Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Voice of Kurdish American Radio Interviews Soraya Fallah on the 1st Middle Eastern Women’s Conference held in Turkey

Voice oKurdish American Radio Interviews Renowned Human Rights researcher and Activist, recipient of several human rights awards such as the United Nations-USA Global Citizen’s Award, Mrs. Soraya Fallah on her return from the 1st Middle Eastern Women’s Conference held in Diyarbakir (Amed).


Q1: Mrs. Fallah, welcome back. Some of our listeners/readers are not familiar with the conference you attended in Diyarbakir (Amed) Turkey; please give us a brief overview and report.

Soraya: Thank you for having me here.

On May 31st to June 3rd, 2013 The First Middle Eastern Women’s Conference was held by DÖKH (Democratic Free Women Movement) in Diyarbakir (Amed) and was attended by nearly 250 women from 27 states and non-state nations primarily from the Middle East, North Africa and some observers from South Asia.  

1stmec_amed_turkey_052013_1stday_sl01.jpgWe all gathered in Diyarbakir (Amed) under the slogan Women, Life, Freedom, (in Kurdish: Jin, Jyan, Azadi) to mobilize the blooming women’s democratic movements in the region and to strengthen the existing organizations already working tirelessly towards equality. We held various educational discussions concerning the common struggles facing women in the Middle East.
We exchanged constructive ideas regarding ways to strengthen the current women’s resistance movements within local communities. We established relationships across states to form larger regional collaborations that might help create resistance movements encompassing the entire Middle East. 

The conference was dedicated to the three women Kurdish activists and politicians Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Saylemez who were assassinated in Paris in January 2013.
Q 2-VOKRadion: Who attended this conference?  

Women who attended this conference were politicians, academics, and activists. They were mostly representatives of political parties, national organizations, women’s organizations, civil society organizations, and journalists from regions and countries such as Afghanistn, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, all Kurdish regions (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and diaspora) , Libya, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, and Yemen,  

Q 3-VOKRadion : Twenty-seven states and non-state nations were represented, which means many languages were spoken. Did you and other attendees have access to interpreters and translations of written work? How difficult was communication?

The conference speeches were translated by professional and semi-professional translators/interpreters for English Kurdish languages such as Kurmanji and Sorani as well as Arabic and Turkish.  All others used English. 

1stmec_amed_turkey_052013_1stdaysoraya_layla.jpgQ 4-VOKRadion Some very prominent figures were present at or invited to this conference. Could you talk to us a bit about these women?

Many great renowned women were in attendance. I was honored to meet them and have an opportunity to share this conference with them.

I think most women in attendance were prominent and experts in their fields and it would take a long time for me to name them all but I will mention a few such as:
Layla Zana, Kurdish politician, parliamentarian, and several times noble peace prize nominee and recipient of several major awards was present at this conference. 
Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureates, was invited to this conference as well. She was not able to attend due to another conference in Brussels, but sent a message of solidarity. I was honored to deliver the message on her behalf on Sunday June 2nd. She recognized the conference as progress and wrote eloquently on the importance of human rights 
 and democracy.  Layla Khaled, member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the representative of the Palestine delegation at the conference as well as one of the keynote speakers of the conference was also in attendance. Gültan Kışanak, co-chair of BDP who had a major role in running the conference and did a wonderful job. Shadi Sadr, lawyer recipient of Dutch human rights prize, the Human Rights Defenders Tulip, Susan Tahmasebi, recipient of _1stmec_amed_turkey_052013_1stday23.jpgHuman Rights Watch and one of the founders of One Million Signature Campaign 
Sabahat Tuncel (BDP Istanbul MP, HDK People's Democratic Congress spokeswoman, DÖKH activist) Doreya Awny author and activist from Egypt  Erin Kaskan world-renowned lawyer who has prosecuted hundreds of cases in Turkey and the European Human Rights court.  Malalai Joya former politician from Afghanistan 
Dr. Vian Haji general secretary of Kurdistan Women union in KRG from Kurdistan of Iraq. Amina Zikrimember of Kurdistan parliament, and many others.
Q 5-VOKRadio: How was Kurdish women attendance?

1stmec_amed_turkey_052013_1stdaygultan02.jpgKurdish women were a big part of the conference. Many active Kurdish women attended independently or as representatives of organizations and political parties.
From Kurdistan of Turkey there were many members of DOKH. Aditionally, Aysel Tuğluk (DTK), Ayse Gokkan, Ozlem Yasak along with others were present.
Despite the current situation in Syria, women such as Veli Botin attended on behalf of the People's Assembly as a speaker.
From the Kurdish region in Iraq, Emine Zikri, Dr. Vian Haji Suleman, Necibe Qeredaxi, Ewar Ibrahim Husen, Jiyan Yasin Rahman, Houzan Mahmoud, Pervin Aslan, Ronak Ali Houseen, and others attended.
Unfortunately, due to security reasons, Kurdish women from within Iran were not able to attend. The Kurdish women from Iran who were in attendance are currently living in diaspora. Those who attended were Negin Sheikholeslami, Shiler Amini, and myself.
I believe next year the attendance of Kurdish women from Iran should be higher.
Finally, the Kurdish Women Study Foundation (Navand) based in Europe sent their solidarity message.
There are so many prominent and politically active women from different political parties, NGO's, and scholarly fields who should be invited next year.

