was formed according to socialist principles of life, the social order based on patriarchy had not yet collapsed. At that time, there were not as many individuals as today who deeply questioned these contradictions, as the necessity was not yet understood by many. Since the social contradictions were primarily understood in the context of class struggle and national question, there was still no awareness of the strong influences of patriarchy and thus of the state and capitalism on people. However, the work of women within the framework of the war made the contradictions of the system evident. I am talking about the work of women, because in that period the form of the struggle was defined according to the needs of the man, and women had to prove themselves in it, so to speak. Within the guerrilla in the mountains, there was a prevailing structure, there was a system that corresponded to the logic, laws and habits of the man. Why was it like that? There was no experience yet of meeting and organizing ourselves on the basis of gender freedom. Women in struggle had two options: Either they could alienate themselves from themselves with great effort and integrate into the system by becoming male, stay away from the struggle, suffer and become isolated. In this sense, I would like to commemorate the women in the person of Şehîd Sara (Sakine Cansız) who rebelled against these two “possibilities” and brought us to where we are now at great sacrifice. With his attitude, Rêber Apo [Abdullah Öcalan] was the first to value women in their individual presence, to give them confidence, and thus to clear the way for them to change social reality through their revolt.

Within the movement, too, the rebellion of women has thus been able to unfold more clearly. With regard to these contradictions within the movement, there was first a confrontation (with the publication of the book “The Woman and the Problem of the Family” in 1986) and then steps toward an autonomous organization of women (from the first women’s organization YJWK in 1987 to the organizational structure of Women’s Confederalism in 2015). Women have thus been able to take a third path beyond the two options initially “granted” to them.

This development and confrontation was also the basis for men’s self-questioning. The metaphor “killing the man” used by Rêber Apo in 1996 in an interview with journalist Mahir Sayan literally shattered the social order based on patriarchy. Either they killed the masculinity in themselves, or the men could no longer stay in the PKK with their old attitudes. From then on, the patriarchal structures were intensively discussed in the educational sessions. This intensified the struggle, which can be described in the words of Şehîd Atakan Mahîr as a struggle between “the woman who considers freedom a necessity and the masculinity that may not recognize any problem of freedom and is thus in its greatest error.” This contradiction was the central cause of stalemate in the political, social, and ideological spheres of the movement. But neither we women nor the men had grasped this as comprehensively as Rêber Apo. There were behaviors that undermined comradely relations and power struggles within the framework of the gender struggle – some wanted to organize not according to the standards of freedom, but according to those of the traditional man. But the efforts of women, who sensed the taste of freedom and did not abandon it,
have prevailed against all these negative aspirations.

The struggle for gender liberation was raised from the individual to the social level. Rêber Apo developed methods for this struggle that caused the existing order to collapse. For example, in the academies he encouraged women to engage in social and political activities, while assigning men to kitchen duty. After the establishment of the Women’s Party, four educational sessions were held in the PJA academy from 2002 to 2004 with the aim of transforming the man. Men were influenced by the developing freedom of women. [Şehîd Fikrî Baygeldi wrote after the self-immolation of Sema Yüce in 1998, “I will carry on the action of comrade Sema”; Şehîd Mazlum Tekman (Sezai Karakuş) wrote a letter to women comrades before his self-immolation on November 23, 2004 in Tekirdağ Prison, saying “The sacrificial and persistent attitude of the women’s movement for freedom will be the will of women worldwide” – this foresight became a social truth in the course of time].

