Monday, April 29, 2013

Echoes from the Other Land on Change TV by Kabir



Kabir is a fun, brave young man with a talent for hosting shows. He has his own TV channel called Change TV whose motto is "Dare To Be Different!"co-hosted by Kabir and his boyfriend, Colin. After planning several times and cancelling, I finally appeared on his show and we chatted briefly. A "life-stylist" (I was surprised too!) and a musician were also there and I really enjoyed listening to the live music by Darcy Windover (yes, I did ask him if his name was inspired by Pride and Prejudice and to my disappointment the answer was "no, it was a politician's name." Yes, I did want to ask if that politician's parents' read Jane Austin. No, I didn't actually ask that :D). Darcy sang "As We Go Down" and played the guitar (min. 25:32) HERE

Finally we talked (min. 36:12)


Kabir also has a guest's page and this is mine







On Echoes from the Other Land by Loren Edizel (author of Adrift)

Loren Edizel, the talented author of Adrift, has put Echoes from the Other Land on her  "Commuter's Reads," and has said nice things about it.

Here is the link and you'd need to scroll down:

The seven stories that make up this collection take place in Iran. The prose is purposeful and unfolds through short sentences and crisp dialogue. The young women and girls in these stories all struggle against the suffocating blanket of misogyny and oppression created by the hateful regime, the weakness of men, and society in general, where everyone is bent out of shape. It is the anger of women that keeps them erect with eyes wide open in these stories, and the scarves on their heads are always somehow falling off, or pulling back, or crumpling somewhere to reveal their locks.


Perceptions of Women, Sex and Pornography in Kurdistan



An Iranian pop concert by singers Jamshid and Mansour in Erbil last month turned to chaos after local men followed the women into the stadium and, taking advantage of the lack of security, assaulted them.
That is highly sorrowful and disappointing, not least because a potential source of income for the Kurdistan Region turned to havoc. I am not writing to say I am sorry we lost potential tourists and gained a bad reputation. I am writing to discuss the roots of such behavior, which can be found in our everyday lives.
Needless to mention that, anywhere in the world when a large crowd gathers, a competent and organized security force is required to ensure safety.  What happened in Kurdistan could have happened anywhere. It always starts with a few opportunists, and when no powerful force interferes to stop and punish the offenders, a larger group turns abusive.
But are there other ways of referring to the group which started the assault?  Let’s imagine that among these “bad” boys who were the attackers, there were the very decent and nice boys of a family or neighborhood.  Did the men even consider that the way they treated those women was wrong, immoral, ugly and sinful (if they are religious)?  In addition to the lack of security, what else motivated the offenders?
  Sexual assault is not always a matter of lust. Rapists enjoy the sense of power and control they get at the moment they find a vulnerable prey. 

Sexual assault is not always a matter of lust. Rapists enjoy the sense of power and control they get at the moment they find a vulnerable prey. But, these assaults happened in public, so lust could not be a factor. The attack could also have been motivated by revenge: This sometimes happens when men are madly attracted to women who not only do not return the attraction, but instead humiliate them. So, retaliation and a show of power can also be elements that encouraged the shameful episode.
Who is supposed to teach young Kurds about adult relationships? In a culture where parents are too embarrassed to talk about sex, where the educational system is void of training and religious doctrines only refer to sex as a sinister and ugly phenomenon, not as a natural human drive that guarantees both survival and happiness, where should the young turn for education or information?
Nowadays, because of the Internet, pornography is more accessible than ever before to younger and younger kids than any time in history. When we neglect to have essential conversations regarding sex with our younger generation, pornography becomes the teacher. The problem with this industry is that it presents women only as one type. Because pornography is funded by men, directed by men and targeted at men, women are displayed only as men-pleasers, devoid of dignity, confidence or other human traits.
In opposition to the degradingly sexualized women, our culture presents and praises the innocently asexual beings: mothers, sisters and daughters. The mother-figures are so excessively and absurdly desexualized, as if all mothers are the Virgin Mary and they managed to have babies by some magical way other than intercourse.
This dichotomy places women into only two categories: asexual or prostitute. There is no midway, no space for a young healthy woman to acceptably express her sexuality and not be looked down upon. In this binary thinking, therefore, the young men whose only outlet to adult relationships is pornography, seeing attractive, happy, well-dressed and dancing women only reminds them of one group of women, who only deserve to be treated in one way. 
This mentality is consciously or unconsciously promoted by the media. News media that reported the concert upheaval also mentioned that some of the women at the concert were “wearing revealing dresses and dancing.” They mentioned this as if it justified the blatantly savage behavior.
  This dichotomy places women into only two categories: asexual or prostitute. There is no midway, no space for a young healthy woman to acceptably express her sexuality and not be looked down upon.  

