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The Sexual Politics of War: Reading the Kurdish Conflict Through Images of Women

Hilal Alkan
p. 68-92

Résumé

This article aims to dissect different representations of Kurdish women in order to illustrate how these representations correspond to different technologies of power. These three images are the joyful freedom fighter, the woman to be saved and the dishonourable terrorist. These three images, employed in contrast to each other differentially by different publics, however, have one thing in common: They are highly sexualised. Thus, the technologies they refer to and evoke address Kurdish women in their sexuality.
While the image of the freedom fighter is much beloved by Western audiences, the historical conditions that have made it possible—the Kurdish women’s movement as well as the history of armed struggle—is largely overlooked. This image also brushes over the significance of the question of sexuality in the Kurdish political movement itself.
The images of the woman to be saved and the dishonourable terrorist are in wide public circulation in Turkey. They build upon a technology of differentiation, which tries to single out politicised Kurdish women, and especially those who take part in armed struggle, as disgraced; therefore legitimizing sexual violence against them. The image of the woman to be saved is however equally sexualised, as it addresses Kurdish women in their reproductive capacities, which are to be controlled via various governmental technologies.
The final argument of the article is that, when there is a state of exception in the Agambenian sense, this differentiation is held up and these two images start to overlap. This means a suspension of juridical order, ethical codes and everyday moral conduct, and use of technologies that address Kurdish women as a whole as dishonourable terrorists, upon whom sexual violence can be legitimately inflicted.

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  • 1 Zagros, Sakine (2016) “Kürt Kadın Hareketi Deneyimine Bir Bakış” Ayrıntı Dergi 14 http://ayrintider (...)

1In her insider’s analysis of Kurdish women’s movement, Sakine Zagros1 mentions the story of a female PKK combatant. When she was killed in 1990s, Ayten Bagok had been fighting on the mountains in the lines of PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) for seven years. After she was captured by Turkish armed forces, her corpse was thrown from a helicopter. Then, state officials claimed her dead body and gave her a virginity test. Apparently they wanted to prove that guerrilla women had active sexual lives, which then was a proof that they lacked morality and sexual honour. However, Bagok came out a virgin. According to Zagros, this ‘surprised the soldiers and impressed the people’.

  • 2 Agamben, Giorgio (2008) State of Exception, University of Chicago Press.

2This essay aims to peel off the layers of this cruel story in order to disclose the workings of gender and sexuality in the violent conflict between the Turkish state and PKK, which has been going on for more than 30 years. It works through three images of Kurdish women that are most prevalent in the countering publics that are concerned with the Kurdish problem. These three images are the joyful freedom fighter, the woman to be saved and the dishonourable terrorist. These three images also refer to, fuel and legitimate different technologies of governance, each one of them addressing Kurdish women through their sexuality. The essay ends with the argument that when there is a ‘state of exception’2, which in this particular case, a moment when military operations accelerate and the war changes phases, two of these representations start to overlap, through the exercise of matching techniques of governance. In other words, the boundaries between the women to be saved and the dishonourable terrorist dissolve both as representations and as targets of warfare.

Circulating Images

  • 3 Griffin, Elizabeth (2014) “These Remarkable Women Are Fighting ISIS. It Is Time You Know Who They A (...)

3The first image of Kurdish woman is much loved by the Western media and has flared the imagination of journalists and writers on the left for the past five years. It is the image of the female Kurdish combatant. This has turned into a huge phenomenon after the Rojava resistance against ISIS in Syria. It became such a phenomenon that, in 2014 H&M included guerrilla overalls in its collection, with explicit reference to Kurdish combatants in Syria. Those young women with their loaded rifles, long braids and ever smiling faces have appeared in hundreds of news items and made charming book covers3. Google Rojava and this is what you see. Or better type Kurdish women and this is what you end up with. They are seen as the revolutionaries, liberated and liberating, promising a freedom not only for a people but also to women in general.

  • 4 Toivanen, Mari, and Bahar Baser (2016) “Gender in the Representations of an Armed Conflict: Female (...)
  • 5 Dirik, Dilar (2014) “Western Fascination with ‘Badass’ Kurdish Women.” Al-Jazeera.

4In their analysis of 108 news stories that came out in 2014 and 2015 in French and British press, Mari Toivanen and Bahar Başer4 identify the frames that were used to narrate the stories of Kurdish female combatants fighting against ISIS in Syria. While in the French media, these combatants were often portrayed as struggling for freedom and equality, in the British media the emphasis is on their personal experiences of loss and violence, which then allegedly led them to fight. Yet, in both cases, physical appearance of the combatants and their so-called feminine practices (like plucking eye brows or braiding their hair) are under spotlight. In these gendered mediations, YPJ combatants’ femininity is used to juxtapose them to ISIS militants’ overemphasized masculinity. At the same time, they appear exceptional and exotic5 and out of context, because their historical ties to a larger Kurdish women’s movement as well as to armed struggle is ignored. However, dissimilar to the thinness of these representations, history is ever-present for those who actually do the fighting. This is where we come across to Ayten Bagok again. Tellingly, a PKK women’s combat unit on the Syrian border of Turkey is named after her.