The new paradigm formulated by Rêber Apo under the conditions of imprisonment in Imralı has women’s freedom as its basis. He makes the situation of women the basis of his historical and social analyses and has contributed much to the transformation of men within the movement. Thus, discussions about masculinity have deepened. No longer were only selected groups addressed, but within the movement lectures were given to all men on the history of women’s freedom. Overcoming taboos and using new methods paved the way for men to begin to question their own masculinity. For example, Şehîd Kadir Usta (Gayyaz Koyutürk) wrote in his diary, “I met the Mother-Goddess and I surrendered to her goodness. I want to remove the deepest remnants of the Father-God even from the last cell of my body.” On March 8, 2005, Şehîd Armanc Kerboran (Hüseyin Akdoğan) wrote in his diary addressed to women, “a single pain in a single day is reason enough to destroy and rebuild this world.” Şehîd Şervan Azad (M. Siraç Alp) wrote, “overcoming the system means overcoming the male mentality.” Or Şehîd Atakan Mahir: “As a man, I have to find my own definition. We must overcome defining ourselves only by aspects such as power and strength. Every man must necessarily feel the woman in himself. A man must necessarily feel the woman in his biological and mental structure. For me, a man who says `in me there is no woman’ is a misogynist.” Knowing that there are such comrades gives us strength.

We do not consider this phase as completed. Even if we have managed to become a movement that systemically takes women’s freedom as its basis, we cannot claim to have abolished patriarchy, but must continue and develop the described questioning.

The question “How to live?” has always been a central question for the Kurdish Freedom Movement and the Women’s Movement. As an answer to this question and as an important pillar in the construction of a liberated and democratic society, the Kurdish Freedom Movement formulates the approach of “free life in partnership”. What is to be understood by this? 

We also define ourselves as “truth seekers”. In all our endeavors, the essence is to give meaning to life, to understand reality, that is, to reach the truth. All of this begins with determining what we reject – even in everyday life – and what we accept. With the development of autonomous women’s organizing, concepts such as gender consciousness and gender contradictions have emerged in the movement. In order to overcome the problems that arose with the methods of gender struggle, Rêber Apo explained in 1996 what the standards of acceptance and rejection should be for women and men. With the words “either a free life or nothing” and “either I will manage to help you achieve great success, or your way of life will remain a part of the problem” and “truth is love, love is a free life” he described the course of our search for truth. In a time when life is alienated from society, history and meaning, we want to do the most difficult thing: make life meaningful! We can only do this successfully by questioning the system down to the smallest niche.

The civilization based on state and class did not first establish itself on the basis of nations, peoples, classes and societies. It was first and foremost constituted through the inequality of men and women. Therefore, we will hit the system at the most fundamental point. To do this, we must liberate the relationship between women and men from property and power, looking at it not on the basis of sexuality, but from a political, social, ideological and philosophical point of view.

Defining criteria for the relationship between man and woman and determining comradely love as the basis of these criteria means shaping life consciously. The free partnership life means to give existence and consciousness a new form. Rêber Apo has defined the unity of existence, consciousness and form as Xwebûn. He has given this primarily to women, and he has deepened it theoretically and philosophically (“Manifesto for the Democratic Civilization” – Volume 5; not yet translated into English).

The free partnership life together is not only a framework for the relationship between man and woman. It means the re-positioning of man in the world, shaping a relationship of men with each other and of man with nature, freed from power. With this philosophy, a democratization of the family can be achieved and the social order based on the exploitation of the female body and its use as an instrument of procreation can be torn down. It can tear down the power and ownership relationship that exists not only between two different sexes, but exerts its influence between all sexes. With a relationship that is free from power and ownership, we can take society one step further toward freedom.

In the book “Sociology of Freedom” by Abdullah Öcalan – published recently in English – Öcalan understands the “family” as an element of Democratic Civilization and explains: “If not the family as a cell of power, but – as some feminists approach the matter – only the woman is analyzed, the ideal and practice of Democratic Civilization will lack its most important element. The family is a social institution that should not be overcome, but transformed.” How is this transformation to be understood?

Before answering the question, I would like to mention that the Jineolojî magazine explored the issues of construction of femininity and masculinity, the nature of these identities and free partnership coexistence in issues 6, 7 and 8. In the last issue published a few days ago (No. 18), the family and the possibilities of its transformation were discussed. As you can see from the enumeration, the family was not discussed at the beginning.

