Monday, September 15, 2008

Tara Jaff: Kurdish Musician

Tara Jaff is a Kurdish musician specializing in harp. She studied classical music and piano at Baghdad's Musical Academy and her fascination with the ancient harps of Sumeria and Mesopotamia led her to the contemporary Celtic harp. Over the years Tara has attempted to introduce the harp to Kurdish folk music, in particular to folk songs in the Hawrami dialect. Her innovative style adapts to the various musical rhythms and modes of the region, bringing a contemporary expression to an ancient form of song and music.

Tara Jaff was born in Halabce in 1958 and moved to the United Kingdom in 1976 after the Ba'ath party forced her to leave the Musical Academy in Baghdad. She continued her studies in the UK and has since performed in various concerts and festivals, mainly as a solo artist. She is regularly featured in radio and television in several countries. She is also a member of the organizing committee of the annual London Kurdish Film Festival.

To listen to her music, go to her official website:

Monday, May 12, 2008


Leyla Zana now a symbol of Kurdish patriotism was born in 1961 in Silvan, Kurdistan. Her wish to breathe freedom and live in a fair society created her love and commitment to politics and the Kurdish cause as early as age fourteen, when her husband Mehdi Zana was detained for three years after his campaign for the Communist Party of Turkey. Leyla, pregnant with her first child she was left helpless when Mehdi, the former mayor of Amed was arrested. Struggling for visitation rights many time she forbidden to even see Mehdi. As a result, it led to her first arrest in 1988 after her and a group of people rioted against the Turkish soldiers for torturing the imprisoned men they wanted to visit. She was tormented and treated with cruelty for the 57 days she was in prison.

The mistreatment received by the Turkish government convinced her to do something. Leyla took a first step to break cycle of oppression on October 20, 1991 by becoming the first elected Kurdish woman for parliamentarian position. Celebrating her identity and her successes Leyla concluded her oath as a Kurdish female parliamentarian, with the following statement:

“I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people."

The above statement left the members of the Turkish Parliament and government furious and shocked calling Leyla a separatist and a rebel. Turkey for years and years has robbed the Kurdish citizens of basic human rights such as freedom of speech or expression, political affiliation, and freedom of identity. Therefore, their reaction to her representation and pride in the Kurdish flag, her identity, and the statement she made in her native language (Kurdish) in the parliament was anything but positive. She was accused of treason and prosecutors passed the verdict by sentencing her to 15 years in prison. In 1994 Leyla joined the many other Kurdish activists in prison who have been convicted for wanting basic humanitarian rights. Her arrest gained the attention of the international community and an incredible number of supporters joined to condemn the actions against her, such advocates included even members of the U.S. Congress.

A year after her sentencing, in 1995 Leyla was nominated and won a Nobel Peace Prize for her courage and will to create a peaceful environment between Kurds and other nationalities. During her years in prison she was also awarded with other peace awards, including the Sakharov Prize and Bruno Kreisky Award. In 1998 she was nominated a second time for a Nobel Peace Prize. Not only did she gain respect globally for her nobility, character, and courage she most importantly helped many Kurds in particularly women to choose and shape their lives independently and break the norms by dedicate their lives to themselves and their nation.

On June 9, 2004 ten years after unreasonable jail time in the Turkish cells Leyla was finally released by order of a Turkish appeals court along with three other parliamentarians.

Currently her husband Mehdi Zana, along with their son and daughter Ronayi and Ruken live in exile in Europe. Meanwhile, Leyla is staying strong and very active by continuing her fight for peace and democracy. Despite all of this, on April of 2008 she was sentenced to two years of imprisonment by a Turkish Court after giving a speech at a Kurdish Newroz festival and naming three of the prominent Kurdish leaders.

Her strength and spirit has endured tremendous rough times and she continues to do so with a strong spirit. In a recent speech given in Amed she said,

“Kurds are fire, if approached correctly they get warm if approached wrongly they burn.”

The necessity for basic human rights for herself and her fellow Kurds were motives that persuaded Leyla to fight and become a strong female activist in the Kurdish struggle. Her active role in politics has had an enormous affect on Kurdish souls and she has awakened many Kurds to continue the fight and keep the fire burning and the Kurdish pride alive.

Kürkçü , Ertugrul . "Defiance Under Fire." Amnesty Magazine 2003 15 Jun 2008 .
Jon Gorvett. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Washington: Sep 2004. Vol. 23, Iss. 7; pg. 40, 2 pgs
Jon Gorvett. Middle East. London: Jun 2004. , Iss. 346; pg. 26, 2 pgs
Jon Gorvett. Middle East. London: Aug/Sep 2005. , Iss. 359; pg. 24, 2 pgs

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hapsa Khan

Hapsa Khan was born in the Kurdish city of Sulaimania to a prominent family in 1881. She later married into a revolutionary family to Shaikh Qadir, brother of Shaikh Mahmud. She is believed to have been the first woman in Sulaimania to stress the importance of education for women as a means to gain freedom.