  • 6 Doğanay, Ülkü (2013) “Irkçılığın İzini Satır Aralarında Sürmek: Popüler Kültür Ürünlerinde Irkçı Sö (...)
  • 7 Çoban Keneş, Hatice (2014) “Yeni Irkçılığın Bileşeni Olarak Cinsiyetçilik: Irkçılığın Cinsiyetçilik (...)
  • 8 Mojab, Shahrzad, and Amir Hassanpour (2003) “The Politics and Culture of ‘Honour Killing’: The Murd (...)
  • 9 Çoban Keneş, Hatice (2014) “Yeni Irkçı Söylemlerin Eklemli Niteliği ve Medyanın İşlevi.” Ankara Üni (...)
  • 10 Here it is important to note that each one of these issues are real, yet they cannot be associated (...)
  • 11 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1988) “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In Marxism and the Interpretation of (...)

5In Turkey, the widespread image of Kurdish women does not correspond to the image of joyful freedom fighters. Instead, in Turkey, Kurdish women have most often been associated with high birth levels, polygamy, early marriages and honour killings6. Each of these elements finds correspondence in the mundane and public repertoire of new racism7. High birth rates per women create moral outrage in the context of Kurdish migration to cities, often accompanied by derogatory remarks. Early marriages are presented with sensational images of little girls in wedding gowns and rather served as a ‘Kurdish problem’. Honour killings are often baptised as customary killings, referring to timeless ‘Kurdish traditions’8. Gendered racism operates at every level in the society from news stories9 to public awareness campaigns10. The common denominator of all these representations is the emphasis on women’s sexuality. Kurdish women in this line of signification appear as a mere reproductive facility, used and abused by men, without an agency of their own, in line with conceptions of women in other (post)colonial settings11. She is the woman to be saved. Yet, here, the sexuality of these women lies on the legitimate side. They may be victims, they may be pitiable, but certainly they are “honourable”.

6On the other hand, the other widely circulating image of Kurdish women is the exact opposite. This is the image of the “dishonourable” female terrorist: Childless but sexually active. What these women do in the mountains creates great suspicion. What could they do anyway? What use a woman can have in a war zone, other than sexually serving their male comrades? Hatice Çoban Keneş quotes from one of her research participants who took part in her study of the construction of new-racism through media discourse in Turkey. While they are talking about Kurdish girls, her male respondent addresses Çoban Keneş and asks her:

  • 12 Çoban Keneş (2014) “Yeni Irkçılığın Bileşeni Olarak Cinsiyetçilik: Irkçılığın Cinsiyetçilikle Eklem (...)

You are also a mother. Would you serve your daughter to these people? What would a man on the mountains do to her? Would he marry her and tell her to stay at home with him? Excuse me, but, after she spent so many years on the laps of other men?’12

7This image of the female terrorist who is involved in illicit sex is such a powerful propaganda tool that Turkish newspapers can not have enough of the news items like ‘30 thousand dollars worth of condoms were transferred to the mountains!’ (Milliyet 2013) or ‘Condoms and contraceptives found in the PKK cave!’ (Sabah 2012) The story resurrects every once in a while since the 1990s, always peppered with words like “disgusting”, “immoral”, and “ugly”. Now remember Ayten Bagok’s violated body, the proof it was supposed to serve and the counter-proof it surprisingly provided.

Representations as technologies of governance

8Representations are shortcuts to sets of ways of relating to others. In that sense, these three representations of Kurdish women are outcomes of interrelated but different technologies of engagement. Each representation refers to different tools, techniques and responses. They also register into different technologies of governance. In this second section of the article, these differential engagements will be explored and the possibility of a collision between the last two images will be discussed.

  • 13 Lauretis, Teresa De (1987) Technologies of Gender : Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction. Bloomingto (...)

9Unlike its wide circulation in the Western media, the image of joyful freedom fighter is not cherished, or even simply noticed, by the great majority of the public in Turkey. It resonates well among Kurds and those with pro-Kurdish, as well as feminist political inclinations, yet these groups are not by any means mainstream. However, as a case in point to what Theresa de Lauretis13 argues—that a representation is also always its construction—the image feeds into the political imagination and institutions of the Kurdish political movement, of which it is also a historical product.

  • 14 Dirik, Dilar (2014) “Western Fascination with ‘Badass’ Kurdish Women.” Al-Jazeera (blog).2014. http (...)
  • 15 Çiçek, Meral (2015) “Did the Women of the YPJ Simply Fall from the Sky?” Kurdish Question. January (...)
  • 16 Dirik (2016) Op.cit.

