Woman, Life, Freedom from Rojava to Rojhelat According to Behrooz Boochani
by Hediyeh Irandoust — 23March2023
In December 2022, just a few months after the beginning of Zhina’s Revolution, Behrouz Boochani started a 3 month tour around Australia, launching his second book “Freedom Only Freedom,” advocating refugee rights, meeting politicians, activists, artists and members of communities. One of the events Boochani attended in Melbourne was held and hosted by the Kurdish Democratic Community Centre, Kurdish Patriarchal Association and the Kurdish Women’s League of Victoria and was called, “Woman, Life, Freedom from Rojava to Rojhelat” which took place on February 11th.
In a conversation at this event, Behrouz Boochani, discussed the importance of the role of Kurdish people in the region and the influence of “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” on the revolutionary movement of “Woman, Life, Freedom.” He emphasized the fundamental role that women have played in the history of Kurdistan and pointed out that to achieve victory for Zhina’s revolution, unity and collaboration between Kurdish political parties, other ethnic groups including the democratic Persian, other civil societies and feminists is needed.
A transcript of the interview is available below.
- In the face of the threat posed by the Islamic State, the Kurds of Rojava made a significant sacrifice by sending 12,000 young women and men to defeat the terrorist group and protect the world from this dangerous and barbaric movement. They have also established a democratic multicultural society from the ground up. The Kurdish women’s guerrilla struggle, which started 40 years ago in the Kandil Mountains, is the origin of “Jin Jiyan Azadi” or “Woman, Life, Freedom” and also has been a driving force behind “Zhina’s Revolution” in Rojhelat and Iran. Despite attempts by certain Iranian movements to claim this as their own creation, what is your take on the significance of this movement and its impact on Kurdish people?
Boochani: From the beginning of the uprising 5 months ago, alongside some others, I have been pointing out this matter because we knew that soon the media would take over control and change the narrative. And it actually happened, in the regime’s oppositional Persian media, they started saying that for the sake of unity no one should mention the Kurdish roots of the slogan because it would divide Iran as a nation and right now the priority is to take down the regime and it is not an appropriate time to talk about history! They did everything to silence us. But we definitely did not want to lose the momentum to tell the true story of the radical political culture of Kurdistan, and a few decades of history of the fight and resistance behind this manifesto, right when it was picking up as the manifesto of the revolution all over Iran and the whole world was watching. We could not lose the narrative to the colonizers and let them steal our history again. Even though there are some Persian media who would deny the Kurdish origin of the slogan, mainly people are aware of the truth, although they might not dare to mention it in public or on social media. So it is our duty as Kurds to keep retelling the truth and pass on the true history with the lessons and values wrapped in it. To share with the rest of the region and the world what we have learned and built out of years of struggle and resistance. I am not saying it only belongs to the Kurds at all, it belongs to whoever understands and realizes it.
A couple of weeks into the uprising some of the opposition came up with the slogan of “Man, Homeland, Renovation” just to compete with and isolate the Kurdish/feminine essence of the movement but the protesters from Tehran to the diaspora did not follow it. The feminists and the younger generation stood up against it or ignored it.
- What are your views and observations about the role of women in leading Kurdish movements, and how do you believe this has affected the broader Kurdish struggle for independence and unity?
Wherever in the world if someone knows Kurds, it’s through the women and their bravery in facing the brutal terror of ISIS and the fight that YPG women and the rest gave them. It is very significant and carries a very strong and symbolic role in the patriarchal culture and structure of the Middle East.
Unfortunately even though it is the birthplace of this manifesto of Woman, Life, Freedom, and even though our women have been leading and fighting these wars, when it comes to political leadership we still do not see many women holding positions. We should create a better space for them to have a fair share in political leadership in the future Kurdistan. It is on us to criticize ourselves to improve into a better and more fair society and nation. These criticisms might be used against us by our enemies, as it actually does, yet still, it is not a valid reason to silence those women. We must all speak out against oppression of women and support each other’s voice against the system of patriarchy that is controlling the power dynamics.
- Since “Zhina’s Revolution,” calls for stronger unity among political parties in Rojhelat and Iran have grown stronger, and there have been some steps taken in this direction. In addition to unity, what do you believe are the biggest barriers to the success of this revolution, and what steps can be taken to overcome them?