These women were possibly celebrating their temporary holiday from a theocratic regime which has suppressed their desire for free dress and dance. Such strict restrictions inevitably create extreme reactions: Some of the women might have been wearing heavy make-up or were very dressed up. Even if that was the case, did these women still deserve being assaulted?
If they were not placed in a strictly patriarchal culture that perceives women more as “objects of desire” than human beings with dignity, would the event have turned out this way? How is that in other parts of the world women can walk in a bikini on the seaside, without being the objects of gawking men.
Had those young men understood that the women at the concert were only enjoying themselves and not asking for invasion, had they understood that those attractive creatures were humans who wished to be respected and left alone, had they learned that pornography is not real and no women -- not even victims of prostitution -- wish to be assaulted, had they learned how to respect and manage their sex drives and had they learned how their behavior damages and scars these women for a long time, this shameful event would not have happened.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

When did killing become an honor among Kurds?



Ava Homa
Kurds have respected powerful female leaders from Adele Khanum to Leyla Zana, yet the rate of Kurdish women’s immolation is shockingly high. How can this paradox be explained?
Iraqi Kurdistan’s Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, called violence against women, “A terrible expression of inequality and injustice,” and started a 16-day campaign promoting women’s rights but when did violence against women start normalizing itself within the Kurdish culture? When did killing become an honor?