She was active during Shaikh Mahmud's autonomous government in the early 1920's and was a supporter of the nationalistic cause.
She established what is considered the first Kurdish women's organization in Iraq. She pursued an agenda for the progression of Kurdish women, especially in gaining access to literacy and education.

In the book Kurdistan in the Shadow of History, a German photographer named Lotte Errell describes Hapsa Khan as the woman "whose husband gets up when she enters the room." She founded an evening school for women in the region and Errell describes it as thus:
"Every afternoon she receives in her courtyard all the women who want to learn by her wisdom and who want to discuss the problems of the day with her. They live separated in the house but are often quite powerful as far as their husband and family is concerned."
Hapsa Khan's father used his house as a place for intellectuals in the community to gather and discuss different topics. After her father's death, Hapsa Khan turned the family house into a public meeting place and became the leading figure at home. Her visitors ranged from writers to artists, to men of high rank. In an interview with Shaikh Mahmud's niece, Drakshan Jalal Ahmad, published in Kurdistan in the Shadow of History, she mentions that Hapsa Khan said, "There is no difference between men and I am going to continue..."

Drakshan further explains that Hapsa Khan's boldness was met with some contempt:
"Some people were angered from a religious point of view that she was imitating a man, but she did not stop."

"Shaikh Mahmud himself said that if she had been a man, she would have been a strong challenge."

It's evident that she possessed a strong character and was adamant in continuing what she believed in.

After her death in 1953, her home, as she had intended, became a school.


Kara Fatma, referred to by New York Times, as
"The redoubtable female warrior of Kurdistan."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Asenath Barzani

Asenath Barzani, Born to Samuel Ben Nathanel halevi in 1590 CE in the Kurdish city of Mosul in Southern Kurdistan. She was raised by her father Samuel who taught her Kabbalah and excused her from all daily tasks that other young girl her age usually did. She dedicated her life to studying and memorizing the Holy words of God. Asenath was quoted by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, The Receiving; Recovering Feminine Wisdom p. 112 as saying “Never in my life did I step outside of my home. I was the daughter of King of Israel… I was raised by scholars; I was pampered by my late father. He taught me no art of craft other than heavenly matters.”

Asenath married a cousin named Jacob Ben Abraham. Her father secured her dedication to only religious work in her marriage paper work so she is not distracted from religious studies for domestic house wife duties. She had two children with her husband Jacob, a son and a daughter.

After her husband’s death, Asenath headed the Yeshiva in Mosul, teaching Torah in Kurdistan until her son became of age to head the Yeshiva. Modern scholars consider her as the first Female Rabbi in Judaism for her role as the head of the Yeshiva in Southern Kurdistan.

Asenath died in 1670 CE in the Historic town of Amedi in Southern Kurdistan. Her grave was a pilgrimage site for the Jews until modern centuries.

Today, Asenath Barzani is considered not only the first Female Rabbi in Judaism; her story marks the oldest record of the role of Kurdish Women in history. Her story is kept alive in the Israel and the Jewish journals. Asenath Barzani proves the role of Kurdish women in society centuries ago. Her story as a women philosopher will be remembered by Kurdish women of this century and the future generation.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Friday, April 4, 2008

Widad Akrawi

Widad Akrawi, a Kurdish author, politician, lecturer, and a devoted human rights activist. She was born in 1969 in the city of hospitality, Akre (in Southern Kurdistan). She relocated to Denmark in 1992, which is where she studied at the Technical University of Denmark and maintained a living by working as a geneticist at the Royal Hospital in the capital city, Copenhagen. She dedicated lots of her time volunteering for Amnesty International, Danish section (April 30, 2006 – June 18, 2007). She is currently the chair of Defend International and working with the International Action Network on Small Arms. She is a board member for International Women Steering Committee, Women of Europe Award. In addition, she is the author of the book "Taras bog: En beretning fra Kurdista, novel in Danish , 265 pp., Forlaget Forum, København, 2003."

On October 22, 2007 she traveled to New York City on an invitation by the IANSA (The International Action Network on Small Arms) to be present at the United Nation’s General Assembly as Defend International’s representative. IANSA is a global movement against the misuse of small arms and light weapons. As the representative of DI and a human rights defender she is committed to making our world a better place from the abuse of small arm.