10Dilar Dirik14 (2016) and Meral Çiçek15 criticize the Western audiences’ fascination with Kurdish female combatants in Syria especially on the grounds that most of these accounts were blind to this particular history of gender struggle. In her exploration of this blindness and what it hides, Dirik refers to her own life story and suggests that her ‘generation grew up recognising women fighters as a natural element of [their] identity’16. What has felt natural to these women was the struggle itself: Kurdish women’s struggle both against states and the patriarchal norms that prevail in their societies.

  • 17 Çağlayan, Handan (2012) “From Kawa the Blacksmith to Ishtar the Goddess: Gender Constructions in Id (...)
  • 18 Öcalan, Abdullah (1992) Kadın ve Aile Sorunu. Istanbul: Melsa Yayınları.

11Handan Çağlayan17 argues that the transformation of Kurdish national myth is very much interwoven with the role women played in the movement and with the symbolic value they are given. Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of PKK, has shown immense interest in the question of gender since 1980s. In his first pamphlet18 on the subject, titled the Women and Family Question, he especially targets the family structure, which, in his view, creates a barrier to the modernisation of Kurdish people. Within this structure women are doubly enslaved. First by the external powers and their local compradors, and second by the men of their families who are actually slaves of the first kind on their own. So, the solution to women’s oppression lies in dissolving familial ties.

  • 19 Çağlayan (2012), Op.cit.

12Resembling to other nation-building experiences especially in the post-colonial context, this manoeuvre would also shift loyalties of men and women alike from the smaller universe of family to the greater body of the nation. Only through weakening of these ties and the trivialisation of familial responsibilities, people could be asked to sacrifice not only their own lives but the lives of their loved ones for the nation. With this particular interweaving of Kurdish nationalism and women’s question, by the end of 1980s, women were particularly encouraged to join the guerrilla, and separate women’s units were formed. By the mid-90’s it is estimated that one third of PKK fighters were women19.

  • 20 ibid.
  • 21 Sirman, Nükhet (2016) “When Antigone Is a Man: Feminist ‘Trouble’ in the Late Colony.” In Vulnerabi (...)
  • 22 Yüksel, Metin (2006) “The Encounter of Kurdish Women with Nationalism in Turkey.” Middle Eastern St (...)
  • 23 Kum, Berivan, Fatma Gülçiçek, Pınar Selek, and Yeşim Başaran, eds (2005) Özgürlüğü Ararken: Kadın H (...)
  • 24 Yüksel, Op.cit
  • 25 Sirman, Op.cit

13Öcalan’s formulation of the question later shifted to ‘women and men question’20, this time adding men to the picture not simply as family members but as a group with conflicting interests with women. Finally, in the last ten years the phrasing shifted once again and now the movement defines the problem as ‘genderism’ and works around the concept of ‘jineoloji’--the science of woman—to create the knowledge to overcome the problem21. And with the growing effect and number of feminists in the movement the issue has become greater than the question of who is going to fight. Feminist Kurdish women established ad-hoc autonomous organisations and published journals like Yaşamda Özgür Kadın, Jujin and Roza22. They became well integrated into international and particularly post-colonial debates and took inspiration especially from black feminists23. Their collaboration with Turkish feminists has been prone to tensions, as nationalism and the security discourse of the state proved to be hegemonic even in the women’s movement24. Although the venues of cooperation, as well as groups that aim to transgress these boundaries have been proliferating during the last two decades, Nükhet Sirman25 illustrates that the processes that leave Kurdish feminists outside the circles of ‘Istanbul feminists’ are multi-fold. Their transgression of accepted feminist frameworks through conceptual innovation is not always welcome. Therefore, the challenge Kurdish feminists pose still holds its transformative value both for the women’s movement in Turkey and the Kurdish nationalist struggle.

14A landmark in this transformation was the creation of a separate women’s congress within the Kurdish political movement in Turkey in 1996. In 2007—after the women’s congress fought for it for almost ten years—the movement started applying a %40 quotas for female candidates. And more importantly, women themselves would select all women candidates. They also put in effect the co-chairing practice at every level, imposing each position of power, including municipal posts, to be held by a man and woman together.

15Before the municipal elections in 2014, all over Turkey there were only 26 woman mayors, out of more than 1000. The pro-Kurdish HDP (People’s Democracy Party) came out with two candidates for each post, to act as co-mayors, despite the fact that co-chairing is not legally recognised. As a response, the governing AKP (Justice and Development Party) and the others introduced unprecedented numbers of women candidates. In the end, the number of woman majors quadrupled. In the parliamentary elections of June 2015, a similar development took place as women constituted 48.8% of HDP’s total candidates. While 40% of elected HDP parliamentarians were women, the overall ratio of women parliamentarians increased from %14 to %18, the highest in the history of the Republic.