Some Kurdish nationalists believe that Kurds have always respected women and discriminations were only injected into the culture by Islam and Arabs. Their evidence for their claims is the life of powerful and influential Kurdish rulers and governments like Adellah Khanum and Hapsa Khan.
Adela Khanum, from the Ardalan family of Eastern Kurdistan, married Usman Pasha of Halabja, entirely reshaped the environment of Halabbja by creating a huge garden. She later practically governed Halabja, instituted a court of justice and became the president. Up to her death in 1924, she exercised her influence.
Hapsa Khan, born in a prominent family of Sulaimaniah and married to a ruling family of Sheikh Qadir, was active in the early 1920s government, established the first women’s organization, and pursued an agenda for women’s literacy and education.
Martin van Bruinessen, the Dutch Professor of Anthropology who has extensively published on the Kurds writes that such women “exemplify the moral superiority of the Kurds over their neighbours.”  His article “From Adele Khanum to Layla Zana” was published in Women of a Non-State Nation: The Kurds edited by Shahrzad Mojab.
Bruinessen adds that “in certain districts of Kurdistan, rule by women was in fact so common that it was explicitly referred to in the records of customary law (qanunnama) complied by the Ottomans.”
It is noted that the seventeenth century Turkish traveler Evliya Chelebi documented this with some bewilderment. He states that “the qanunnama for Shahrizur contained provisions allowing succession by a daughter, and he observes that such succession was common enough and apparently quiet accepted by the Kurds.”
Examples of powerful Kurdish women are abundant throughout history: Khanum Sultan, Khanzade Sultan, Kara Fatima Khanum, Shamsi Khatun and Fasla Khatun are some prominent figures.
Is having such powerful Kurdish woman an indication of women’s equal rights among the Kurds?
Bruinessen also mentions the well-known Kurdish folklore “Zambil forosh” that details a woman’s explicit sexual advances towards a good looking married man. Does this folklore poem represent Kurdish Women’s sexual freedom?
What is noticeable is that all these women were in power when Islam was practiced by the majority of the Kurds and thus the claim that Islam promoted gender inequality among the Kurds is not acceptable.
What is noticeable, also, is that with no exception, all these women were either born to a prominent family or married one. Thus Kurdish men did not consider this disgraceful to obey such women. Would the men feel the same way if the woman they follow didn’t belong to a conspicuous family?
“When Kurdish men marry a Western woman, someone who has had sex from the adolescence, they aren’t ashamed of her. In fact, they praise and value her courage and liberty,” observes Kaziwa Salih, the Kurdish poet and writer. “Yet, when the same man sees a Kurdish woman in love, they look down upon her and consider her a ‘bad woman’ simply for having loved a man back. Even when the ‘bad’ woman is their own lover, they lose respect for her. What kind of double-standard is that?”
F. Karahan, the Kurdish feminist writer, a pioneer of Kurdish Feminist movement in Turkey and publisher of the bi-monthly feminist magazine of Roza, believes that Kurdish women are respected as wives and mothers but never as independent individuals.
Yilmaz Guney, the prize-winning director of “Yol” and other movies, portrays a woman being locked-up like an animal and then surrounded to the husband to be killed because the relatives are suspicious of her having had an affair while the husband was imprisoned.
Which mirrors the reality of the Kurdish Women’s life? The influential women or the abused ones?
In the first World Kurdish Conference in Netherland, in October 2011, Soheila Ghaderi-Mamlah, a Kurdish scholar residing in France, read her article on the situation of the Kurdish women which was, in fact, a criticism of inequality. Pary Gharadakhi, a human-right activist residing in US, was chairing the session and said that Kurdish women enjoy more freedom than their neighbors: Fars, Turks and Arabs. Many Kurdish nationalists make similar arguments: Kurdish women don’t have to cover their hair, can put on colorful dress and dance hand in hand with men.
Throughout history, Kurdish men have been successful to climb the social ladders when they have been able to prove their qualifications while the Kurdish women depend on the influential fathers of husbands to become worthy of respect.
The reality is that Kurdish women in these day and age, at these very moment that you and I are reading history and reflecting on realities, are being circumcised (an unchangeable condition), are beaten by their brothers, husband and fathers who wholeheartedly believe they own the woman and some are killed in the name of honor.
In the Eastern Kurdistan, where Islamic Republic’s rules further strengthens patriarchy, frustrated, uneducated and powerless women’s only way out of suffrage, their only way to protest to injustice is self-burning. Kurdpa News agency recently published the latest data that proves 36.7% of the attempted suicides by women end in death; 30% of the victims are under the age 20.
The Kurdistan Regional Government has taken steps to stop such acts. Studies are done, shelters are made, organizations are founded and funded, yet many women in Southern Kurdistan are too scared to even report abuse. Women in other parts of Kurdistan are unaware that they can get a shelter in Southern Kurdistan and that is an option, if they have the strength, the money and the passport to cross the borders.
Regardless of where our culture got contaminated, giving women their right is a process of unlearning. The paralyzing views of women that are now deeply produced and reproduced in our culture and language should be rejected for the women to be accepted as a human being.
While we strive to stop physical abuse, we should not forget the many emotional forms of abuse that are normalized, that a concept called “rape within marriage” does exist, and that women are human and thus have the right to fully control their own bodies as much as men do. That the men’s honour should not depend on women’s bodies.
Every traveller to the Southern Kurdistan is astonished by the safety in the region and the honesty they see there: from the cab drivers, to business owners. Kurds are among the extraordinary honest people but does the uncivilized treatment of half of the population (only because of the biological differences) prove Kurds have lost their morality? Is it a result of lack of education among a nation constantly massacred and rendered homeless?
Whatever the cause(s) is, does is justify the inhumane actions taken against women?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rape in Iranian Prisons