Adela Khanum-Princess of the Brave

While it is true that men were the leaders of most Kurdish tribes, this does not mean that Kurdish women did not participate in the concerns of their kin. In fact, several cases exist of Kurdish women successfully running the affairs of their clans. Perhaps one of the most well known of these women is Adela Khanum.

According to Hubbard's book From the Gulf to Ararat, Adela Khanum was born in 1847 to a leading family in the former principality of Ardalan, the major center of Kurdish culture in what is now Eastern Kurdistan. She later married a chief of the Jaf tribe, Osman Pasha, whose headquarters was in Halabje. He was appointed the kaimakam of Shehrezur, which led to his absence for a large part of the year, thus allowing Adela Khanum to take over. She not only managed her own and her husband's private concerns, but "ran" Halabje as well.

Major Soane from Britain, who lived in disguise as a merchant of Shiraz among the Southern Kurds during this time, went to her house and explained that, "Lady Adela consolidated her own power, that the Pasha, when he was at Halabje, spent his time smoking a water pipe...while his wife ruled." Her personality and physical features are of such interest, that I cannot refrain from quoting Major Soane's account of his first encounter with her. The following is what he had to say:

"The first glance told her pure Kurdish origin. A narrow, oval face, rather large mouth, small black and shining eyes, a narrow, slightly aquiline hooked nose, were the signs of it; and her thinness in perfect keeping with the habit of the Kurdish form, which never grows fat...The firmness of every line on her face was not hidden, from the eyes that looked out to the hard mouth and chin…Her tones were peculiar, not those of a woman, and though not deep, were clear and decisive, and abrupt."

Further accounts of Adela Khanum and the Jaf women in Soane’s book To Mesopotamia and Kurdistan, in Disguise, 1912, are as follows:

“Her servants were all Persian subjects, and in Halabja she instituted in her new houses a little colony of Persian Kurds, and opened her door to all travelers from and to that country, and kept continual communications with Sina, five days’ journey away.”

"The Jaff women contributed richly to Kurdish poetry, heritage, and culture taking big steps in this regard; and some were like stars shining in Kurdish literature, matching their fellowmen and playing vital part in the expansion of the heritage and art, and also in the social and political sphere.

Obviously, they were women of immense capabilities.

At the beginning of the 20th century, many British soldiers were present in Halabje. During the war of 1914-18, Adela Khanum rose to distinction for saving the lives of several British soldiers. She so fascinated her British overlords, that they granted her the title
Khan Bahadur, Princess of the Brave

Among her achievements in Halabje was the building of a new prison, the institution of a court of justice (in which she presided as president), the construction of several fine houses, and an impressive bazaar.

She continued to exercise her influence through her son, Ahmad Beg, until her death in 1924.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

LEYLA QASIM - A Heroic Kurdish Woman

During a period in history when society was not acceptant toward women entering the political arena Leyla Qasim dared to play an active role not just in politics but in Kurdish politics. Leyla Qasim, was born in 1952 to her father Dalaho Qasim and her mother Kani in the Kurdish city of Xaneqin to a very patriotic family. Leyla was one of five children and the only girl in the family. Her brothers, Sebih, Selam, Sefa and Selah along with Leyla were very dedicated to their education. In 1958, Leyla started her first year in primary school and finished secondary school in Xaneqin.

Despite the fact that Leyla was very young, she was very determined and motivated to work for an independent Kurdistan and believed in the power of young Kurdish women and men. In 1970, she joined Kurdistan Democratic Party. A year later she started her studies in sociology at the University of Baghdad. In 1972 she became an active member of Kurdistan Student Union (Yekiti Qotabi yen Kurdistane). Through KSU is where she met her compatible companion, Cewad Hemewendi. Like Leyla, he was a strong activist for the freedom of Kurds and an independent Kurdistan. Beyond their love for each other they had a second powerful love, the love of their homeland; Kurdistan. In a time when most were executed to express freely their love for their country, Leyla not only openly expressed her love for Kurdistan but she also proved to many that even women can join the political arena with men and work hand in hand to liberate Kurdistan.

On April 28, 1974, Leyla along with four of her friends (Hesen heme Reshid, Neriman Fuad, Azad Sileman Miran and Cewad Hemewendi) were imprisoned by the unfair Iraqi regime. Despite the fact that Leyla and her friends were nothing but symbols of freedom and peace, they had become victims of the unlawful Ba'ath party. Even during when the smallest move was under scrutiny by the Iraqi regime Leyla showed absolute courage in front of government officials when questioned. It is said that during her hearing in front of the Ba’ath judge, Leyla with a loud brave voice said:

“Kill me! But you must also know that after my death thousands of Kurd will wake up from their deep sleep. I am happy that I will die with pride and for an independent Kurdistan!”