  • 26 Al-Ali, Nadje, and Latif Taş (2016) “Kurdish Women’s Battle Continues against State and Patriarchy, (...)

16As the arrested mayor of Diyarbakır Gültan Kışanak, explains in an interview with Nadje Al-Ali and Latif Taş26, women’s struggle in the Kurdish movement had much broader effects than increasing the representation of woman in the parliament. These women pushed their ways into parliamentary committees where important decisions were made, like the budget committee or the national defence committee. They worked on issues like constitutional change, environment, urbanisation, penal code, energy policies, and education reform, refusing being assigned to supposedly feminine issues like social assistance or child protection. So they shifted the scale and impact of women’s participation at every level and subject matter.

17However, as of March 2017, 14 female co-mayors and 7 female members of the parliament from HDP are imprisoned. 52 women’s advice and solidarity centres of the municipalities (including women’s shelters) are shut down and almost all women’s grassroots organisations that fight violence against women in the region are banned (Gazete Karınca 2017).

Kurdish Women’s Bodies as the Battleground

  • 27 Çağlayan, Handan (2012) “From Kawa the Blacksmith to Ishtar the Goddess: Gender Constructions in Id (...)
  • 28 Weiss, Nerina (2010) “Falling From Grace: Gender Norms and Gender Strategies in Eastern Turkey.” Ne (...)
  • 29 Mothers significant place in Kurdish political movement and the role they have been playing have al (...)
  • 30 Weiss, op.cit

18While there has been intense debate around gender in the political movement, it is not possible to argue that the prevailing patriarchal notions of sexuality and honour had not been completely overcome27. In her ethnographic study of the Kurdish political movement in a small town in eastern Turkey Nerina Weiss28 identifies three legitimate role models that are available to politically active Kurdish women: the honorary male, the political mother, and the guerrilla fighter. The honorary male is the woman in politics. She is accepted as a ‘male-female’ and is not approached as a woman. Sexual desire, emotional attachments, affective inclinations are all bracketed in her relations with her male comrades. The political mother is the mother of combatants and the disappeared29. These mothers are well known public figures, yet, unlike political women or guerilla women they are not treated as honorary males but always as women. However, their sexuality is also bracketed by their age and motherhood. They are the mothers of the nation and all combatants are their children. In a similar vein, combatant women are considered as the daughters of the nation. They are to fight of course, but always protecting their sexual honor, always retaining to their daughterhood and always obeying the father. They may be away from their families but they are expected to act according to the norms of kinship, which tie this great family of the nation together30.

19Regarding to all these three role models, Nerina Weiss observes:

  • 31 ibid, p. 57

These women negotiate their positions within the political sphere and try to protect themselves and their dignity against violations by the Turkish state. Simultaneously, they are expected to live up to the gender ideal dominant in the Kurdish movement. These ascribed statuses, however, do not necessarily correspond to the women's own experiences and subjectivities.’31

20The role models Nerina Weiss identifies give depth to the singular image of joyful freedom fighters and clarify why the question of virginity holds such a prominent place in Ayten Bagok’s story. Either as an object of regulation and close control or as the space of violation, women’s sexuality is key to the negotiations regarding women’s role in the Kurdish political movement and armed struggle. Unsurprisingly, sexuality is also key to Turkish state’s and public’s engagement with Kurdish women through the other two images: the women to be saved and the dishonourable terrorist.

  • 32 Yuval-Davis, Nira (1997) Gender and Nation. SAGE Publications.

21In her now classical analysis of the relationship between nationalism and gender, Nira Yuval-Davis32 details four different layers of significance that are assigned to women in nation-building projects: First of all, by their capacity to give birth, women are the actual reproducers of citizens; second, by their assigned role as primary caregivers to children they are the carriers of national culture; third, by embodying its culture they are the symbols of the nation; and finally their bodies are the metonyms for the homeland. Nationalisms competing over a territory address women in all four of these capacities. In that sense, while there is a differential treatment between women who legitimately belong to the nation and those, who for being the objects and subjects of another nationalism do not qualify for legitimate belonging, all these technologies register into this main paradigm.

  • 33 Miller, Ruth (2007) The Limits of Bodily Integrity: Abortion, Adultery, and Rape Legislation in Com (...)
  • 34 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, op.cit.

22The most widely circulating image of Kurdish women, the woman to be saved, refers directly to the link between women’s bodies and their reproductive capacities. In her work on legal history Ruth Miller identifies the womb as ‘the predominant biopolitical space’33, where states practice sovereignty. The importance of the womb lies in its capacity to reproduce citizens and how this capacity is going to be used—and not used—is, in Miller’s understanding, key to modern jurisprudence. The image of the women to be saved depicts Kurdish women as the despicable womb, not only because it does not produce the ideal citizen, but also because it is overused and very much abused. In this image, Kurdish women lack agency over their sexuality and reproductive capacities. Decisions are made on their behalf and if they resist to these decisions they can well be sacrificed. So the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the state and its respectable citizens to save this woman. She is saved through education, public health campaigns, conditional health support, and legal mechanisms. In that sense it is a typical case of ‘white men (and women) saving brown women from brown men’34.

