his week, I was invited to a meeting between two groups of women: representatives of the Zapatista movement from Mexico and a delegation of Kurdish political activists who live in Europe. What stroke me particularly, besides the warmth and solidarity, was that the armed struggle is important in the history of both movements, but not what they evolve around.
At the beginning of the meeting, which took place in the Museum as Parliament in the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, we received a booklet wrapped with a red cloth. With pen or chalk, we were asked to write the name of a woman on it who somehow influenced our lives, after which we were invited to talk about this woman with the person sitting next to us. In this way, we would not only get to know the person sitting next to us a bit better, but also expand the group of women present in de room. I wrote PAKIZE. Pakize Kaplan is the widow of Osman Kaplan, who was murdered by the Turkish state in the Roboski massacre of December 2011, and the mother of five children. The family became dear to me as a I spent a lot of time in their home while I investigated Roboski massacre. It was good to have Pakize there with us.
Nilüfer Koç of the Kurdistan National Congress explained how the uprisings in the early 1990s in Bakur (North-Kurdistan, the part of Kurdistan occupied by Turkey) were lead by women, and how women in Kurdistan are not only colonized by Turkey but also by men. In 1993, the armed women’s movement was founded, but it was never called a women’s ‘army’ because it was in the first place a self-defense force and centered around women getting to know their own history, their own identity. One of the insight she shared, was that the nation-state is an oppressive, partiarchal structure, and that Kurds have historically never really lived in centralized structures so bottom-up democracy, as the movement proposes, fits Kurdish culture and history very well.
I loved her description of how Kurdish women have turned the division of Kurdistan over four nation-states into an advantage: they could relatively easily reach and influence women in other ethnic groups in the countries where they live with their anti-patriarchal practice and ideology. Not only Kurdish women benefit, but also Arab, Turkish and Persian women, and the women of all the other ethnic groups that live in the region, like Baluchs, Armenians, Turkmen and others. She said: “We can not only blame our suppressors for our suppression, we also have to critically look at our own societies to identify structures of domination.”
The struggle of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) was founded in 1983 so has its roots in the same era as the armed and unarmed Kurdish movement. I didn’t know that women also have a huge presence in the EZLN (about a third) and that assemblies must have a 50% female representation. It is beautiful how this concurs with the seven principles of the governing of their municipalities. They were voiced by one of the women in the Zapatista delegation, whose name I can not give you because they didn’t give their names, not just for security reasons but also because to them it’s not really important who of them is speaking. The principles are very basic and profound at the same time.
To represent, not supplant. To serve, not be served. To convince, not dictate. To obey, not command. To construct, not destroy. To propose, not impose. To work from below and not seek to rise. This way, the will of the people becomes the foundation of all decisions, but the woman speaking said it was much bigger than that: “These principles”, she said, “are our arms of struggle.”
It was a privilige to witness this gathering and to learn from these remarkable women. To see the solidarity between two different groups who made similar analysis about their suppression and try to build structures to free themselves. Who consider not the weapons of part of their movement as their most important tools of combat, but their ideas. And both their principles and the modesty that speaks from them are surely inspiring for my work as a journalist as well.