Her heroism and brave spirit was an absolute threat to the Ba’ath regime for she was perceived to make a great impact on Kurdish students and Kurdish women and support them to become active figures of Kurdish politics. As a result, in a very short period of 14 – 15 days Leyla in the company of her friend was sentenced to death. Unfortunately, on May 12, 1974 at 7 in the morning Leyla and her friends were executed and added to the list of the Kurdish martyrs. Her death ignited the Kurdish fire in the hearts of her fellow Kurds and especially the Kurdish students who attended her University. In addition, many of the students soon after joined the Kurdish Peshmerge forces to continue to fight for the struggle that Leyla dedicated her life to.

Leyla’s close family and friends described her as a fearless, intelligent, devoted, soft spoken, sweet Kurdish girl, which is how she will be remembered.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Houzan Mahmoud

Middle Eastern cultures and Islamic societies tend to overlap with areas of classic patriarchy. In these societies where patriarchy dominates, a majority of women are bound by chauvinistic customs and values. More women in these oppressed societies are beginning to speak out against the rejection of women's rights. Susan B. Anthony once said, "Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less." One such woman who is fighting for nothing less than the rights of the women of Kurdistan and Iraq, is Houzan Mahmoud.
Houzan is a Kurdish feminist, secularist, journalist and human rights activist. She currently serves as the U.K. representative to the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. She is an outspoken advocate on the oppression of Kurdish and Iraqi women, both under the US/UK occupation and the growing influence of conservative Islamists. She led a campaign against rape and abduction of women in Iraq and against the requirement of Islamic Sharia law in the proposed constitution. Due to her controversial campaigning, she received death threats in an email last year (2007) from Ansar al-Islam (a brutal Kurdish Islamist group). Despite the threats, she was determined to persist in her work. In a letter to MADRE (an international women's human rights organization) in 2007, Houzan stated,
"I will continue doing what I am doing now, going around the world cultivating support for women in Iraq and Kurdistan as well as exposing the violence and gender apartheid that Islamists are imposing on millions of women in the region."
An unyielding woman, indeed.

was born in Southern Kurdistan in 1973. She later fled to London with her partner in 1996 due to the lack of security in the region. In an interview published on, Houzan states,
"At the time when we left, it was very unsafe, so me and my partner, we fled to London. And he was also a political activist, so we could no longer stay there."
Houzan now lives in the United Kingdom, studying politics and sociology at the University of London. In 2003 she co-founded the Iraqi Women’s Rights Coalition in support of women in Iraq and the publication Equal Rights Now to expose the violation of women’s rights in Iraq and Kurdistan to the international community. She's a frequent contributer to British publications, such as the Independent and theGuardian. She has written many articles about the situation of women in Iraq, which have been translated and published in French, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Persian, English, Finish, Swedish and German. She has also been interviewed by CNN, NBC, Sky News and BBC and other various media outlets.

Moreover, she recently co-founded the Iraqi Freedom Congress, a recent initiative to build a democratic, secular and progressive alternative to both the US occupation and political Islam in Iraq and Kurdistan.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Biography Eyse San - Hesterika Ezmanê Hunerî

“Wexta li ezmanên huneri mêze diki tu dibini sterkên hunera kurdi, xwesiktrin u rindirin hestêrkin li ezman, Yek ji wan hestêran tim u tim dibiriqi, ew hestêreka ron u ges hunermenda hêja u nemir Eyse Sane...”

