The Kurdish struggle and the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan are a source of inspiration all round the world, and especially for women. Three such women came to the Council of Europe last week to meet with members of the Parliamentary Assembly, and Sarah Glynn took the opportunity to talk with them and discuss what motivated them.
Sawsan Chouman, from Lebanon, is a member of the Noun initiative for the liberation of Öcalan, which is made up of 15 women, from eight different Middle Eastern countries, who are all active in their communities. They discuss Öcalan’s ideas over Zoom each month and want to spread his philosophy and campaign for his freedom. Chouman herself learnt about Öcalan when she was given a copy of his “Manifesto for a Democratic Civilisation” at a conference in Lebanon. She found that she felt in tune with his philosophy of women’s liberation, democracy, and acceptance of difference – all a long way from Lebanon’s troubled politics. She has also organised discussions in her own home, including with women who knew Öcalan when he stayed in the Beqaa Valley. One meeting of around 30 people discussed the international conspiracy behind Öcalan’s capture and imprisonment. Her next meeting will be a report back from her Strasbourg visit.
Diana Restrepo is from Colombia, where she works as a criminal lawyer and academic, with interests in the rights of women prisoners, prison abolition, and conflict resolution. She developed her interest in the Kurdish Freedom Movement when studying in Italy in 2010; and when she started to read Öcalan’s writings she found resonances with abolitionist ideas. Some years later, she attended a Kurdish women’s conference in Colombia, and when she became acquainted with jineoloji – Öcalan’s feminist, democratic, and ecological world view – she ‘fell in love’ with the concept. She explained that the emphasis on finding justice through social relations is very similar to the aims of the abolitionist movement. As in other places, Colombian social movements are very interested in Kurdistan, but in Colombia more widely, it hardly registers.
Restrepo is interested in justice linked to social transformation. For her, justice needs to respond to different communities, and she takes inspiration from older legal traditions, while also recognising that these need to evolve. She is very impressed by the forms of community-based restorative justice being put into practice in Rojava.
Restrepo wanted to highlight the inconsistencies of European politicians, who lecture Latin America on human rights – ignoring the work of indigenous people in the process – while failing to respect those rights themselves, as in Öcalan’s case.
Sylvie Jan, president of France-Kurdistan, has been involved in organising solidarity for the Kurds since 1993, so I asked her how the situation in France has changed over the years. It has changed a lot, she told me, but especially over the last decade. When the three Kurdish women were murdered in Paris in 2013, the Kurds were very much on their own. At that time, friends would ask, why are you working with the Kurds? Now, no one is asking this kind of question. They know about the Kurdish people and about the murders last December.
As in other places, the change came with the Rojava revolution and the Kurdish women fighting against Daesh. The Kurdish struggle has become less and less marginalised and more and more integrated into progressive politics. People follow the Kurdish struggle on social media and admire the Kurdish women. Recently there was a conference in the French parliament with representatives of left groups; and the Danielle Mitterrand Foundation has published a petition – signed by politicians, academics and others – that calls for lifting of the state-imposed secrecy over the defence documents from the 2013 murders, and also calls for the removal of the PKK from Europe’s terrorist list, for the protection of Kurds who oppose the Turkish government, and for no cooperation with Turkish intelligence. In addition, after the December murders, the French Government felt obliged to meet with members of the Kurdish community, and, for the first time, Kurdish representatives were invited to discussions on television and other media. As Jan points out, as well as being aware of the difficulties, we need to note our successes.
(With thanks to Sarah Marcha who translated our conversations.)
Sarah Glynn is a writer and activist – check her website and follow her on Twitter.