KURDISH women, coloniality and archives

By evar hussayni 



It reeks of shit that a basically globally exported idea of Kurdish womanhood follows a one-dimensional, naïve and simplistic narrative. The rise of Kurdish women joining defence units to protect our Kurdish land and culture from fascist imperialism has come with endless think pieces and opinions that prove more disruptive than helpful. I really want to interrupt these un-sophisticated and superficial attempts at intellectualising Kurdish women’s resistance to the occupation of Kurdistan. Below I am sharing 42 pieces of an ever-growing 200+ series. As you click on each image, a different PDF document will open in a new window of written material exploring themes of decolonisation, post colonialism, Kurdish identity, gender, violence, archives, and art/curation. I hope you save each PDF and spend the next few months/years reading through each piece. Equal and free access to material that helps us learn is really important to me. Learning is a lifelong adventure. We can all learn together.


Project Description:

My interest in archives began around 2017, when this specific project was born. At the time however, I didn't have the correct language to articulate my thoughts, nor any understanding of "archives" as a subject. For me, I mostly focused on the word ‘documenting’. I used this word to navigate who was considered deserving of being ‘documented’ and who was considered undeserving of being ‘documented’.

For Kurds, documentation was heavily affected not only by the occupation/colonisation of our land, but also the ways in which Kurds were (and still absolutely are) treated as 2nd class citizens in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Traits of colonisation amount to not only murder, theft, rape and destruction, but also calculated and purposeful erasure of an occupied people. Countries abusing their power and citizen’s rights often provide false statistics or misreport/deny events that have taken place in order not to incriminate themselves. Furthermore, when a nation is heavily controlled by the state, it is easy to manipulate narratives as oppressed citizens cannot defend themselves -  their freedom of speech and ability to express it is limited. This erasure and manipulation ends up shaping dominant attitudes towards those occupied (dominant attitudes = racist, discriminatory, biased, unjust).

Within the act of premeditated erasing of documentation, its focus is mostly directed towards heritage. Whether it be the looting of artefacts and monuments, the demolition of libraries, bookshops and schools for or created by the occupied people, the banning of speaking, reading and writing in a specific language, the banning of music, film, literature and art created by the occupied people, the burning of photographs, books or official material that hint to a proof of the existence of the occupied people, or as previously mentioned the misreporting or denial of events or the provision of false statistics...

the rewriting of history -  the rewriting of truth - plays an important role in coloniality. 

To me, these examples highlight the importance of documenting as a vital tool that provides information on a subject or history that has otherwise been erased or denied by those who colonise. Documenting recognises and pieces together the untold realities and histories that the people of occupied and colonised countries are otherwise denied. Documentation eliminates ambiguity and contributes to balanced representation.

Now add into the mix,  a sprinkle of patriarchy. 

Kurdish women. 

Parallel to the increase in oppressive policies used by occupying forces against any form of Kurdish self-expression, the nature of the alliance amongst Kurdish women transformed from a marginalised movement into a force of opposition that played a central role in the efforts to confront occupation. As with many communities and societies globally however, racialised violence and gendered violence do not exist in opposition but rather feed into each other, generating a double discrimination. Kurdish women are primary victims of this double discrimination. They not only experience violence imposed by the state due to their ethnicity as Kurds, but also patriarchal violence based on their gender. Kurdish women are rendered disposable continuously as their underrepresentation or false presentation is upheld by unceasing violence and occupation.  

With this in mind, my obsession with the documentation of Kurdish women began. 

​In my introduction post published last week, I mentioned how I was interested in presenting within my work a reality that reaches beyond the stereotypical perspective across the world of West Asian women in general, but also the stereotypical narratives attached to Kurdish women projected not only by the western world but also by our regional communities (Arabs, Turks, Iranians etc). Although stereotypical narratives are at times the reality for women due to the nature of patriarchy, it is important to dismantle the idea that this is the only reality that exists. I wanted to encourage the dismantling of patriarchal teachings that denote women as less important (don’t we all!!! pls pls) and therefore undeserving of documentation.

Throughout history, within fields of academia, war, science, politics, agriculture and more, women have been less documented or are continuously presented as ‘anonymous’ – their identities are unknown. When I began the project "Women In My History", I wanted to present to the viewer the range of possibilities and different dimensions that Kurdish women exist within. I wanted there to be an understanding that the stories, experiences and lives of Kurdish women exist within a plethora of realms, and do not necessarily have to be empowering or highly politicised to be valid and important. They can be ordinary, joyful, sad or romantic too. As an occupied people whose heritage is continuously erased, any proof of existence holds equal weight and significance. The issue was that these stories - or proofs of existence - other than the warrior stereotype or victim stereotype, didn’t exist at all within my reach.