 Q 6-VOKRadio: Due  to the political situation in Iran, many of our readers/listeners are very interested in learning about the current conditions of Iranian women. We have heard that some women in attendance came from Iran. Is that the case?

ahoo-susan.gifYes, there was an Iranian delegation made up of women from inside of Iran and the diaspora. They made up roughly the largest single nation delegation and had some interesting contributions. 
Some well-known figures of the Iranian delegation were: 
Ssussan Tahmasebi, Shadi Amin, Shadi Sadr, Firoozeh Mohajer, Shahla Eezazi, Mino Moalem, Ahoo Ahoo Salem 
As mentioned in response to a previous question, due to security reasons Kurdish women from within Iran were not able to attend the conference.

Q 7-VOKRadion: What were the topics discussed in the conference?
malaly_joya-afganistan.jpgThere were several days of back-to-back sessions covering various topics from history to more effective forms of activism. Each session included expert speakers and question and answer sections. The first day of the conference was on the Construction of Social History and Social Sexism based on Women in Middle East.
Some of the topics discussed were:

-Women history in Middle East

-Construction of sexism in the Middle East

-The process of colonization and nationalism in the Middle East
- Oppressive systems of power and political Islamic approach to women

The second and third day were called “Experience Sharing” where the main idea was that women are the owners of different cultures, beliefs, and experiences and can fight against the problems stemming from a patriarchal mindset.

The role of Women’s Movements Experience and Recent political changes in the Middle East were the main focus of discussion. 
Academics and activists spoke and shared their expertise on various topics related to:

- The role of women in the process of revolution resistance in the Middle East and their quest for freedom

- Political structures during changing process against women rights and women struggle against the structures

- Middle East women’s rights, civil, political expression in public life, participation in decision-making and the issues of representation

Some other topics of note were:

- Stoning to death in the Middle East, parenting rights, polygamy, circumcision, home confinement, child marriages - The neo-liberal policies of capitalist modernity against women
- Common Problems of Women’s Movements Battle in the Middle East and solutions

Women’s geographic and social similarities with

- Common organization models

- Structural problems (alienation, miscommunication, and so on)

- Building and Strengthening women struggle and solidarity development ties

- Discussing How should a democratic society model based on women can be created

On Sunday the last panel was "Common Problems Faced by Women's Movement Struggles in the Middle East and Possible Solutions".

‏Another topic that was discussed was the recognition of sexual minorties and Sexual orientation and adding the need for protecting these rights. This topic was brought to light with the help of Shadi Amin who is an LGBT activist and advocate. She was able to effect the attendees and help add sexual minority rights to the final declaration for first time in Middle East conferece. This helps to ensure the human rights of women and sexual minorities in the Middle East in future.

I can say that more than 80 participants had a chance to speak on behalf of either their delegates or themselves and deliberated on these topics. And 30 others talked during questions and answer. Women talked about their experiences and their struggles. Overall this was a very interactive conference and the majority of the attendees stayed engaged throughout the conference with a high turn out every session. The organizers were great at keeping everyone informed regarding the schedule. 

Q 8-VOKRadion: Can you tell us a bit about the first day of the conference and any highlights of the discussions that took place?

laylakhaled_2.jpgThe opening ceremony remarks were given by BDP Co-Chairwoman Gültan Kışanak and DTK Co-Chairman Aysel Tugluk. They talked about the conference aim of creating a common basis for discussion in a system respectful of our rights, our color, and our identity as women, a conference where we can get to know each other and share our experiences and knowledge.

First day of the conference was a full day of meet and greet and welcome messages from the various conference committees and the representatives of organizations participating in the conference.

The highlight of the day was a debate between Layla Zana andLayla Khaled, both very well known respected political women around the world.  
Layla Zana, Kurdish Politian and parliamentarian, spoke about equality and anti-discriminatory stances between women including within the context of Israel and Palestine. She spoke about the need for the inclusion of Israeli women alongside Palestinian women within the conference. (There were no delegations from Israel at the conference.)

In response, Layla Khaled, who is the member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the representative of the Palestine delegation at the conference, as well as one of the keynote speakers of the conference disagreed. For the Palestinian delegation the most important issue was statehood and determination of their borders.
The organizer’s allowed Leyla Khaled time to give her opinion and reiterated the rights of Palestine in the region. 

Q 9-VOKRadion: You mentioned that the conference did not have any Israel delegation, but were there any  Jewish Women in attendance? Where they invited?