Azar Alkana has come to terms with all the other torture and pain she endured in an Iranian jail. But recovering from the experience of being raped by a guard at the prison, where she was condemned because of her husband’s membership in a Kurdish rebel groups, has been impossible.
“I am over all the other forms of torture and the pain my little daughter went through in those years,” Alkana, who spoke under the pseudonym Nina Aghdam, said to Iranian documentary filmmaker Reza Alallamehzade.
“But the psychological breakdown that rape causes is incomparable and irrecoverable,” she said.
Human rights organizations have recently expressed alarm about the rise of sexual assault on women prisoners in Iranian jails.
According to the Kurdpa News agency, university student Hananeh Farhadi committed suicide after spending two months in an Iranian intelligence agency prison.  Her family was warned by authorities not to publicise her case.
Shadieh Basami, 23, from Bisaran village, in Sanandaj province, set herself on fire after being raped by a soldier from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, she told Kurdpa.
Sorour, who uses a pseudonym, is a Kurdish woman from Mahabad who told an Iranian Human Rights Documentation Center that she was arrested for her membership in the Kurdish dissident group Komala, and that she was sexually assaulted in a Tabriz prison. 
“After swearing by my ethnicity, the Iranian guard raped me using a bottle,” she says. “The physical injury was eventually healed but the psychological one never did.” 
Sorour says that for months following her release she contemplated suicide. “I tremble every time I remember that incident.”
Minoo Homily, from Sanandaj, was imprisoned in 1982 at the age of 17, for her communist beliefs. In Isfahan, where she was later transferred, she says she was sexually assaulted by a male guard while her female warden was away for a few minutes. 
Homily, an outspoken activist who now lives in Toronto, believes that recovering from the psychological harm was lengthy and difficult and that the pain worsened when her ex-husband started to abuse her for her experience in prison.
“He would say that I was touched by the Revolutionary Guards and therefore have no value as a human being,” she recalled. 
Homily says her reason for talking about her experience is to encourage other female prisoners to speak up.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told his country’s state-funded Press TV, after foreign media reported increasing sexual assaults in Iranian prisons, that rape or torture of political prisoners in Iranian prisons is carried out by “enemy” agents, not the government. 
Iran's conservative parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, said following a “comprehensive inquiry” that "no cases of rape or sexual abuse" had been found in the prisons.
Kaziwa Salih, a United Nations human rights volunteer and researcher on women prisoners based in Toronto, says that the situation of Kurdish women in Iranian prisons is often politicized and that people should be more sympathetic to the victims.
“Kurds should liberate themselves from this trap by becoming more understanding and supportive of the victims of rape,” Salih told Rudaw.
Salih says that Kurdish women suppress their rape stories in order to preserve their family honor.
“Kurdish women, unlike women of Rwanda, Cambodia and other target groups of genocide, do not admit to the sexual invasion they have suffered. They feel obliged to preserve the family honor,” she added.
A victim of rape in an Iranian prison who did not want to be identified, toldRudaw that fear is a major factor behind many women’s silence. 
“It’s hard enough to live with this shame forever,” she said. “But if we mention it in public, we might even get killed by radical members of the family.”
Golaleh Kamangar, a Kurdish activist in Norway, says that in a conservative society where a family’s name and honor is often tied to women, former female prisoners committing suicide is inevitable.
“In a strictly patriarchal culture, that every aspect of a woman’s life is directly related to ‘honour,’ victims of rape find themselves in a conundrum,” she says. 
Kamangar says that “victims of rape are not criminals,” and that people need to understand this. . 
“For as long as victims of rape terminate their lives, the oppressive regime will continue to use sexual harassment as a powerful tool against the dissidents,” says Kamangar.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Book about Sharafkandi Murder Remarkably Ignores the Kurds


