The slogan ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadî’, ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’, is everywhere at the moment. Big and established media outlets publish reportage and opinion pieces about the backgrounds of the slogan, how women in Iran use it and why, and literally none of them have attributed it to Abdullah Öcalan and to the PKK. Quite a few even omit the Kurdish roots of it. A combination of anti-Kurdishness, ignorance, and decades-long framing of the PKK are responsible for this attitude.
Firstly, the failure to mention the Kurdish roots of Jin, Jiyan, Azadî is an expression of the erasure of Kurds in the countries that occupy Kurdistan. Not in the least of all in Iran, but this is closely linked to the situation in Syria as well. Jin, Jiyan, Azadî is the ultimate slogan of the anti-patriarchal, anti-statist revolution that has been evolving in northeast-Syria since 2012. That revolution has never been taken very seriously by established media and pundits assorted.
The YPG and women’s forces YPJ and later the SDF have mostly been evaluated in the light of the Syrian war, and have been framed into a sectarian analysis. It has often surprised me that every big established media outlet in the West has published stories about the autonomous region and the women leading it, but that this knowledge never made it to the war reporting on the news pages. This is related to, among other things, the framing of news stories, or the lens through which stories are seen and presented. Fitting a revolution into a war is apparently too complicated for the daily news, despite it being the reality that is supposed to be reported. If in the last decade the ideology and aims of the revolutionary movement had been reported on honestly, it wouldn’t have been so easy to disregard and appropriate it now.
This goes deeper, and further back, of course. The revolution in Rojava didn’t come falling out of thin air. When Assad withdrew his troops from Kurdish-majority lands in 2012, the YPG and YPJ and the unarmed Kurdish movement were as ready as could be to step in and cease the opportunity to put their ideology of grassroots democracy with equality for all into practice. An ideology revolving around women’s liberation that has been developing since the 1990s, with roots going back to the 1970s. To 1978 more precisely, when the PKK was founded. Jin, Jiyan, Azadî is an Öcalan slogan, a PKK slogan.
Saying Jin, Jiyan, Azadî is a ‘Kurdish’ slogan, or a slogan from ‘Kurdistan’, is not enough. A column on the website Rudaw, in which the slogan was named ‘Kurdish’, showed very clearly why. Rudaw is the biggest news outlet in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, and it’s controlled by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is the most powerful in the region and in the hands of the Barzani family. This family has excellent relations with Turkey’s dictator Erdoğan and its militias are in cahoots with the Turkish army in the war against the PKK. The Barzanis are, in other words, stealing the slogan from the movement it is trying to annihilate. The KDP is corruption, capitalism, nepotism, the patriarchy at its worst in which women have no visibility let alone influence, and it dares to suggest that Jin, Jiyan, Azadî has any connection to them.
It has to be made explicit that Jin, Jiyan, Azadî is a revolutionary PKK slogan. Even western media that do recognise it is from the ‘Kurdish movement’, refrain from making the PKK and Abdullah Öcalan explicit. And this is related to framing as well. For decades now, the PKK has been not just criminalised, but pushed into the terrorism corner by governments, pundits and media who follow the narrative of the Turkish state. The PKK has deliberately been framed as criminal, terrorist and evil, and Abdullah Öcalan as a terrorist leader, a separatist, a demon.
That renders it very difficult now to recognise the PKK as a movement that is actually advocating ideals and waging a struggle that could liberate us all, worldwide, from the destructive tendencies of the patriarchy. And it renders it almost impossible to look at Öcalan differently, and give him credit for leading the Kurdish people away from nationalism but into a future that is more in line with what we are made for as humankind, which is to stand together against oppression and build an equal world. A world based on women’s values instead of toxic masculinity.
To recognise all this, to study it if you don’t know it, to try to wrap your head around ideas that are outside the mainstream paradigm and to try to put them into practice in whichever solidarity action you carry out, is the most profound way to support the uprising in Iran and in Kurdistan. The most profound way to put women in the front, and to shout it out: Jin, Jiyan, Azadî!
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.