Sendika.Org reporter Murat Bay has talked with women fighters of YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) about the war they have waged against not only ISIS, but also patriarchy, feudalism and capitalist system.
The roads of Kobanê, whose streets we have taken at the first hours of the day, took us to one of the quarters of YPJ at the foothills of Mistenur. When it was understood that Heval Rengin, that we have asked to see, would be a little late, we were invited in for food. Although our inability to hide our reaction to warm food caused chuckles, as a result of comradely affection they have shown, we were feeling like we were at home. When tea was served after food, we started talking with comrade Aryan who was accompanying us. Aryan is a fighter that has conducted activities in various places in Rajova. Behind her disciplined and strong appearance, she answers our questions with a soft tone in her voice.
Murat Bay: YPJ became a source of inspiration for women around the world. YPJ is fighting more than one battle, what does that mean exactly and how does this war effects civilians and women?
Heval Aryan: The war that we fight is, above all, against the dominant system. DAIS (ISIS) is an outcome of male dominant system. The leadership approaches woman with her historical roots. That is to say, if woman cannot be free, then freedom cannot exist anywhere, no man can either be free, the society cannot be free. Our main fight is for the freedom of society, nominately there are women as well as men in this society. We do not fight for Kurdish people only or Kurdish women, our war is the freedom struggle for all the people and women. Although we liberalise here, our neighbouring peoples are suppressed everyday, are subject to violence, lose arbitrium …
Can we elucidate ‘neighbour’ a bit?
I mean Turkish people are included in this. To the defence of Kobanê Germans came as well, Americans came, they came from everywhere. Kobanê turned into a place where all the people became united; in short, this is the war that we fight. We are the women’s movement in this continuum. There has been women’s movements in the world before, but because they were fragmented, a clear result could not be achieved. For instance, every day, women next to us are subject to violence harassment, rape, death… It does not matter whether we live through this or they do. On this basis YPJ draw its strength from the ideological line of the leadership. We fight against both ISIS, the enemy of the peoples, and male dominated system.
Can YPJ cause a real transformation in the society, how does this process work?
The war has speeded up the process. The Kurdish society is a feudal society. Notions about women such as ‘she is our honour, pride’ and feudal patterns could be broken with will of YPJ. The lack of confidence in women, that is to say, the perception that “women cannot undertake every task, they cannot hold guns, cannot fight” has been broken during this process and women have proven otherwise. Tens of our comrades have fought heroically, not leaving their posts, and became martyrs. This situation created a feeling of trust in the people. In the case of YPJ, the people has seen that women can do everything. A person that lacks self-confidence cannot succeed. In this case, women had confidence in themselves. To wit, they said that we also have ideas and we also have work to do. They reached this awareness and this attitude had an effect on people. The women of YPJ have cracked all the feudal stereotypes of this geographical area. Humans cannot develop in a place where stereotypes exist. YPJ has cracked down the stereotypes and subsequently women have said “we do not belong only to kitchen, to home, to men for child birth, we too exist in all spheres of this society”.
Does the war fought by YPJ transform men as well as the women?
What is important to us is to smash the mentality of men rather than bringing them into the kitchen. To smash a mentality that scorns, belittles women, regards women as limited. We are talking about a system that has been existing and operating for thousands of years. This is not a transformation that can happen at once, for example, even if a women steps one foot in front of you (pointing at me), you would not really want it because as a man, this has been indwelled into your codes. Although we have fractured this a bit we continue to struggle. This is our main struggle.
This means that after the war, women have another war to fight?
Of course! Retransforming the society. The task of YPJ is not only to fight. The main task is to recreate the society. The task of YPJ is to encolour life.
YPJ and YPG units are separate but are there mixed units?
There are. Male comrades have female commanders. For example our front commander, a female comrade is responsible from both YPG and YPJ. There is no discrepancy between YPG and YPJ, all is one.
Then how does YPJ transforms YPG?
The existence of YPJ disciplines male comrades to a greater extend. Our lives are very natural and they have no typecasts . This expands the viewpoint of male comrades. Some of the male fighters that we talk to state that they learn a lot from women fighters. The moments when women are present are different and male comrades’ approach differs accordingly; that is to say, we transform the front as well.
The war of Kobanê was a very tough war that was lived through at close quarters. What was the thing that pressed you the hardest?
Most of our comrades fell martyrs. The ones that were left behind are living through the memories of their friends that they have lost. At every corner of Kobanê, there is a memory of the shahada of a comrade. When comrades that dream of a free Kobanê, free Rojava, free world fell martyrs, the ones that are left behind struggle with the motivation of how to make these dreams come true. I have lost childhood friends. I struggle with the thought of how to make their dreams, feelings come true and how can we build a life on this basis. This thought escalates the struggle even more, whenever we face difficulties, we remember our friends that fell martyrs and we overcome the impasses that we found ourselves in. For example, I was a health care worker, we would do everything to save a wounded comrade but there were no possibilities.