  • 35 Koğacıoğlu, op.cit.

23In this second representation Kurdish women’s sexuality is depicted as a product of and is solely determined by a tradition as such35. This sexuality, once again, is over-present but thanks to this ‘repressive culture’, it is also contained and regulated. Therefore it is a sexuality that can be despised but is still placed within the boundaries of modesty and morality. And it is treated accordingly.

24But, what happens when the Kurdish woman is perceived as the terrorist, who is sexually available and already dishonoured? All limits, moral codes and laws can be suspended. In the 1990’s some Turkish newspapers published the photographs of naked corpses of female combatants. Now it is on the social media that soldiers themselves proudly share photographs of tortured, mutilated, harassed naked bodies of combatant women.

  • 36 Agamben, op.cit

25In engaging with the ‘terrorist’ the juridical order can be suspended indefinitely. Yet it is not only the laws that are left aside, but also the moral boundaries, the everyday honourable conduct. It is in this ‘state of exception as a paradigm of government’ as Giorgio Agamben36 calls it, which is legitimate even though lawless, women’s bodies turn into an actual battleground. Violence is not only directed to these bodies but also inscribed on them, for others to read and understand where the boundaries of the legal order lie, how much it is in the power of the sovereign to strip one of all her rights.

  • 37 Al-Ali and Taş, op.cit
  • 38 Keskin, Eren, and Leman Yurtsever (2006) Hepsi Gerçek: Devlet Kaynaklı Cinsel Şiddet. İstanbul: Pun (...)
  • 39 Akın, Rojin Canan, and Funda Danışman (2011) Bildiğin Gibi Değil:90’larda Güneydoğu’da Çocuk Olmak. (...)

26The mediums of circulation may be new, but the techniques of violation are not. Well-known Kurdish politicians, including Gültan Kışanak, survived the torture in the notorious Diyarbakır prison in the early 1980s37. Since then all sorts of sexual violence including mutilations, rapes, and threats of rape in detention centres and prisons have been documented by human rights organisations, as well as in court cases38. Moreover, we slowly learn more and more about the horror and the atrocities of the 1990’s when the war against PKK entered into a new phase, with military attacks to villages, forced disappearances and displacement of more than a million people in rural areas39.

  • 40 See for example: Keskin and Yurtsever, op.cit; Türker, Yıldırım (2011) “Üvey Kardeş Dilinden.” In B (...)

27We also learn from recent accounts that during that period sexual violence was not only directed to combatant or politically active women but also to civilians40. In the war that has restarted in the summer of 2015 we experience a similar dissolution of the boundary between the two simultaneously existing representations of Kurdish woman: the woman who needs saving and the dishonourable terrorist. These two periods also mark a change in the course of the war and how military operations are handled.

  • 41 Marcus, Aliza (2007) Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence. New York: Ne (...)
  • 42 Kurban, Dilek, Deniz Yükseker, Ayşe Betül Çelik, Turgay Ünalan, and A. Tamer Aker (2008) “Zorunlu G (...)

28After the ceasefire between Turkish armed forces and the PKK came to an abrupt end with a suspicious PKK attack that killed 33 unarmed soldiers in 1993, Turkish state launched a staunch campaign against the organisation, by targeting its logistical support networks in the countryside. In this new phase of war, thousands of villages were burned and emptied, livestock was killed and villagers were forced to evacuate41. The number of the people who had to move to bigger cities during this period of forced migration is somewhere between 300 thousand and 1,5 million42.

  • 43 TİHV (2017) “16 August 2015-16 August 2017 Curfews İnformation Note”. Türkiye İnsan hakları Vakfı. (...)
  • 44 İHD (2017) “240 Günlük Sokağa Çıkma Yasağının Ardından Şırnak: Tespit ve Gözlem Raporu 5-8 Aralık 2 (...)

29In the summer of 2015, the conflict took another turn. Again with the ending of the peace process, which had started in January 2013, but was faulty from the start, Turkish state restarted its military operations. After Kurdish towns announced their autonomy in response, the war moved into the cities and towns in an unprecedented way. Turkish authorities enacted lengthy curfews in 45 towns, and some of these curfews turned into sieges. More than 1,8 million people were directly affected43. Some of these towns are turned into rubble during the hundreds of days they were under curfew. Tens of thousands of people migrated at first temporarily with the hope of return. However in some places there are no homes left to return to, so they are forcefully and permanently displaced. The longest 24-hour curfew lasted 240 days, and destroyed complete neighbourhoods of Şırnak44.

