As we begin the new year of 2024 its vital to look back and remember what has been accomplished and what remains to be done. Sadly, 2023 ended with a revitalised Turkish attack on the Democratic Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (DAANES) but despite continuous attacks from the outside people within the region of Kurdistan continue to struggle, particularly Kurdish women. In this edition of Flashback 2023, I want to shine a light on the struggles, suffering and accomplishments of Kurdish women throughout the four parts of Kurdistan and beyond.
Jin Jiyan Azadî
Women have been at the forefront of revolution and social reform in Iran since 16 September 2022 when Iranian Kurdish woman Jina (Mahsa) Amini was beaten to death by Iranian morality police for failing to wear her hijab according to the governmental standard. Amini’s death sparked the now famous ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadî’ protests which took place throughout Iran. ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadî’ is a Kurdish phrase translating to ‘Women, Life, Freedom.’ Though these protests began in 2022 they spread and carried on into 2023, continuing despite state repression, executions of protesters and further abuses.
In an incident which echoed Amini’s disturbing death, a sixteen year old Kurdish girl was also beaten by Iranian officers while travelling on the metro in Tehran, for failing to comply with hijab laws. The young girl, named Armita Garawand, fell into a coma due to the severe beatings and died 27 days later on 28 October, 2023. While the officers and Iranian government officials deny any responsibility, claiming Garawand only fainted, CCTV footage showed other train passengers dragging her unconscious body from the train. In what is believed to be an effort to cover up the event, Garawand’s mother was arrested shortly after the incident and an Iranian court gave Sara Masoumi, an Iran journalist, a six months’ sentence following her investigation into the death of Armita Garawand. Masoumi has also been barred from journalistic work for at least two years, likely due to her suspicions surrounding the cause of Garawand’s coma and ultimate death. Another journalist, Maryam Lutfi, was detained after visiting a hospital to check on Garawand’s condition, prior to her demise.
In addition to Masoumi and Lutfi, two other female journalists were arrested in Iran connected to their reports on the death of Jîna Mahsa Amini. Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, the aforementioned journalists both received sentences of 25 years from the Islamic Republic. Now incarcerated in the infamous Evin prison in Tehran, the two journalists stand accused of allegedly ‘spying for the CIA’.
The fate of women like Hamedi and Mohammadi can be quite bleak in Iranian prisons. Amnesty International, a UK-based human rights watchdog, released a report in December of 2023 detailing the Iranian security forces’ use of rape and sexual violence as a method of intimidation and retaliation against detained women’s rights protesters. Amnesty’s report showed that Iranian authorities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Intelligence Ministry and others particularly victimised women and young girls who did not adhere to laws pertaining to the hijab, or who had participated in the ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadî’ protests. In addition to rape, the victims were subjected to beatings, floggings, forced nudity, torture and denial of medical assistance.
None of the perpetrators involved in the incidents documented in the report were charged or prosecuted in any manner.
One woman, Warisheh Moradi, an Iranian Kurdish women’s rights activist, has disappeared after her arrest by Iranian security forces on 1 August. Since the time of her abduction no one has heard from her. Moradi was a member of the East Kurdistan Free Women’s Society (KJAR) and took an active role in Iran’s ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadî’ protests. The ‘Freedom for Warisheh Moradi’ campaign was launched in November urging the international community to put pressure on Iran to reveal details on the whereabouts and well being of Moradi.
Multiple women were also subjected to the death penalty by the Iranian regime in 2023. Shockingly, Iran has executed well over 200 women since 2007. Two women, Monireh Siadat and Farzieh Shokrollahi were both convicted of murder and hanged on 9 July. The Women’s Committee of the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) claim that the two women were both victims of domestic violence who were forced to resort to self-defence.
Iran holds the title of being the global leader of executions of women. Including Siadat and Shokrollahi, at least eight women were executed in Iran during 2023.
For more information on the situation in Iran please visit 2023 Flashback: Iran’s human rights crisis unveiled here.
Berxwedan Jiyan e – Resistance is Life!
Outside of Iran, Kurdish women have been continuing to organise and resist too. As Turkish aggression escalates in North and East Syria (NES), the Kurdish regions often referred to as ‘Rojava’, the Kongra Star Women’s Movement made their voices heard as they boldly condemned Turkish violence. Kongra Star is a confederation of all women’s groups in NES, it was established in 2005 and seeks to provide representation to women in all ethnic and religious groups within NES.
Also, in December 2023 the Autonomous Administration in NES finalised and released a long awaited new social contract. The contract provided specific focus to issues of women’s liberation and representation. The social contract names a core principle – “the defence of women’s rights and the achievement of their legitimate aspirations” – which demands all administrative and social institutions have equal representation for women. These new steps show the Autonomous Administration’s commitment to the furthering of women’s rights throughout the regions of North and East Syria, and the continuing struggle of women.
