AFTER GENOCIDE: GENDERED TRAUMA, TRANSMISSION AND REINVENTION, YEREVAN SEPTEMBER 17-18-19
- Is there an ongoing genocide against Kurds in Turkey?
The imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan named his in 2010 drafted defence writing “The Kurdish question and the Democratic Nation Solution: Defending the Kurds under the yoke of cultural genocide”. Many Kurds maybe found this warning exaggerated. Wasn’t the era of genocide in Kurdistan over? The 20th century has been a century of uprisings and genocides in Kurdistan. To cite just a few:
Zilan genocide in 1930
Dersim in 1937/38
Enfal in 1986-1989
But 2010? Were the Kurds really still under the yoke of genocide?
Just 4 years later, in August 2014 ISIS invaded Sinjar (South Kurdistan), committing genocide against the Yazidi Kurds living there. One month later ISIS attacked Kobane (Rojava). And one year later the genocidal attacks of the Turkish state against Kurds in Northern Kurdistan began.
There is a widespread understanding especially in the Western world as if genocide has passed its age, as if it’s largely a phenomenon of the 20th century or if it was far away from us. And maybe therefore we talk so much about how to confront with genocide but so little about how to stop or prevent genocide – although the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide claimed the mission to prevent new genocides. Confronted with the ideological hegemony of the global capitalist patriarchal system we are living in and its constant ideological attacks we need to raise awareness on the main threats of our age.
Yesterday somebody asked how to ensure the recognition of the Armenian genocide by the Turkish state. For answering this question it is essential to see the permanency or continuity of genocide or a genocidal state policy in Turkey, which at the same time constitutes the basis of the existing Turkish nation-state, which is based on the idea of one land, one nation, one flag and one state. We are now in a process where the AKP government does not only step by step garner the state power, but at the same time hegemonizes it. Just like in the formation phase of the republic, the government tries to continue state power in its downfall phase by hegemonizing it. The way the clearance movement against Kurds in the initial phase of the republic led to the White Turkish fascist hegemony, in the dissolution phase of fascism the same hegemony is being reconstructed by targeting the Kurdish liberation movement.
During this conference we underlined the reality that genocide is not so much about numbers but about the intent to destroy.
Last year the hopes for a democratic solution of the Kurdish question and by so the democratic transformation of the Turkish nation-state suddenly were dashed as the talks between the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan and the Turkish state got stopped unilaterally on 5 April 2015. Short time later a total war took the place of the peace process.
Was this really sudden? I would say no.
Because while the Turkish state was fuelling hopes for peace and a democratic solution, at the same time it was making intensive preparations for war by building new prisons, gendarme stations and roads that lead to the Kurdish mountains, where the guerrilla forces have their hidden camps. When it became clear that Kobane will not fall and therefore the Kurdish movement will not be weakened on the negotiation table, on 30 October 2014 the National Security Council decided on a total war against the Kurds. The implementation of this decision started in summer 2015, just after the June elections where the HDP achieved great success and the ruling AKP lost a high number of votes. The AKP that lost its absolute majority immediately started to take revenge from the Kurdish movement and its supporters.
On 20 July 2015 as result of a bomb attack against mostly Turkish socialist youth that were on their way to Kobane to show solidarity, 32 people died. The Turkish state directly accused ISIS but ISIS never took on the responsibility. SLIGHT
AKP used this massacre for starting its total war against the Kurds. In the days after the attack more than 1000 Kurds and leftist Turks were arrested and imprisoned.
On 24th July 2015 the Turkish army started to launch its most intensive airstrikes against PKK guerrilla fighters in Northern Iraq.
These were the first steps of a so-called ‘Collapsing Plan’, which was drawn up in September 2014 on order from the government. According to this plan: SLIGHT
Military forces with the support of Special Police Forces and Special Military Commandos will launch operations in Kurdish cities
Settlements under siege will be destroyed so that the population will not be able to return
In these settlements calm will be restored with mass killings, mass detentions and evacuations
According to the war simulation between 10 and 15 thousand people would be killed, 8 thousand wounded, 5 to 7 thousand detained, 150 to 300 thousand people moved from their homes as result of bombings
I am giving you this information to underline the Turkish government’s intent to destroy as this so-called ‘Collapsing Plan’ in real was a genocide plan.
So, what happened in summer 2015?
The state decided to launch a total war and the Kurdish people decided to answer with total resistance and the construction of its own structures. Starting in August 2015, Kurdish people’s councils in different towns and districts declared self-governance. At the same time they started to prepare themselves against the military attacks that would start by establishing self-defence units, building barricades and digging ditches.
What then happened amounts to genocide. SLIGHT
Only between 16 August and 20 April there have been 65 officially confirmed, open-ended and round-the-clock curfews in at least 22 districts of 7 Kurdish cities. At least 1 million 642 thousand residents have been affected by these curfews and fundamental rights such as the right to life and right to health explicitly and heavily violated. According to the Ministry of Health, at least 355 thousand residents lost their homes. According to official numbers only in 5 districts 6 thousand 321 buildings were destroyed completely.