  • 45 Baysal, Nurcan (2016) “Cizre’deki Evlerin Içinden: ‘Kızlar Biz Geldik Siz Yoktunuz’ Yazıları, Yerle (...)
  • 46 for a selection see: Haberself (2016) “JÖH ve PÖH Kuvvetlerinden Operasyon Alanlarındaki Duvar Yazı (...)

30The most shocking images that came out from this destruction however are not those of demolition. The insides of the houses tell a story that is rather quite disturbing. According to the reports of many journalists and independent observers the flats used by the armed forces are deliberately crafted as stages of sexual violence in absence. Women’s underwear is put into exhibition. Condoms are scattered around to make the point. Journalist Nurcan Baysal45 relates what she has seen in one of the flats she visited: They brought a woman’s night gown from another flat, put it up on a chair and left a note: ‘We made love with this one.’ It also became very popular among special forces to write graffiti on the walls and share the images on social media accounts46.

31In the absence of women, the intimate and private space of the houses turned into objects sexual violence can be inflicted upon. The threat was rather open and written around: ‘We are here girls!’

32It is in this context that once again the body of the female combatant, which can be raped, tortured, mutilated and annihilated; and the body of the woman to be saved overlap. The boundaries that separate one from the other are increasingly blurred. This is the gendered regime of the current war, reminding us the little documented history of the 1990s: Enlarging the states and spaces of exception to include Kurdish women as a whole.

Conclusion

  • 47 Said, Edward S. (1978) Orientalism. New York: Random House.

33At least since the publication of Orientalism47, the intricate relationship between exercise of power and representations can no longer be avoided. Images, especially in contexts of sheer imbalance, are born out of and at the same time call upon acts of governance that include intricate technologies as well as sheer violence. The three images of Kurdish women, which by being simplified and unified images hide the complexity and multiple layers of reality, function as such. However, although they call upon different technologies, they all dwell around the same problematique. In their own way, the images of freedom fighter, women to be saved and the dishonourable terrorist are highly sexualised and address Kurdish women in their sexuality. It is also important to note that the Western media, the Turkish state and Kurdish political movement alike share this problematique. So the age-old formulation remains: the question of women is presented as a question of sexuality.

34During times of low-density-warfare and short periods of armistices, the hegemonic discourse in Turkey tends to keep these images and the technologies they refer to and evoke separate. Yet when there is an acceleration of operations and a determination to solve the problem by total warfare, as in mid-1990s and the two years that followed the end of ceasefire in July 2015, this routine separation is suspended. It is the state of exception where the limits of legitimate violence is infinitely extended and all moral and legal frameworks can be left aside. During these periods, images collide and overlap; the woman to be saved is no longer considered honourable and is treated not differently than the dishonourable terrorist.

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Notes

1 Zagros, Sakine (2016) “Kürt Kadın Hareketi Deneyimine Bir Bakış” Ayrıntı Dergi 14 http://ayrintidergi.com.tr/kurt-kadin-hareketi-deneyimine-bir-bakis/.

2 Agamben, Giorgio (2008) State of Exception, University of Chicago Press.

3 Griffin, Elizabeth (2014) “These Remarkable Women Are Fighting ISIS. It Is Time You Know Who They Are.” Marie Claire, September 30; Tax, Meredith. (2016) A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State. Bellevue Literary Press; Trieb, Erin (2014) “Meet the Kurdish Women Fighting ISIS in Syria.” NBC News, September 10 http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/meet-kurdish-women -fighting-isis-syria-n199821; Knapp, Michael, Anja Flach, and Ercan Ayboga (2016) Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in Syrian Kurdistan. Pluto Press.

4 Toivanen, Mari, and Bahar Baser (2016) “Gender in the Representations of an Armed Conflict: Female Kurdish Combatants in French and British Media.” Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication 9: 294–314

5 Dirik, Dilar (2014) “Western Fascination with ‘Badass’ Kurdish Women.” Al-Jazeera.

6 Doğanay, Ülkü (2013) “Irkçılığın İzini Satır Aralarında Sürmek: Popüler Kültür Ürünlerinde Irkçı Söylemlerin Yaygınlaşma Biçimleri.” In Medya ve Nefret Söylemi, edited by Mahmut Çınar. Istanbul: Hrant Dink Vakfı Yayınları; Bora, Aksu (2005) Kadınların Sınıfı. Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları.

7 Çoban Keneş, Hatice (2014) “Yeni Irkçılığın Bileşeni Olarak Cinsiyetçilik: Irkçılığın Cinsiyetçilikle Eklemlenmesi.” Fe Dergi 2: 62–80

8 Mojab, Shahrzad, and Amir Hassanpour (2003) “The Politics and Culture of ‘Honour Killing’: The Murder of Fadime §ahindal.” Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture & Social Justice Special Issue 1: 56–70; Koğacıoğlu, Dicle (2004) “The Tradition Effect: Framing Honour Crimes in Turkey.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 15 (2): 118–51.