I began investigating my own family. 

Women were doctors, artists, housewives, teachers. Women were religious and atheist. Women wore a veil of some kind or didn't wear it at all. Women wore modest clothing and others wore whatever they wanted. Many had children, some didn't. Some were political, some weren't. Some were rebellious, others felt more comfortable sticking to the book, following rules. Some were travellers, others preferred staying home.

I began looking at photographs in family albums.  

So many women in so many photos.

The photographs varied not just in time/era and place but also fashion, sense of religion, labour, education, family norms, values and interactions. Some photos were black and white others were colourful. Some photographs had a white frame, others bled into the very edges of the photo paper.

I recognised a few women. But with over 300 photos sitting in front of me, recognising a few women wasn’t good enough. There were many women whose identities were unknown and may never be known to me. Their experiences and stories were unknown and may never be known to me. Their histories were unknown and may never be known to me. Even some of those who were once known to my mother, had been forgotten.

I was presented with the understanding that only some bodies are remembered, and the colonised body is not one of them. The infliction of erasure, whether of written, oral or visual material, was the direct result of how some bodies are deemed deserving of being remembered and others aren’t. As themes of exclusion, history and memory are investigated, I became more aware of the gravity of lost knowledge and truth.

So, what are the powers behind ‘documentation’? How are some bodies deemed deserving of ‘documentation’ whilst other are not? How does the lack of ‘documentation’ contribute to erasure? How does ‘documenting’ preserve a culture or a people? How does ‘documenting’ contribute to false narratives and how does it contribute to the truth? How does it dismantle stereotypes? How does it help destabilise colonial projects? How can we make visible the undocumented? One thing for me was certain - stereotypical narratives are certainly endless, but so are the untold narratives.

Before I finish, I want to touch on the use of the Cemedanî in my work. 

In Part II of “Women in My History”, majority of the archived photographs are placed on a piece of garment. In Kurdish we call it the Cemedanî, however to most it is known as the Keffiyeh (meaning "from the city of Kufa", an Iraqi town on the Euphrates River).

The Cemedanî is a traditional scarf that has played a huge role in West Asian and North African history. Its various usages were mainly exhibited by farmers and nomads for protection from sunlight and dust/sand whilst working or traveling across deserts. In the 1930’s it became symbolic for resistance after its use when Palestinians revolted against Zionists/British colonialists and especially in the 1960’s when the Palestinian political leader Yasser Arafat began wearing the garment continuously. However, the garment remains a strong attribute across countries and cultures in West Asia and North Africa even today. 

The Cemedanî has a very distinguishable pattern which is said to have originated from an ancient Mesopotamian representation of grain or fishing nets. Today it is worn not only by nomads, farmers and religious men but also plays a prominent role within defence units and military guerilla groups as protection and also as a symbol of solidarity between these various groups – the Kurdish resistance being one of them.

The Cemedanî has made an appearance in many of my previous projects, but in this one it serves mainly as simple decoration. This is because I want to highlight the capacity for normality in Kurdish women’s lives. Many, if not all of the photographs I have used in this project show Kurdish women in their day to day lives - at home, at school, at events, at work, with friends, with family.....this is a direct contrast to the usual use of the Cemedanî as explained previously. As mentioned continuously in my work and research, Kurdish women are persistently portrayed by western Orientalists and Arab/Turkish/Iranian powers as either a threat, oppressed victim, or they are disgustingly fetishised. I am adamant that Kurdish women can exist outside the parameters of violence, so seeing visuals of Kurdish women outside of these perspectives is important for me to share and speak about.

Critical engagement with this subject matter is important. I have framed this project in a way that does not exclude myself from this investigation since i am also a member of the domain under consistent erasure. Personal experiences give an insight into power dynamics, so it’s important for me to analyse these in order to understand the cultural experience as a whole. I am in some of the photographs. My mother is one of the main protagonists in these photographs. The reason for this is because the photos of her show me a side of her which she herself never revealed to me. Her own stories remain untold too.

This project was my first introduction into 'archives'. The more I researched, the more I learned, the more my argument developed and my art work changed. I will be showing the next stages of my research in the coming weeks. 

With love, peace and solidarity, 

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