The slogan ‘Jin, Jîyan, Azadî’ is reverberating around the world once again, as the women of Iran call it out on the streets in protests against the 16 September killing of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Jîna Mahsa Amini by Iran’s notorious ‘morality police’.
The US State Department even tweeted on Friday showing support for the women of Iran with an English translation of the three words – ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’.
But it was of course the Kurdish women’s movement and the Kurdish women of North and East Syria who, with the Women’s Defence Units of the YPJ, developed the women’s liberationist philosophy that originally gave voice to the slogan ‘Jin, Jîyan, Azadî’. This was their battle cry in their hard-fought victory over the Islamic State (ISIS).
After the defeat of ISIS, the Kurds, Arabs, Christians and others in the region we know fondly as Rojava, now organised as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), have set about strengthening their newly found freedoms in a society shaped by the ideas and philosophy of the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.
These ideas of are based upon the notion of Democratic Autonomy and involve and include a radical grassroots communal democracy, social ecology, and, central to this, ideas of women’s liberation and freedom. Hence, the revolutionary movement based on Öcalan’s ideas is often referred to as a women’s revolution.
Some aspects of the ideology behind these policies have been influenced by the American anarchist thinker and writer Murray Bookchin, who sadly died in 2006 before being able to see for himself how his ideas influenced Öcalan’s theories of Democratic Nation.
But as we hear from our two guests today, Bookchin’s former partner of 19 years Janet Biehl was able to travel to Rojava to witness for herself how the political theorist’s ideas were received and put into practice by the people in North and East Syria.
The Road to Rojava, a new documentary film co-directed by our guests, was one outcome of Biehl’s travels in the region. Another outcome of course being Janet’s graphic novel, Their Blood Got Mixed that she spoke to me about in an earlier podcast.
For all of the reasons above, and with Turkey’s ever-present attacks continuing to threaten the revolutionary project in North and East Syria, The Road to Rojava could not be more timely or topical, so we are delighted and honoured to be joined today by the co-directors of the film, Danny Mitchell and Ross Domoney, to tell us about the soon-to-be-released film.
Danny Mitchell, The Road to Rojava’s co-director & producer, is an independent documentary filmmaker based in London. He makes character-driven films involving social and political issues. The films’ subjects range from the economic crisis in Iceland to following guerrilla soldiers through the peace process in Colombia. His films have been shown at film festivals all around the world.
Co-director Ross Domoney is a multi-award-winning freelance film-maker from the UK. His documentary work focuses on human right issues, countries in conflict and the effect of political protests on cities, authorities and underground movements. His work has been published by the Guardian, ITV, Al Jazeera, Field of Vision, the Wall Street Journal, the Evening Standard, the Daily Mirror, TimeOut, and the Discovery Channel to name but a few.
Kim Longinotto, who served as executive producer on the film, was unfortunately unable to join us, but is renowned as a BAFTA and Sundance award-winning British documentary filmmaker for her films highlighting the plight of female victims of oppression and discrimination.
Danny and Ross explained how they first met at the premiere of Carne Ross’s documentary film, The Accidental Anarchist, which includes a long section on Rojava. Due to their shared interest in the revolution in North and East Syria, the two filmmakers collaborated to come up with the idea of a film based around Biehl’s travels. The Road to Rojava was the result of their work together.
The completion of the film in 2022 is incredibly timely and topical, as the slogan of ‘Jin, Jîyan, Azadî’ (Women, Life, Freedom) continues to resound in cities all over Iran in the nationwide protests following the death of the Kurdish woman Jîna Amini.
The film-makers travelled to the source of that ‘Jin, Jîyan, Azadî’ slogan in northern Syria, where it is obviously much more than just a slogan but rather a philosophy of women’s liberation and freedom. They explained a little more about the aspect of women’s freedom that became central to the story of the documentary film.
Janet travelled to the autonomous administrations in North and East Syria to explore the legacy of Bookchin, her late partner of 19 years, whose philosophical ideas helped inspire the women’s revolution in the region. This was also a journey into a region still coming to terms with life after ISIS.
This was doubtless an emotionally charged experience for Janet and indeed for the directors witnessing it, and Ross and Danny explained the profound personal and emotional impact of the project, not only during the filming process but also during editing.
Danny and Ross explain these impacts in the podcast, as well as their feelings and thoughts as they reach the end of the project and their hopes for the film.
The film-makers also elaborated on some of the technical points of investigative journalism and film-making, which can be a costly process even in the post-production phase. While filming of The Road to Rojava is complete, some final technical touches of the film are still required, and a crowdfunding appeal has been launched to get it across the finishing line and bring it to a much wider audience.
Listen to the podcast to hear the full interview.