chapter  5
23 Pages

Re-defining the role of women within the Kurdish national movement in Turkey in the 1990s


This chapter reflects critically on the roles of women reproduced within the Kurdish national movement in Turkey1 in the 1990s, and it unravels the contradictions between claims of emancipation and the underlying gendered discourses in the context of a nation building process. It will particularly focus on discourses of women as political activists, as peace mothers, as the icons of the nation, and as transmitters of Kurdish culture and language. These were the dominant discourses that were prevalent in the 1990s in Turkey, when the Kurdish national movement extended its appeal to a large number of Kurds. The 1990s were also of particular significance because the participation of women on a larger scale generated intense discussions and debates about the role of Kurdish women within the national liberation movement. The discussions were widely reflected in the political publications of various Kurdish groups and organisations, particularly in Kurdish women’s magazines and other booklets on the issue of gender that were published in this period. This chapter starts with an analysis of the discourses of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, PKK) as it was the main Kurdish political actor in the period – as it continues to be – and has managed to mobilise a significant number of women. The discussions provided in the publications of Kurdish feminist women will also be analysed. Within the Kurdish political spectrum, the PKK and the Kurdish feminist groups represent ideologically opposing positions. Yet both groups position themselves as Kurdish actors within the Kurdish national movement and engage in debates on how roles for women should be played out within the movement. Despite the political changes that have occurred since the 1990s, these discourses still explain a great deal about the role of women in the Kurdish national movement and continue to be of relevance today. Although Kurdish women have a long history of involvement in the

national liberation movement, their participation after the military coup of 1980, and the oppressive regime that followed it, has made them more visible and central (Çag˘layan 2007). In this period, women become active as victims, mothers, sisters, or wives of the thousands of mostly male activists who

endured horrific tortures, injustice, and bad treatment in prisons (McDowall 1996; Zeydanlıog˘lu 2009). Being generally considered by the maledominated society to be non-political objects, women were the only sector of the society at the time who were able to be active during the military occupation, when, for example, many women courageously demanded to be informed about the whereabouts of their male relatives. The PKK launched its armed struggle in 1984, and it heavily recruited women as guerrilla fighters throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Within a decade of the start of the armed campaign, the Kurdish national movement reached its peak with the serhildans (uprisings) that took place between 1990 and 1993. In these mass uprisings, women became even more visible in the public sphere, in particular as political activists. It was during this period that women’s branches within established Kurdish organisations were expanded or were formed if they did not have any yet. More importantly, for the first time it led to the emergence of independent Kurdish women’s groups and organisations in Turkey as well as in Europe, such as the Independent Women’s Forums.2