The struggle in each part of Kurdistan is different as it has been divided between four countries and they all have different systems although they act pretty much the same when it comes to the indigenous people. In the last few months, the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Rojhelat, which had fallen apart and divided in 2006, has been reunited. Komalah has also reunited and a center has been created for all the parties to work together. I would say that during the revolution the Kurdish parties have handled the situation pretty well.
Although we see that the whole country is rising up, in some regions like Kurdistan and Balochistan we witnessed more serious clashes and armed conflict between people and the regime. People in Sanandaj resisted the regime’s fire for over 40 days. Every night there were street battles. At that point I saw Kurdistan at a horrible risk of collapse! And I, personally, was wishing them to slow down. Kurds can not make the revolution happen by themselves. Overthrowing this government requires everyone’s collaboration. The regime’s forces were actively attacking Kurdistan and killing people to start a war but I am glad that the Kurdish Political Parties did not fall for this trap, made strategic decisions and managed the situation well. Kurds play a significant and important role, symbolically and practically, that other groups can rely on.
I believe all those who have been persecuted and oppressed by this system must unite. The political parties of Kurdistan should, alongside with other ethnic groups in Iran, become united and include the democratic party and parties of the Persian society. Also feminists and women must be included. We are all naturally allies. Otherwise I do not know how we are going to create changes in isolation.
- Given the different forms of colonialism faced by each of the four parts of Kurdistan, what challenges do you see as being common to all Kurds in their struggle against colonialism and fascism?
As I mentioned before in different parts of Kurdistan with different systems being in power, there are varieties in the challenges present. In Turkey, we are facing fascism while in Iran, the struggle is racism and nationalism. But at the end of the day the mechanism of colonization is the very same, even all the way here in Australia. It is a mechanism based on an imbalance in power dynamics.
In Rojhalat specifically, based on my lived experience, the core of the struggle is assimilation. Which is the process of losing your language, which holds your dignity and values and therefore you lose your land. It is worse in some parts of Kurdistan. For example in Kermashah and Ilam in the last two decades, people have been using the language much less, although at the same time a radical resistance has been created which is quite a phenomenon as it did not exist before. Someone like me did not exist in Ilam 40 years ago, but today as the oppression builds up, assimilation and radicalism grows up at the same time. There is a huge underground movement of the young generation that is fighting to save the language. It started as a cultural movement based on poetry and writing. Literature is the treasure of a language but unfortunately we are losing in the number of speakers.
In 1979, the north of Rojhalat was more involved in the movement and the south was not as activated as it is today. So we can say that today, the Kurdish resistance in Rojhalat is larger and deeper.
Who is Behrouz Boochani?
Behrouz Boochani is a Kurdish-Iranian journalist, human rights defender, writer and film producer born in 1983 in Ilam, Iran. He graduated from Tarbiat Moallem University in Tehran with a master’s degree in political science and geopolitics.
He began his journalistic career writing for the student newspaper at the university before working as a freelance journalist for several Iranian newspapers. He wrote articles on Middle East politics, minority rights and the survival of Kurdish culture. He co-founded and produced the Kurdish magazine Werya, which he regards as his most important work. Werya, which promoted Kurdish culture and politics later attracted the attention of the Iranian authorities because of its political and social content. For Boochani, helping the Kurdish city of Illam preserve its Kurdish identity, language and culture is vital.
As a member of an outlawed party in Iran, the Kurdish Democratic Party as well as the National Union of Kurdish Students, Boochani’s work was observed closely. In February 2013, the offices of Werya Magazine were raided by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. While Boochani himself was not present in the office that day, 11 of his colleagues were arrested, several of whom were subsequently imprisoned. After the publication of the news of the arrests online and the global reception, Boochani went into hiding for 3 months and in May 2013, he fled Iran.
In July 2013, on his second attempt to cross the ocean from Indonesia to Australia, the boat he was on was intercepted by the Australian Navy. As a result, he was detained in Australian-run detention centers on Christmas Island as well as Manus Island and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea from 2013 to 2019.
Boochani started making contact with journalists and human rights defenders outside the camp. He gathered information about human rights abuses within the camp and sent them via a secret mobile phone to various news organizations, advocacy groups and the United Nations. His film and written works broke the silence as it attracted so much global attention to the horrible situation and human rights violations in these Australian detention camps, driving major changes. Finally after 7 years, in July 2020, Boochani was granted refugee status in New Zealand. As a free man, Boochani continues to battle for the other asylum seekers, as even today, thousands are at the risk of being detained or being placed in a systematic limbo for years.