Photo by Erin Trieb.

03/03/2015 - 00:00
Rewriting Women's History in Rojava - Part 1

03 March 2015

by Rojda Serhat/Sevin Servan - JINHA

In the Rojava revolution, women have organized themselves not just for their own self-defense, but also in social, political, diplomatic and economic activities. This two-part series will explore women's resistance in war and daily life—from the YPJ to the grassroots organization that has made the Rojava revolution a women's revolution.

After WWI, Rojava (or Western) Kurdistan was under French colonial rule. After Syrian independence post-World War II, Rojava fell within the new nation-state's borders. Starting with the 1962 census, the Syrian government revoked Rojavans' citizenship, claiming that they had only come to Syria in the wake of the 1925 Sheykh Said rebellion in Northern Kurdistan.

The Ba'ath party, which came to power in 1963, viewed Syria's Kurds as a potential threat and began the "Arab belt" policy of relocating Arabs to the area.In one day, according to Human Rights Watch, 120,000 Kurds found themselves assigned the status of "foreigner."

Such assimilation policies closely resembled those experienced by Turkey's Kurds, with laws against speaking and publishing in Kurdish. Kurds resisted these policies for decades, laying the organized groundwork of the Rojava Revolution.

On July 19, 2012, the Kurds of Rojava launched the project of democratic autonomy, designed to ensure the future of not just the Kurds, but the many peoples of Rojava, including Assyrians, Armenians and Arabs.The people of Rojava declared autonomy in three cantons: Afrîn, Kobanê and Cizîre.

Women immediately began institutionalizing their presence in the new revolution, founding a range of institutions with the participation of different ethnic groups: asayiş (peace-keeping) units, popular parliaments, women's organizations and communes, courts, youth centers, popular centers, culture and art centers and more.

Military attacks against the revolution began early on. In response, Kurds formed the YPG self-defense units. Women, who were taking leadership roles in every part of life, felt the need for self-defense and founded the YPJ (Women's Protection Units) on December 2, 2013.

At the first YPJ conference, in the city of Dêrik, women decided to form YPJ units in all three cantons of Rojava, with each unit's name commemorating a woman lost to war. Women opened a self-defense academy in Cizîre named for the martyr Şîlan. They would later open six Şehîd Şîlan Academy bureaus across the three cantons.

Silav, a YPJ fighter defending the city of Afrîn from attacks, became the defense units' first martyr. This early period of the organization saw 29 more women martyred in battle.

Today, there are YPJ centers in every city, with 10-20 fighters based in each center and a canton-level coordinating body for the centers. Tied to each center are further individual units. New volunteers for the YPJ receive military education first, then attend academies where they are trained in political thought, a requirement before they can take part in any military activities. Academy education is based on the principles of democratic autonomy and self-defense.

Armenian, Arab and Assyrian Rojavan women, in addition to Kurdish women, have joined the women's defense units. The YPJ has led actions across the region, in Serekanî, Cezaa, Til Hemîs, Shengal and Rabîa.

But it was the desire to resist Daesh's intensive attacks on Kobanê that drew massive numbers of women to the YPJ from all four parts of Kurdistan. Daesh's violence against women, which has included murdering, raping and selling women. Arîn Mîrxan, who sacrificed herself fighting for Kobanê, became the exemplar of women's tenacious fight for free life in the city's historic resistance.

Women's freedom has multiplied in the revolution in a range of grassroots civilian institutions. Women's houses have opened across the three cantons under the leadership of the group Yekitiya Star. These houses assist in solving the problems women face in daily life—particularly woman-specific problems, such as violence against women.

Every women's house has 12-15 women, including a three to five-person administration, divided into three committees: an Information Gathering Committee that receives problems, a Resolution Committee that deals with them, and an Archive Committee that records results. Only if a problem cannot be solved in a women's house is it referred to the court system, in which women also take part.

Yekitiya Star has also founded women's academies in every city in Rojava, which have seen strong attendance from everyday women. Educational programs include women's history, democratic autonomy, gender studies and the history of women's struggle. The women's academies aim to provide a space for debate and sharing of ideas, led and participated in by women.

The grassroots democratic mechanism of the women's commune can be found in individual neighborhoods, villages and streets in Rojava. Communes meet to resolve local problems, coordinate shared economic projects and elect their own leadership.

Asayiş (peacekeeping) operations, in which women form the majority, have been ongoing for three years. Asayiş units can be found at the entrance points and other strategic locations in every city, ensuring security in the cantons.

Six months ago, women founded the Free Women's Foundation, one of the first women-founded trusts. The five committees of the foundation address the education, health and social problems of women and children. The foundation's current project involves starting educational programs in every neighborhood in Rojava to provide a space for women's creativity and skills. The foundation is also working for women's presence in the economy.

Originally published at:'s_history_in_Rojava_Part_1


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