9 Çoban Keneş, Hatice (2014) “Yeni Irkçı Söylemlerin Eklemli Niteliği ve Medyanın İşlevi.” Ankara Üniversitesi SBF Dergisi 69 (2): 407–33.

10 Here it is important to note that each one of these issues are real, yet they cannot be associated with Kurdish women. Femicides, domestic violence, forced marriages and all other gender based rights violations are a national problem. For a detailed and nation-wide study of violence against women in Turkey see: Altınay, Ayşe Gül, and Yeşim Arat (2008) Türkiye’de Kadına Yönelik Şiddet. 2nd ed. İstanbul: Punto. For up-to-date numbers on femicides and corresponding court-cases see: https://kadincinayetlerinidurduracagiz.net/

11 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1988) “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, 271–313. Urbana: University of Illinois Press; Cooke, Miriam (2002) “Gender and September 11: A Roundtable: Saving Brown Women.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28 (1): 468–70. doi:10.1086/340888; Abu-Lughod, Lila. (2002) “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.” American Anthropologist 104 (3): 783–90.

12 Çoban Keneş (2014) “Yeni Irkçılığın Bileşeni Olarak Cinsiyetçilik: Irkçılığın Cinsiyetçilikle Eklemlenmesi”, p. 64

13 Lauretis, Teresa De (1987) Technologies of Gender : Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

14 Dirik, Dilar (2014) “Western Fascination with ‘Badass’ Kurdish Women.” Al-Jazeera (blog).2014. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/10/western-fascination-with-badas-2014102112410527736.html. Accessed: 03.08.2017

15 Çiçek, Meral (2015) “Did the Women of the YPJ Simply Fall from the Sky?” Kurdish Question. January 13. http://kurdishquestion.com/index.php/kurdistan/ west-kurdistan/did-the-women-of-the-ypj-simply-fall-from-the-sky/.

16 Dirik (2016) Op.cit.

17 Çağlayan, Handan (2012) “From Kawa the Blacksmith to Ishtar the Goddess: Gender Constructions in Ideological-Political Discourses of the Kurdish Movement in Post-1980 Turkey.” European Journal of Turkish Studies (online) 14.

18 Öcalan, Abdullah (1992) Kadın ve Aile Sorunu. Istanbul: Melsa Yayınları.

19 Çağlayan (2012), Op.cit.

20 ibid.

21 Sirman, Nükhet (2016) “When Antigone Is a Man: Feminist ‘Trouble’ in the Late Colony.” In Vulnerability in Resistance, edited by Judith Butler, Zeynep Gambetti, and Leticia Sabsay. Durham/London: Duke University Press.

22 Yüksel, Metin (2006) “The Encounter of Kurdish Women with Nationalism in Turkey.” Middle Eastern Studies 42 (5): 777–802.

23 Kum, Berivan, Fatma Gülçiçek, Pınar Selek, and Yeşim Başaran, eds (2005) Özgürlüğü Ararken: Kadın Hareketinde Mücadele Deneyimleri. İstanbul: Amargi.

24 Yüksel, Op.cit

25 Sirman, Op.cit

26 Al-Ali, Nadje, and Latif Taş (2016) “Kurdish Women’s Battle Continues against State and Patriarchy, Says First Female Co-Mayor of Diyarbakir. Interview with Gültan Kışanak.” openDemocracy. August 12. https://www.opendemocracy.net/nadje-al-ali-latif-tas-g-ltan-ki-anak/kurdish-women-s-battle-continues-against-state-and-patriarchy-.

27 Çağlayan, Handan (2012) “From Kawa the Blacksmith to Ishtar the Goddess: Gender Constructions in Ideological-Political Discourses of the Kurdish Movement in Post-1980 Turkey.” European Journal of Turkish Studies (online) 14; Mojab, Shahrzad. 2012. “The Politics of Culture, Racism, and Nationalism in Honour Killing.” Canadian Criminal Law Review 16 (2): 115–34; Zagros, Sakine (2016) “Kürt Kadın Hareketi Deneyimine Bir Bakış.” Ayrıntı Dergi 14 (2016). http://ayrintidergi.com.tr/kurt-kadin-hareketi-deneyimine-bir-bakis/.

28 Weiss, Nerina (2010) “Falling From Grace: Gender Norms and Gender Strategies in Eastern Turkey.” New Perspectives on Turkey 42: 55–76.

