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.