On the 28 June, Roj Women’s Association, a London-based organisation championing Kurdish and Turkish women’s rights, organised a panel discussion as part of their three-day women’s festival in London. The main panellist was Gultan Kisanak, a Kurdish Member of Parliament from Turkey and joint-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in Turkey. An MRG intern reports back from the panel discussion.
Kisanak, like her party the BDP, is an adamant supporter of women’s rights, particularly that of Kurdish women, due to the high rates of unemployment, illiteracy and poverty that exist among them compared to their Turkish counterparts.
Women’s rights is an important issue for the BDP and the main reason why they practise joint male and female party leadership. The BDP claim to strive for a democratic Turkey where Kurds can live in freedom and aspire to a future where the different peoples of the region can peacefully live together. In other words, they advocate a future of internal self-determination for Kurds.
Speaking in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd, Kisanak emphasised the extremely important and special role Kurdish women have played in shaping the Kurdish political struggle, as well as how the political philosophy forming the backbone of the Kurdish struggle in Turkey has in turn enabled women’s political participation. According to Kisanak, women have always been at the forefront of the struggle, but she stressed that further steps need to be taken to ensure their full participation.
Kisanak also spoke of women’s role in Kurdish society, saying that generally Kurdish people are women-friendly but that “women have been oppressed among Kurds as with other peoples of the world”. She notably stated that around the world “the history of women has been a history of resistance”.
She called on women to unite, men to respect women, and urged the audience not to allow anyone marry against their will, and women not to let any man abuse them. A calling met with great applause and standing ovations.
Current affairs in Turkey
After her speech on women’s rights, there was a Q&A where Kisanak received several questions on other important issues, such as the current political situation in Turkey. Kisanak spoke of the government party AKP and the main opposition party CHP.
Kisanak stated that during the AKP’s reign democratization has not deepened but actually reverted and been perverted. For instance, she said, there are currently an estimated 600 female political prisoners in Turkey, and a staggering 8000 political prisoners in total and that these figures have increased thanks to AKP policies. Another example she gave was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent anti-abortion statements. Stressing that women have the right to decide over their own bodies, BDP and others feel the abortion issue is a prime example of Erdogan’s authoritative and dominant personality; trying to decide how many children women should bear, how they should give birth (suggesting caesarean should be banned), etc.
Reflecting on the CHP, she claimed that their political behaviour and policies was and still is undemocratic, stressing that they need to deal with their nationalistic and discriminatory politics. Until the CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu can publicly announce that he is a Kurd, that he is Alevi, and that he is from Dersim (presently referred to as Tunceli in Turkish), there wasn’t much to be expected from him or CHP, Kisanak said. According to her, the government party AKP only appears as “democratic” because the main opposition party, CHP, is in comparison no better than the AKP.
Responding to a question about Turkish media, Gultan Kisanak, with her extensive experience in journalism, held that the majority of Turkish media was controlled by the state and blamed them for turning the Turkish people against the Kurds, and twisting the reality of the Kurdish Question by hiding the truth from them.
Uprisings in the Middle East
An audience member asked Kisanak about the conflict in Syria and the role of the Kurds.
According to Kisanak, the conflict in Syria has shown that the Kurdish people are now a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East, that they no longer can be ignored as this have proven to lead to failure. Kisanak stated that the Syrian National Council (SNC) had ignored the Syrian Kurds demands and consequently in an effort to “improve their image” made a Kurdish man SNC leader. Whilst welcoming this decision, she argued that this move alone did not mean the demands of Syrian Kurds and the Syrian people’s freedom struggle were being addressed properly. But according to Kisanak they had at least understood that the Kurdish people are not a peripheral actor.
To succeed, Kurds must avoid the mistakes done by their forefathers at the time of the First World War when the Middle East was a region in immense upheaval. “Frankly”, she said, “we don’t have the luxury to make any mistakes”.