On the international scale, women continue to organise themselves and work towards the end of the severe isolation of imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan. In December, an international women’s delegation, formed by seven individuals from around Europe, including lawyers, politicians and activists, visited Diyarbakır (Amed) and Istanbul. The women in the delegation urgently called on the international community to pressure Turkish authorities to end the isolation of Öcalan. Additionally, they called for a democratic solution for the Kurdish problem and respect for human rights.
Another international delegation of women proved their commitment to justice by demanding action in the case of slain Kurdish women’s rights activist Nagihan Arkarsel. Arkarsel was killed in Sulaymaniyah, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), on 4 October 2022. The delegation, comprised of members of the European Kurdish Women’s Movement (TJK-E) and the Jineology Academy, met Gihan Indraguptha, the UN Special Rapporteur, to urge the UN to find answers concerning the murder of Akarsel.
To honour the legacy of Nagihan Akarsel the Kurdish Women’s Library was unveiled in Suleymaniyah in November of 2023. This project, greatly supported by Arkarsel prior to her murder, aims to give a platform to women’s voices and to shine a light on women’s history. As an activist, Arkarsel worked tirelessly to give voice to women’s perspectives, and the new library honours the work she dedicated her life to.
Serkeftin – Awards & Victories
Despite constant struggle and external threats the women of Kurdistan and their allies had many victories in the year of 2023 and received global recognition for their efforts and resistance.
In January 2023, Eren Keskin, human rights advocate, Kurdish lawyer and co-chair of Human Rights Association (IHD), received the prestigious Olof Palmes Prize alongside Narges Mohammadi of Iran.
Keskin was recognised for her decades long defence of ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, and refugees in Turkey.
In addition to receiving the Swedish Olof Palmes Prize, Narges Mohammadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Mohammadi, currently detained in the infamous Evin prison in Tehran for ‘propaganda against the state’, leads the Defender of Human Rights Centre alongside Shirin Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.
Mohammadi has received extremely poor treatment in Evin prison while serving her 10 year sentence, and has used her voice to speak out against the abuses against female prisoners in Iran. Moreover, Mohammadi has dedicated her life to advancing women’s rights across the world and the abolition of the death penalty. By receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Mohammadi shows that Kurdish women’s struggle in Iran and worldwide has become a force to be reckoned with and cannot be silence even when incarcerated or killed.
Dicle Müftüoğlu, a Kurdish journalist currently incarcerated in a women’s prison in Ankara also received an award in 2023. The award specifically named Müftüoğlu as the ‘Most Resilient Journalist’, included in the award was a 10,000 Euro cash prize which will support the imprisoned journalist’s family and go towards her legal expenses.
Müftüoğlu was also the co-chair of the Dicle Firat Journalists Association where she used the platform to advocate for the rights of her follow journalists, particularly other women and Kurds who faced harsh repression from the Turkish government. She was arrested in May of 2023 during intensive raids targeting Kurd and opposition journalists, activists, lawyers and politicians. When she received her award she affirmed the voices of women will not be silenced.
From Iraqi Kurdistan, Niyaz Abdullah was also recognised for her journalistic work by the Committee to Protect Journalists at the Press Freedom Awards. Abdullah is known for her courageous work reporting on the situation of the Yazidi community and for her advocacy of political prisoners. She was exiled from her home due to her fearless journalism, and by receiving this award Abdullah highlighted the challenges faced by Kurdish women, and also their ability to overcome said challenges.
Posthumously, Jina Mahsa Amini was awarded the 2023 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. Amini is the second Kurdish woman to ever receive this award following Leyla Zana, a Turkish-Kurdish MP.
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola awarded Amini saying:
“The European Parliament proudly stands with the brave and defiant who continue to fight for equality, dignity and freedom in Iran. We stand with those who, even from prison, continue to keep ‘Women, Life and Freedom’ alive.”
The Iranian government prevented Amini’s family from collecting the award for their deceased daughter.
Another icon of the Kurdish-Iranian women’s struggle, Zeinab Bayazidi, was awarded the Daniele Po Prize. The award intended to recognise women’s rights activists from around the globe, and when Bayazidi received the prize she dedicated it to Zeinab Jalalian, a political prisoner serving a life sentence in Iran.
Speaking to Medya News, Bayazidi said, “The significance of this award lies in the recognition of the struggles and resistance of women and marginalised groups. I am pleased that this award brings attention to the plight of female prisoners like Zeinab Jalalian in Iran. It’s also important to highlight the ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadî’ movement in the Middle East, especially in Iran, which represents the demands of oppressed minorities.”
2023 once again confirmed Kurdish women’s commitment to human rights and the global struggle for women, minorities and democracy. Despite many challenges and hurdles women continue to resist and bring attention to the Kurdish regions and the social and political advancements happening there. I am certain such trends will continue into 2024. Berxwedan Jiyan e. Resistance is Life.
*Robin Fleming is an American researcher who worked with the Rojava Information Centre, and focuses on North and East Syria.