Lack of food or cold did not have an effect. For example, sometimes wounded comrades would come, they had not been eating for three days, or seen water but their spirits were high. Your friend that you have shared everything with just a few hours go would fall martyr, this situation would burden us. In a sense we would launch them into eternity, but their memories will always stay with us. We promise to take the revenge of the martyrs and escalate the struggle.
I wish we could show the world everything that has been lived here. At the front, your friend shivers from cold, it rains or snows, there is nothing left to eat but the smilet that appears on our friends’ faces, you see the willpower. This is it the thing that has brought victory at Kobanê.
When there were no clashes, how did the time pass?
Generally, it passed with discussions. But the everyday life continued, for that matter, sometimes even during clashes comrades would joke around with one another.
How were the demonstrations for solidarity made in Turkey, border watches or aid work effecting you here?
They would give us power and we were thinking that we were not alone! They were very meaningful, that is to say, our people could not be with us physically but we knew that their hearts were here, I mean we did not feel alone.
As far as we can understand the war will continue for a while but how the life will be like from then on? What would you like to say about reconstruction of Kobanê and ecological Kobanê?
For this, I mean for reconstruction of Kobanê and for ecological work, comrades will organise a conference and this will be clarified upon the outcome of the conference. I, personally, do not want a new city to be built on the blood shed by hundreds of my comrades, you know, but here, of course, the people will decide on that.
Personally, what is your wish?
Kobanê shall be left in history. That is to say, a part of it shall be left as a museum. This left aside, at the new city that will be built, the governance will be within the hands of the people. The life will be organised in a collective manner at the ground, without expecting anything from above. I mean, it is okay if there is no money in the future, if the people can meet their own needs from the nature themselves why would there be any need for money? In short , as fighters, our wishes are as such. For instance, if you ask any comrade, they will tell you that money is a very vicious thing.
[While our interview was going on, comrade Aryan had to leave because of her duty. We continued our conversation with comrade Penaber. Penaber is a middle aged, experienced fighter at commandership level.]
You have been fighting for years, what will you do when the war is over? How would you get on with everyday life?
Heval Penaber: We do not know the value of that money, you see. By that I mean, for instance, if the leadership tells us “peace has been realised, return to the cities” what will we do, they will think we are clueless, they do not know that we perceive money as vicious and for that reason we do not associate with it. In a sense, it is natural that we do not know, because we have not seen it. I mean, for example, we are four persons here, if there is a bite, four of us will eat it but if there is not, then four of us will starve. But, still, we will build our own lives, everything will be collective again (she laughs).
At the mountain, for years, guerrilla has been feeding on the fruits of that mountain. We take care of that gardens. Neither their water nor soil is supplied with money but they have our labour on them. We cultivate everything and all is very tasty. Male comrades also have a garden but because women comrades put more labour in the garden, we yield more.
We do not kill the captives. We do not even kill the spies within us, I mean we do not even raise our hand. That person serves her sentence, whatever it is. Many of the spies come out themselves, our approach transforms even them.
[Lastly, Heval Rengin comes as well and we start talking]
How would you describe YPJ?
Heval Rengin: YPJ was proclaimed at a conference in 4 April 2013. 3 days later trainings commenced. As a matter of fact, our people have been subject to all forms of assault of the system, for that reason, to start with, there was a need to create the genuine, democrat human being. That is to say, liberation of the individual is part of this war. As much as it is an ideological war, it is also a war of the will.
Sometimes we seem strange to our region (Middle East), because the dominant model in the world is present around us. But here, we materialise the exact opposite of that model. There is a huge gap between the conventional life and the life that we built. We reconceptualise freedom from being an abstract notion and we materialise it. Freedom has no limits. When we reach our target, we want even more, in other words, change is always present in this process. That is to say, saying enough is against the nature of dialectics. This is the founding philosophy of all our activities. The areas that we vindicate also has political, sociological and cultural parts and all this areas are built on this philosophy.
We want to start from the rapture where humanity was lost. From Mesopotamia. Like Leader Apo says, in the history of humanity, there are two raptures. First happened with the formation of hierarchy in the city-state, second with the religion. We will make the third rapture happen with the male dominant system. I mean, we, the women, are trying to extract the essence inside human beings. You (looking at the men in the room) get ready for it.
[Finally, while we were saying goodbye, turning to me and the male photographer] We are realising the third rapture with the struggle of the female sex, get ready, Murat and Jason, you get ready for it as well!
Translation: Faika Deniz Paşa