SLIGHT Some Kurdish districts which were the centres of the resistance have been destroyed completely. Like for example Sur, which is the old town of Diyarbakir, Nusaybin or Cizre. These districts are clearly targets for gentrification.
SLIGHT From August to April at least 338 civilians lost their lives. Killed self-defence fighters are not counted in this number. 78 of them are children, 69 female and 30 over the age of 60. 147 of the people that lost their lives were killed in Cizre. In Cizre at least 75 people that had sought shelter in three different basements were burned to death by government attack. One of them was the co-president of the people’s council, Mehmet Tunç, whose last words are: ‘We did not kneel down, be proud of us!’
Public institutions like schools and hospitals were occupied by military forces and used as bases. During the curfews all kind of public services were just cancelled.
Dozens of elected co-mayors were either detained or removed from office, especially female mayors. Most recently the government has decided to appoint trustees to Kurdish municipalities. The first practice of these trustees was to remove Kurdish and Armenian signboards.
As part of this political genocide thousands of activists, students, politicians, municipality workers, teachers, doctors, local council members, journalists etc. have been arrested within the last months. Kurdish publications, newspapers, news agencies and television stations either were closed down or received punishment.
The Kurdish members of parliament face the threat of imprisonment as their immunity was lifted.
During the last 3 days we heard dozens of speeches on committed genocides, but what about ongoing genocides? Or let me ask it this way: Isn’t the ongoing total war of the Turkish state against the Kurds – either in Turkey or in Rojava – genocide? We were talking about the importance of the intention. The Turkish President Erdoğan likes to talk openly about his intent to destroy the Kurdish resistance. One of his favourite phrases in this context is “We will eradicate them”. On 19 April 2016 he said:
SLIGHT “We put the peace process into the freezer. Now it’s the time of operations. What will happen during this operation period? This matter will end… This matter will end… If we will not succeed, then it will be a shame for us. We will succeed. When we throw the terror organisation completely out of this earth then we will have realised the solution.”
SLIGHT The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, got further and made this call: “Destroy Nusaybin. Stone by stone. Head by head!”
These two quotes underline the clear intent of the Turkish state in Kurdistan.
Before coming to an end, I want to underline 2 points. Firstly; if we agree that the Turkish state is committing genocide in Kurdistan, then we need to do something. Because this consciousness gives us responsibility. Especially in the light of the Armenian genocide, the current Yazidi genocide and the need to prevent repetition of history or better said we need to stop the continuity of genocide in Turkey.
Secondly, yesterday somebody asked how to prevent genocides and ensure peaceful co-existence of the people. I think what is happening now in Rojava might be a solution for the whole Middle East as the prevailing nation-state model in the Middle East, which does not fit to the historical, social, cultural and ethnical realities, is reproducing the ground for conflict, war and genocide. In Rojava people are trying to establish a model called Democratic Autonomy, which at the same time builds the ground for a system called Democratic Confederalism. There different ethnical and religious groups are establishing a common system, based on local autonomy. The main idea is democratic self-governance and self-defence.
This alternative is under attack now because it does not fit to the interest of regional state forces and foreign powers that try to redesign the Middle East in this ongoing Third World War. I think we should take position by supporting the democratic alternative in Rojava.
2. The parallelism of Genocide and Feminicide
By the example of the Sinjar Massacre
By Meral Cicek (REPAK)
A United Nations-mandated human rights inquiry reported in June that the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) [also known as Da’esh] is committing genocide against Yazidis. The summary of the report titled They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes against the Yazidis starts with the words “ISIS has committed the crime of genocide as well as multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Yazidis…” and ends with the sentence “The genocide of the Yazidis is on-going.”
While the report focuses mainly on the prohibited acts against female member of the Yazidi group, it does not mention separately Feminicide although all the mentioned acts against Yazidi women and girls constitute acts of Feminicide.
If we look at the history of genocides in Kurdistan like in other parts of the world, we can see a parallelism of genocide and Feminicide. Moreover we can state that genocide for the most part is committed through Feminicide. One might argue that Feminicide is part of genocide and therefore not needed to be acknowledged separately. But if we look at the acts of genocide carried out in Western Armenia in 1915, in Dersim in 1937/38 or currently in Sinjar, we see the necessity to treat Feminicide separately. Because without recognizing the particular phenomena and reality of Feminicide as a special form of genocide against women it will neither be possible to bring those responsible to account nor to secure justice for the victims.
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 defines Genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. I argue that the Convention should not remain gender blind as Feminicide does not play a subordinated role in genocide but in a lot of cases constitutes the main mechanism of genocide. Therefore I am talking about the Parallelism of Genocide and Feminicide.
I want to demonstrate this by pointing out the Feminicide of Yazidi women in Sinjar committed by ISIS. As all of you know, in the early hours of 3 August 2014, ISIS fighters attacked Sinjar from Mosul and Tel Afar in Southern Kurdistan/Northern Iraq, and Al-Shaddadi and the Tel Hamis region in Syria. The Sinjar region, which at its nearest point is less than 15 kilometres from the Syrian border, is home to the majority of the world’s Yazidis, a distinct religious community whose beliefs and practice span thousands of years, and whose adherents ISIS publicly reviles as infidels.