Considered as one of the most legendary female singers in the history of Kurdish music, Eyse San (english spelling: Aysha Shan) was born in 1938 to a large and well-known family from the great city of Amed (Diyarbakir) in Northern Kurdistan. Eyse San was the daughter of Heciya Xanim and Osman from the large tribe of Cibriyan. Eyse San’s father, Osman, was a very popular traditional singer and her love for singing was mostly influenced by him as well as many other traditional Kurdish singers from all corners of Kurdistan. Heciya Xanim, Eyse San’s mother, often sang lullabies to her beloved daughter and stirred up all the passion and devotion that Eyse San had developed for singing. While growing up, Eyse San often found herself along with her sisters behind the doors and walls of the gathering room listening to her father and his fellow friends singing the night away. She paid great attention to their songs, and as their voices would echo through the walls, Eyse San would enter a world of fantasy over and over again. Her father, as well as many other traditional Kurdish singers, were a school of knowledge and inspiration for Eyse San. Regarding these memories, Eyse said:“ I wish the doors and walls of my father’s house could speak so they could tell you about all those days and nights, I always say with grief I wish my fathers walls could speak and recite the stories of those nights my father and the rest his friends spend at our house. I would listen to them from the corners of the walls. I listened so carefully that if someone were to call me, I would be startled. My dad’s delicate and sorrowful voice had a huge impact on me. Years past but his voice never left me.”Early Years in 1958, the young Eyse San, began singing at many gatherings. Eyse San, with her beautiful Kurdish clothes and her most delightful voice, started entering people’s hearts and many grew fond of her pure and beautiful voice.In the beginning, Eyse San’s father and brothers were not too happy about her singing in public. They tried to pull her away from the music world that she so passionately wanted to become a part of. She used all her power to follow her passionate dream and was determined to sing no matter what the cause. At the age of 20, with the will of her father, Eyse San married a young Kurd named Sewket Turan, and they soon had a baby girl together. However, her marriage with Sewket Turan did not work out and she later moved to a city, known as Entabe, leaving her three-month-old baby girl and all of her closest family and friends. In Entabe she tried to maintain a living on her own by sewing clothes. Meanwhile, with the help of a man named Nail Baysu, she sang in Turkish for the Entabe radio for two years, she was still unahppy since her true passion was for Kurdish music. Soon after Eyse San moved to Istanbul, and for the first, she recorded music in Kurdish. Unfortunately, the record label she was signed to took all the rights to her work away from her and sold her music with no benefits and proceeds for Eyse. Nonetheless, she did not give up her love for Kurdish music and she continued to express her sorrow and troubled life through her music and with the help of classical songs that she learned from her father. Eyse San also started to create her own songs, among those were Derdê Hewiyê (The pain of a co-wife) or Qederê Yar (The fate of a lover), all of which were about her rights as a woman, as well as many other Kurdish women in similar situations. Another very well known song by Eyse San that has touched the lives of many is Xerîbim Daye (I am alone Mother). which she sang as a dedication to her mother, whom before her death had requested from her sons to see her beloved Eyse San. Unfortunately, they never allowed Eyse San to return back home and their mothers wish was never granted. Eyse San paid great tribute to her much-loved Kurdistan by singing about the political situations of the Kurds. At times of oppression she sang proudly about her country and her people with no fear. In 1972, Eyse San moved to Munsen, Germany. In Germany, her precious daughter Shahnaz whom Eyse San loved more than anyone in the world passed away. The death of Shahnaz put a pause on Eyse's singing career because her mind was occupied by the grief and sorrow that she felt for losing her daughter. Soon after Shahnaz passed away Eyse returened to Kurdistan and in 1979, the Eyse San who always dreamed of such a day was greeted with warm welcomes from Kurds who lived in Southern Kurdistan. She had managed to meet with the legendary Kurdish singers, Mihemed Arif Cizîrî, Îsa Berwarî, Gulbihar, Tehsîn Teha, Nesrîn Serwan and many more. Together, they performed at many concerts and parties. As she returned to Turkey Eyse San was threatened by the governement. Eyse said, “ When I returned to Turkey, they captured me and expressed their hatred. I said I wish I hadn’t visited Kurdistan and I became regretful, they told me you are fighting for the Kurdish cause…” However, for the first time, she truly felt that all of the suffering that she went through was worthwhile. Eyse San had a great connection with Kurds all over Kurdistan. In 1979 and years to follow, Eyse San was not as active in her singing career as she had been before. In order to maintain a living, she worked in a local post office in the city of Izmîre. Following the year, 1991, many Kurds of Southern Kurdistan left their towns and villages and moved to the cities of Northern Kurdistan. Around this time, Eyse San dedicated a cassette to those who liked her music. With her words and voice, she awakened the Kurds of Northern Kurdistan to help those who had recently relocated to cities nearby. Eyse San was a true Kurdish spirit who went through every difficult circumstance one can imagine, but she was determined and passionate about her singing. And by listening to her music and her delicate voice, it is how her spirit will remain in our hearts and minds forever and always. Eyse San's role as a Kurdish Women in her lifetime is unforgettable, which makes her an inspiration for many to continue the fight for freedom and Kurds.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Kurdistan Women

Kurdistan Women ---

The launch of this blog on March 16, 2008 will be dedicated to Kurdish women's role from the past, present, and future. Kurdistan Women blog is an initial step to a greater project that will document the importance of Kurdish women in Kurdish identity, culture, heritage, history, art, revolution, religion, politics and etc...

The lack of the existance of such projects that documents information about Kurdish women requires dedication and contribution of first and foremost Kurdish women and men as well as every individual concerned about collecting such information.