Author Roya Hakakian has achieved a remarkable feat: She has written a book about the 1992 assassination of Kurdish leader Sadegh Sharafkandi at a Berlin restaurant, and the four-year trial that followed, without ever really acknowledging the Kurds as a people.
Except the inevitable assassination scene, Kurds are nearly wholly absent fromAssassins of the Turquoise Palace, which otherwise offers a compelling read, with vivid imageries and masterful maneuvering among the different characters and perspectives.
In the 301-page hardback version, what is written about the Kurds barely constitutes three pages, skipping over the identity, painful history and struggle of a scattered people who number an estimated 30 million, and are the world’s largest state-less ethnicity.
The brazen murder of Sharafkandi and his two deputies at Berlin’s Mykonosrestaurant on September 17, 1992, shocked Kurds around the world and made international headlines. 
Sharafkandi was the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, fighting for greater rights for Iran’s oppressed Kurds.
In an April 1997 ruling, after naming the principal perpetrators and accessories, the German court issued an international arrest warrant for Iranian intelligence minister Ali Fallahian, declaring that the assassinations had been ordered by him, with knowledge of Iran’s top leadership, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Hakakian, an Iranian-born poet, journalist and author who is based in the United States, writes in such detail that the reader even knows the dreams of Sara Dehkordi, the daughter of a non-Kurd victim.  The detail permeates even to the Iranian dish cooked by Parviz Dastmalchi, a survivor.
And yet, no Kurd is heard in court, even as a witness during the four years of trial that presented more than 300 testimonies.
What little information about the Kurds is contained in the book, which was named a New York Times notable book for 2011, is inaccurate and insolently trivializes the Kurdish cause.
Hakakian calls the Kurds, “only a minority of four millions,” threatening Iranian rule over a total population of more than 60 million. “Compared to the Kurds elsewhere, Iranian Kurds had always led far better lives,” Hakakian writes.   She informs of “an ancient history of camaraderie among the Iranians and the Kurds!” 
Is this the extent of this eminent writer and journalist’s knowledge of the Kurds?  Years of  systematic oppression against the Kurds is denied, and it is claimed that a brotherhood has existed among Kurds and Persians.
German officer Bruno Jost rightfully wonders why on earth Tehran wages war on such an insignificant minority that Iranians have been friendly to. Hakakian’s brilliant answer:  “Since the Gulf War, the Kurds were no longer alone. They were a minority backed by America whose influence threatened to deepen and spread among the neighboring Kurds.”
That is how Hakakian reductively recounts the painful history of the Kurds.
Based on the book, Sharafkandi and his deputies have no one to file a complaint on their behalf against the assassins.   Sharafkandi is referred to as this “unpopular, uncharismatic Kurd” who  – in the few sentences he utters throughout the book – says that Kurds are more Iranian than the rest of  Iran.
Jalal Talabani, one of the first witnesses and a prominent Kurdish leader, is the one who revealed Tehran’s hand in the assassinations at the primary stages of the case. Yet, he only takes up a paragraph of the book, and is ignored until the end, when he is quoted as a major contributor to the case.  The reader never learns who Talabani is, that for decades he has been a towering figure of the Kurdish struggle.
When, after four years, the trial judge finally admits “the plight of the Kurds,” nothing but that brief phrase is reported or explained.  The reader, who earlier in the book is informed about the existing amity between Kurd and Iranian, is left wondering which “plight” the judge is referring to.
The Kurds, thankfully, appear at Sharafkandi’s funeral. But there, they behave in a way that no Kurd would recognize. They freak out everyone, especially the guards, by suddenly and spontaneously breaking out into a “Halparke”  folk dance, while singing "Ay Raqib." 
How many Kurds dance when singing their national anthem?

Friday, April 5, 2013

My Post for PEN Canada Blog


Exiled, Guilty, and Hopeful

Exiled, Guilty, and Hopeful
By  | March 21, 2013 at 11:18 am | No comments | Blog | Tags: 
Nostalgia is a feeling experienced by most, but perhaps most acutely by those for whom a return to another place is impeded by more than just time. Such is the case for PEN Canada Writer-in-Exile Ava Homa. Writing from Toronto in the following piece, Homa confronts her “Exile’s Guilt” at being a world away from her family in Kurdistan.

The past is another country . . .

