Jin – Jiyan – Azadi | Women, Life, Freedom The Kurdish Female Freedom Fighters
Approximately one third of all Kurdish fighters in Rojava (Western Kurdistan) are women. Unafraid of death and fulfilled by their passion for their homeland and their love for their families and people, these women muster up the courage to face the heavily armed IS in Syria. One of their most recent victories includes the recapturing of the City of Kobane in northern Syria from the IS earlier this year as well as rescuing the Yezidi people in Sindscha City from genocide. At home, they are celebrated as heroes. Because the Women’s libertarian’s movement is deeply rooted in the ideology of the PKK-movement, there are about 2000 women aged 15-45 years old who have joined the female political party. PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan stated that “The land can not be free when woman are not free” and that, for him, the freedom of women is more important than the freedom of the homeland. The IS barbaric persecution of women is systematically and ideologically grounded. The IS stands for an ideological world-view according to which women are seen as inhumane beings without rights and freedom. The IS has kidnapped hundreds of Kurdish Yazidi women in Sindscha and sold them as sex slaves on markets, raped, and even beheaded them. It is in this context that the IS approves the most direct, extreme, and crass forms of patriarchy, sexism, and feudalism. It is this sense of hopelessness that fuels these women’s fighting spirits and equips them with a nothing-to-lose-buteverything-towin attitude. For this reason, large numbers of women of all ages from all over Kurdistan find themselves drawn to join the battle. While some join the Saturday Mothers in the Turkish parts, others choose to take part in the guerilla forces or YPJ-fighters who are fighting in the mountainous regions of northern Syria, West Kurdistan. These women refuse to succumb to the patriarchical view of the role of women that regards women as objects, trapped in their homes, and upholding the family’s honour. It is without exaggeration to say that one could describe the current Kurdish feminist movement – viewed from a military, ideological, and organizational perspective – as the world’s strongest movement on behalf of the rights of women. The YPG/YPY (People’s Defence Unit) belongs to the military part of the PYD (Democratic Union Party) which is said to belong to the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK). The PKK mainly consists of guerilla fighters who originate from the Kurdish Kandil Mountains. For my project I will focus on the female Kurdish freedom fighters of the YPJ, as well as the Kurdish guerillas and will document their endeavour in a series to be solely dedicated to them and, thus, the first one of its kind. This documentary work is create with an analogous, medium format camera 6×7 in colour. My focus as a photographer will be on portraits as well as on cityscapes documenting the living environment of the women and the war sites. Since I, myself am a Syria born Kurd, it has been easy for me to establish strong relationships to female fighters. It is our common cultural background that allows me to gather insights never touched upon before and impressions of these women’s living conditions, which I seek to express by and in my work. Last but not least, it is my personal endeavour to offer a differentiated and open discourse on the female Kurdish Freedom Fighters and their lifestyles in all their complexities and individualities.
Because of the upcoming war, she could not travel to Syria to do research for her subsequent project. As a result, she continued the work in Germany. Searching and tracing identity between foreignness and belonging led to portraits of family members, friends, and strangers. By and during this project the quest of cultural identity had become a subject of personal and intimate relevance to Sonja instead of being primarily considered politically.
In 2013 she started the project “Jin, Jian, Azadi – Frauen, Leben, Freiheit – die kurdischen Freiheitskämpferinnen” (“Jin, Jian, Azadi – Women, Life, Freedom – the Kurdish female freedom fighters”), which was explicitly intended to be political. Based of contacts stemming from her portrait-project and by a scholarship from the VG Bildkunst, she was able to take on her documentary work in Northern Iraq in March 2015 followed by a trip to the KurdishWomen’s Protection Units (YPJ) in Northern Syria and a second stay in September 2015. The still ongoing project will entail a third journey in the middle of October 2016.
Sonja Hamad is living and working in Berlin, where she is also acting as a freelance photographer for a range of high-quality magazines and various private and professional clients.