If we consider the family in its current function as the core family, it would not be correct to call it a social institution. Because the family is the fundamental structure in which sexism, property and power can perpetually reproduce themselves and in this respect it is an obstacle to the aspirations for freedom in society and the search for truth of individuals. Rêber Apo’s statement “The family is like a mill in which the female body is ground” sufficiently defines the core family, in my opinion. But in natural society there were social structures built around the woman. This structure, which was not organized along very fixed rules but was a social unit based on moral values, cannot be compared to the nuclear family of today, nor to the extended families of the recent past. Thus, Cejna Mazî, in her article entitled “Is the family the nucleus of society or the state system?” from the 18th issue of the Jineolojî magazine, defines this structure of natural society as the “mother-family.”

The family as a so-called “micro-state” is a fundamental structure of the state system. It is spiritually and culturally constituent for the system. Nevertheless, it also carries some values of the natural society – even if they are only fragments. Why should we not be able to fundamentally change the role of the family by overthrowing the state, patriarchal and modern mentality? Why should it not be able to be the main element of a democratic society? This is not a utopia. Patriotic families that changed through contact with the Kurdish Freedom Movement, that sought to overcome the classical roles of husband and wife and to liberate children and women from possessiveness, are clear examples of this. In our language, patriotism or love of one’s homeland means shaping one’s life according to moral and political standards. And this becomes possible when the man respects the women, his relatives and children as independent human beings and, instead of considering the elderly as socially useless, enables them to put their experience at the service of the moral and political society. When the family reaches such a level, it can escape the control of the state.

In conclusion, of course, this does not mean praising or legitimizing this primary institution with which the system keeps itself alive, but quite the opposite, fundamentally analyzing and challenging it. For the family is at the same time the place where the individual first and foremost experiences sociality, solidarity, sacrifice, and love. What we want to do is to develop this essence not in the service of patriarchy, but for the benefit of society.

In the work of the Women’s Movement, in the discussion of feminist issues, and even when it comes to patriarchy, which is much more a “men’s problem” than a “women’s issue,” as was said earlier, men are left out. They don’t get involved, they remain passive, because on the one hand they benefit from the prevailing conditions, but on the other hand they are often unsure about what role they should play and what they are entitled to. What do you think should be the role of men in overcoming patriarchy? What can be very concrete steps?

I must say first of all that the feminist movements as a whole do not have the agenda to transform man. It is clear that a women’s struggle that is detached from social reality will not change man. That is why, from the beginning, the Women’s Freedom Movement wanted to spread the degree of freedom created among itself in society. Thus, we think, we have a fundamental difference. Even if in the framework of Jineolojî researches the construction of masculinity is not included, this approach means to have a scientific basis.

We have unlimited knowledge of how the patriarchal system attacks women. So we are aware of what the system has taken. But men are still not aware that they are also a product of the patriarchal system and that their identities and nature have been destroyed. It needs as a first step a development of this consciousness, so that every step towards women’s freedom is a blow against the current identity of men. The autonomous organizing of women, their autonomous organizing of self-defense, the lectures on women’s history and jineolojî, the confederal system of women and the co-chair system as the core of the confederal system has played an important role in deciphering male domination. However, it is also possible to develop these efforts not only by practical and organizational means, but also by deepening individual processes of questioning.

Will the male comrades be able to break away from the unlimited privileges offered to them by the patriarchal system? Will they be able to give up all their defensive shields, distortions and habits? This must be the first steps in overcoming male domination. But is that enough? No, because every man can retreat to his sphere of domination when he encounters difficulties. Are men ready to give this up?

While we women think about freedom so much that our minds burst, I think that men’s clumsiness in thinking is due to the fact that they do not consider freedom as a basic need. One of the biggest mistakes of male comrades is that they think the exploitation of women in the universe is eternal. Therefore, they think that women’s liberation means change of power. However, this is not an eternal thing, nor is there power in a woman-centered life. Therefore, when they envision a woman-centered life, they must open their minds to pre-patriarchal structures. While women try to breathe freedom every moment of their lives, men’s arguments on this subject are either technical in the sense of conforming to organizational steps or, if they try a little hard, fragmented and unsteady. But all seekers of truth must enable themselves to “experience freedom in the moment.” Just as we as women have surrounded the system with our language, aesthetics and thinking, so too men must develop a fluid and continuous struggle for freedom.

This article was first published in the November/December 2020 edition of the Kurdistan Report.