29 Mothers significant place in Kurdish political movement and the role they have been playing have also been scholarly interest. For Saturday Mothers, who hold vigil in Istanbul’s Galatasaray Square since 1995, see: Baydar, Gülsüm and Berfin İvegen. (1997)2006. “Territories, Identities, and Thresholds: The Saturday Mothers Phenomenon in İstanbul.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 31 (3): 689–715 and Ahıska, Meltem (2014) “Counter-Movement, Space and Politics: How the Saturday Mothers of Turkey Make Enforced Disappearances Visible.” In Space and the Memories of Violence:Landscapes of Erasure, Disappearance and Exception, edited by Estela Schindel and Pamela Colombo. London: Palgrave Macmillan. For the Peace Mothers, who have lost their combatant children to the war and are active in peace building efforts, see: Aslan, Özlem (2007) “Politics of Motherhood and the Experience of the Mothers of Peace in Turkey”. MA Thesis, Istanbul: Boğaziçi University and Orhan, Gözde (2009) “Annelik ve Politika: Barış Anneleri’nin Öğrettikleri.” Toplum ve Kuram Kitap Dizisi 1: 97–102.

30 Weiss, op.cit

31 ibid, p. 57

32 Yuval-Davis, Nira (1997) Gender and Nation. SAGE Publications.

33 Miller, Ruth (2007) The Limits of Bodily Integrity: Abortion, Adultery, and Rape Legislation in Comparative Perspective. Aldershot: Ashgate, p. 149.

34 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, op.cit.

35 Koğacıoğlu, op.cit.

36 Agamben, op.cit

37 Al-Ali and Taş, op.cit

38 Keskin, Eren, and Leman Yurtsever (2006) Hepsi Gerçek: Devlet Kaynaklı Cinsel Şiddet. İstanbul: Punto.

39 Akın, Rojin Canan, and Funda Danışman (2011) Bildiğin Gibi Değil:90’larda Güneydoğu’da Çocuk Olmak. İstanbul: Metis Yayınları; Yağız, Özlem, D. Yıldız Amca, Emine Uçak Erdoğan, and Necla Saydam, eds. 2012. Malan Barkirin: Zorunlu Göç Anlatıları. İstanbul: Timaş Yayınları.

40 See for example: Keskin and Yurtsever, op.cit; Türker, Yıldırım (2011) “Üvey Kardeş Dilinden.” In Bildiğin Gibi Değil:90’larda Güneydoğu’da Çocuk Olmak, edited by Rojin Canan Akın and Funda Danışman, 9–16. İstanbul: Metis Yayınları; Yıldız, Candan (2016) “Barışabilmek İçin...” Ayrıntı Dergi 14 (2016). http://ayrintidergi.com.tr/kurt-kadin-hareketi-deneyimine-bir-bakis/.

41 Marcus, Aliza (2007) Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence. New York: New York University Press; Güneş, Cengiz (2012) The Kurdish National Movement in Turkey: From Protest to Resistance. London: Routledge.

42 Kurban, Dilek, Deniz Yükseker, Ayşe Betül Çelik, Turgay Ünalan, and A. Tamer Aker (2008) “Zorunlu Göç” Ile Yüzleşmek: Türkiye’de Yerinden Edilme Sonrası Vatandaşlığın İnşası. Istanbul: TESEV Yayınları.

43 TİHV (2017) “16 August 2015-16 August 2017 Curfews İnformation Note”. Türkiye İnsan hakları Vakfı. http://en.tihv.org.tr/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/16-August-2015-2017-Curfews-1.pdf.

44 İHD (2017) “240 Günlük Sokağa Çıkma Yasağının Ardından Şırnak: Tespit ve Gözlem Raporu 5-8 Aralık 2016”. İnsan Hakları Derneği, Diyarbakır Barosu, Türkiye İnsan Hakları Vakfı. http://tihv.org.tr/240-gunluk-sokaga-cikma-yasaginin-ardindan-sirnak-tespit-ve-gozlem-raporu/.

45 Baysal, Nurcan (2016) “Cizre’deki Evlerin Içinden: ‘Kızlar Biz Geldik Siz Yoktunuz’ Yazıları, Yerlerde Sergilenen Kadın Çamaşırları!..” T24 Bağımsız İnternet Gazetesi. March 7. http://t24.com.tr/yazarlar/nurcan-baysal/cizrenin-gorunmeyenleri,14049.

46 for a selection see: Haberself (2016) “JÖH ve PÖH Kuvvetlerinden Operasyon Alanlarındaki Duvar Yazıları Derlemesi.” Haberself. April 5. http://www.haberself.com/h/48005/.

47 Said, Edward S. (1978) Orientalism. New York: Random House.

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Hilal Alkan, « The Sexual Politics of War: Reading the Kurdish Conflict Through Images of Women », Les cahiers du CEDREF, 22 | 2018, 68-92.

Référence électronique

Hilal Alkan, « The Sexual Politics of War: Reading the Kurdish Conflict Through Images of Women », Les cahiers du CEDREF [En ligne], 22 | 2018, mis en ligne le 15 octobre 2018, consulté le 13 novembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cedref/1111

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Auteur

Hilal Alkan

Visiting Professor, Forum Transregional Studien Leibniz, Zentrum Moderner Orient

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