Friday marked the 49th anniversary of the death of Leyla Qasim, a prominent figure in the Kurdish national liberation struggle.
Qasim was executed on 12 May 1974 for her activism and resistance against former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime, but her unwavering determination and commitment continue to inspire generations of Kurds.
Born in 1952 in Xaneqin, a Kurdish town in Iraq, she grew up in poverty, with her family constantly on the move. She completed her high school education in Baghdad and went on to study sociology at Baghdad University.
Qasim’s activism began when she wrote an article criticising Saddam Hussein’s treatment of Kurds. As a result of her writing, she became a target of the Iraqi authorities and joined the Kurdish national liberation struggle. In 1974, the Baath regime declared war on the Kurds, and Qasim and her friends decided to hijack a plane to draw attention to the massacres being carried out against their people. They were quickly captured, subjected to torture and inhumane treatment, and eventually sentenced to death.
On 12 May 1974, Qasim and her friends were executed by order of Saddam Hussein. As she was led to the gallows, Qasim declared that her death would awaken thousands of Kurds and that her “freedom flag” would wave. She also asked for traditional Kurdish clothing and scissors before her execution.
The execution of Qasim, the first woman executed in the Iraqi state, was a significant moment in the history of the Kurdish struggle. Qasim’s reading of the Kurdish National Anthem, “Ey Reqib” (Hey Enemy!), before her execution has become a beacon for the struggle of millions of Kurdish women and men today.