As they moved into Sinjar, ISIS fighters faced little or no resistance as Peshmerga forces withdrew, leaving much of the Sinjar region defenceless. By the time ISIS entered Sinjar, there were few military objectives in the region. ISIS fighters focussed their attention on capturing Yazidis. Within hours, Yazidis who had been unable to escape to the nearby city of Duhok found themselves encircled by ISIS fighters. Those who fled early enough to reach the upper plateau of Mount Sinjar were besieged by ISIS. A humanitarian crisis quickly unfolded as ISIS trapped tens of thousands of Yazidi men, women, and children in temperatures rising above 50 degrees Celsius and prevented them from accessing to water, food or medical care. Hundreds of Yazidis died on Mount Sinjar before the Syrian Kurdish Defense Forces, the YPG, were able to open a corridor from Syria to Mount Sinjar, allowing for those besieged on the mountain to be moved to safety. Together with Yazidi volunteers, they repelled ISIS attacks on the corridor, as it sought to re-establish the siege.
During the ISIS genocide in Sinjar up to 5.000 Yazidis were executed. Almost 200.000 people managed to flee, 50.000 of them to the mountain. Today only approximately 20.000 Yazidis remain to live in Sinjar.
When ISIS captured Sinjar, their fighters executed for the most part men. Mass graves show that they also killed dozens of elderly women, who they would not sell as sex slaves. ISIS fighters killed an unknown number of older Yazidi women from Kocho village in the early hours of 16 August 2014. In last November a mass grave of more than 70 Yazidi women executed by ISIS was discovered. An uncountable number of Yazidi women and girls killed themselves before they could be seized by or sold to ISIS fighters.
But during its campaign in Sinjar, ISIS obtained to capture Yazidi women and girls alive. Because ISIS is following a special and systematical war against women in general and Yazidi women in particular, where it is not about killing women physically but more about enslaving and by so dehumanising them. And this is a much profound, creeping form of genocide, which aims to destroy the identity, the entireness and integrity of the members of the group, in this case Yazidi women.
The declaration of misogynist fatwa’s in captured towns as one of its first practices shows that ISIS has declared war against women and tolerates the existence of women only as objects that have to satisfy the needs of men. But the practice of ISIS in Sinjar goes much further. Kidnapping of Yazidi women as spoils of war, enslavement, systematical rape, forced conversion are not only parts of a systematical war against women, but feminicide.
Let’s have a look at the extent and form of Feminicide by ISIS in Sinjar. Special attention must be shown to rape and sexual violence, including sexual slavery. According to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) rape and sexual violence constitute serious harm on both a physical and mental level – and consequently, if carried out with specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a protected group, constitute genocide. ISIS fighters systematically rape Yazidi women and girls as young as nine. The serious physical and mental harm that ISIS perpetrates against captured Yazidi women and girls extends beyond rape itself. Captured Yazidi women and girls are subjected to entrenched sexual violence, in that they are sexually enslaved by ISIS and by its fighters. Sexual slavery as a crime against humanity is defined by Article 7 of the Rome Statute.
Once captured by ISIS, Yazidi women and girls are deemed to be the property of the terrorist group, and later the individual fighters who purchase them. In the days and weeks following the August 2014 attack, ISIS detained and registered Yazidi women and girls in sites in Syria and Iraq. The registration process was designed to determine their monetary value, thereby dehumanising them. Shortly thereafter, the terrorist group began to embark on organised sales of Yazidi women and girls. These sales are conducted with individual fighters coming to holding sites, at slave markets where groups of ISIS men inspect and select women and girls, and in online auctions. Attempts to refuse to be sold or to prevent other women from being sold are met with violent beatings. Once sold, the Yazidi females are the sole property of their fighter-owner, who can re-sell, gift, or will them to other ISIS fighters. ISIS fighters threaten to kill women and girls who resist rape. Resistance is also routinely met with beatings and threats against any children the Yazidi woman has with her.
The Yazidi community calls the ISIS campaign in Sinjar “Ferman” which is Kurdish and means command or order. The ISIS campaign constitutes the 74th “Ferman” in the history of the Yazidis. Because of their religious and ethnic identity they were made targets again and again. As the UN declared, the genocide of the Yazidis is on-going. So is the Feminicide. According to the UN, still 3.200 Yazidi women are in the hands of ISIS. If the international community wants to put an end to the genocide of the Yazidis and prevent new genocides, then it is needed also to recognize the ongoing Feminicide, too as in the case of the Yazidi community through the systematical destruction of body and soul of Yazidi women the cultural, social and physical existence of the whole community is under threat.
Moreover as in the case of the the Yazidis in Sinjar genocide is carried out in a large amount through Feminicide, the recognition of Feminicide as a special form of genocide and crimes against humanity in international law is needed. Otherwise it will not be possible to ensure Yazidi women’s access to justice if we also take into account the social status of women within the Yazidi community and their socio-cultural structures.