Ava Homa
It’s Norouz again, the first day of spring, a day I have celebrated my whole life as the beginning of a new year. This year again, like the past five years, I have no family to spend the new year with, so I go to a restaurant to be surrounded by people, to ignore the loneliness. An email from my brother in Kurdistan, Iran pops into my mailbox, short videos of my family wishing me a happy Norouz. Despite a large grin that stretches to my ears and despite the crowd, tears stream down  my face. They still love me, even though I have been absent from the celebrations for half a decade. The crisscrossing tears remind me that oblivious to my struggle to suppress them, the pain of missing loved ones, the fear of not seeing them again, powerfully rule my heart. My father’s hair wasn’t so grey when I left; the wrinkles on my mother’s face weren’t there either; grandfather was alive, grandmother didn’t need a wheelchair. What if I lose these people without even being able to say goodbye?
My aunt tells me “Prices used to soar each day, now they soar by the hour,” ; my brother says “People are hungry and angry.”
Then my sister-in-law sends a message. I feel embarrassed again for missing my brother’s wedding. While he was celebrating his best day, I could do nothing but weep for hours. Raised in a collective culture, my aunts, uncles and cousins are as much family to me as are my parents and siblings. That kid waving at the camera and saying “Happy new year, Ava!” was an embryo when I left. My cousin, an adolescent now, has grown so tall and changed so much that I wouldn’t recognize him if I ran into him on the street. How much life am I missing out on?
The impossibility of returning exacerbates the pain. Isn’t that an irony? I ran away to save my life but my loved ones remain in hell and I can’t do anything for them. I used to hope some of them would visit me in Canada. That was when Canada still had an embassy in Iran and travelling to North America, although not easily affordable, wasn’t impossible either. One Canadian dollar used to be worth 10,000 rials; now it’s 40,000 rials. “Prices used to soar each day, now they soar by the hour,” my aunt says. A kilo of rice that used to cost $5 now costs $50 and that’s only if you can find some. The $7 diaper for my grandmother now costs $27. The recent sanctions have made vital medications unavailable. Some days my aunt, a schoolteacher for twenty years, can’t pay the bus fare and walks home, for an hour and a half, at the end of a working day. “People are hungry and angry,” says my brother.
I suffer Exile’s Guilt. The term probably doesn’t exist yet but I’m sure you know what I mean.  Farzad Kamangar, the Kurdish teacher who was executed for secretly teaching his students to read and write in their mother tongue. The government of Iran killed him on Mother’s Day. Muhammad Seddiq Kaboudvand, the imprisoned Kurdish journalist was not allowed to visit his young son for six years, a son who suffers from cancer. Is there something I can do now that I am away?
In Canada nobody forbids me from speaking, but how many listen? I am told my stories are disturbing
I am grateful to Canada. I am. What I have here does not compare to what I had back there: a home that wasn’t home, my mother tongue humiliated and rendered useless, my gender and ethnicity condemned. My identity was unglamorous, unsophisticated, the opposite of everything good and acceptable.
In Canada nobody forbids me from speaking, but how many listen? I am told my stories are disturbing. “The mood of despair is overwhelming,” said the publisher who just turned down my manuscript. I wanted to tell him how much I had balanced the real despair of my people with a made-up happiness. The icing and sugar of the story does not exist in Kurdistan, which is why I call the manuscript fiction. I have not even written about the genocide, or the birth defects that children of those who survived the chemical attacks suffer from to this day.
So, here I am. Celebrating new year in the snow. I know I should be happy for having saved myself. I know I probably should not feel like I betrayed my family by leaving them behind. After all, staying there would not help anyone.
Last Saturday, I hosted the 25th Commemoration of Kurdish Genocide at the North York Civic centre. Today, I talked to 40 students at George Brown College in Toronto about the suffering of the Kurds. Next month, my story about Farzad Kamangar will be published in the UK by Novel Rights, with a petition to save Kaboudvand attached to it. Maybe tomorrow, one tomorrow, not too far away, Kurdistan will be free, just like Canada.
Ava Homa is the author of Echoes from the Other Land, which was nominated for the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and placed 6th in the CBC Reader’s Choice Contest for the Giller Prize. Her work has appeared in The Toronto QuarterlyWindsor Review, the Toronto Star and Rabble. Ava teaches Creative Writing and English at George Brown College in Toronto.