Unfortunately an Israeli delegation was not in attendance. From the discussions the Palestinian and some of the Egyptian women would boycott the conference if they were to be invited. One of the members of the organizing committee said that they had invited one woman from Israel but she could not attend. 
In my opinion it is very important to have a representative from all the Middle Eastern nations and non-state people. Since we claim that this is non-governmental non-discriminatory conference for women in the Middle East it is important to be inclusive and promote peace in the region.  

Q 10-VOKRadio: What was your topic? What did you talk about and how was the audience’s reaction?
soraya_mec.jpgMy topic was originally on “Kurdish Women, Political and Civil Participation and the Arab Awaking,” but I soon realized that in the interest of time (I only had 10 minutes) I should cut it down to “Kurdish Women from Iran and Their Political Participation.” This was a topic that the other women had not covered yet. I did not want to talk about disasters, neither the violence, nor the victimization of women and so on. Due to the fact that the women from Kurdistan of Iran were very few I felt that I could best serve my audience by providing a perspective not otherwise given by others. In my short speech I pointed that Kurdish women have always been a significant part of the participant in politics through resistance. The growing population of women in political parties proves their involvement. Whether these women’s motivation is to fight patriarchy or political oppression, they are aware that their participation in political activities empowers them. My talk was an in depth analysis.
(You can read a transcript of Ms. Fallah's  speech on vokradio.com)
layal_khaled.jpgQ 11-VOKRadion : We heard that you were part of the resolution committee. Would you please explain the process of the Final resolution, what did it entail?

At the end of the second day, members of the final declaration and conference resolution were chosen and time was set up for Sunday to write this up. 
From each delegation one or two members were chosen to partake in the final declaration commission.  Each members of the delegation were tasked with writing their ideas and suggestions to be written in the final declaration. 
The language of the draft was deeply divisive. Various groups and delegations had opposing opinions.

It is very clear that for particularly Palestinian and Kurdish nationalist movements, the issue of national rights takes precedent over women’s rights.  This was reflected in the language of the drafts so we had to work on many revisions. Whether to include statehood for Kurds and Palestine became an argument in the final declaration commission, which took more than 9 hours for the 17 members to write up and a few more hours for the rest of the participants on the floor to vote on.

Q 12-VOKRadion : What were your suggestions for the final declaration ?

My emphasis was on human rights. I encouraged the members of the commission to use non-political terms and to avoid the use of language such as Imperialism and Zionism.

My suggestions were:

-Urge the governments of the Middle Eastern nations to sign and implement The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (which has not been signed by some states including Iran)

-Urge these governments to regard sexual orientation and avoid abuses against them.
-Taking action to urge the governments to make a better economical situation, work, and clean water for women in rural areas
-Avoid human rights abuses against ethnic, nation, and religious minorities 
-Abolish capital punishment such as death penalty, stoning, and other forms of state organized violence
-Freedom of all women political prisoners in all Middle East 
All women agreed on putting pressure on their respective governments to increase number of women in political positions and decision-making processes. 
Q 13-VOKRadion: Can you read us final Declaration of the the 1st Middle Eastern Women Conference?

The Final Declaration that aims joint struggle and international solidarity among the women from the Middle East, North Africa and Arab Countries has an historical importance in terms of its function for being a road map for the upcoming years.
We are the 250 women from 26 countries who are in opposition to repression, colonialist regimes, occupations, neo-liberal politics and racism came together and shared our experiences with the occasion of the 1st Middle East Women's Conference between 31 May - 2 June 2013 in Amed.  We have discussed recent political developments as well as women's struggle for equity and freedom.

As the conference delegation we thanks to Democratic Free Women Movement for bring us together. We salute the Union of Free Women of Kurdistan which provides opportunity for revolutionary change for the freedom struggle of Women. We perceive this conference as a result of Kurdish Women' struggle. 
We are going through a historic and important process. The Middle East and North Africa are living a conversion and restructuring process. This critical process means an opportunity and risk as well as for women. We believe that organized and effectual participation to the conversion and restructuring process lay a historical burden on women for our freedom. Therefore, we think that this conference should serve to the involving mechanisms in order to attend to this critic and historic process. We as participants of the conference, we declare that similar summits will be traditional and we will follow up the conference decisions and its aims.
Therefore as decisions of the conference;

- We are going to constitute a communication network that covers all the participators of the conference.
- We are going to constitute a coordination group by women in order to providing opportunity for stronger co-operation, communication among the delegates and political solidarity until the second conference.
- We are going to build up a monitoring group for women in the refugee camps who escape from the war in Syria.

The changing in the Middle East and the North Africa affects Women too. Women are actively involved to the struggle. However, while new powers becomes the government, women's' rights have been restricted, violence on women and rape are continuing, excluded from decision making mechanisms and public field in order to confine the women to houses by the cooperation with the male-dominant system.
Our historical conscious and experiences shows that; fundamentalism is one of the basic threats against women's' freedom. Our basic struggle point is converting the evolution to the revolution by rising the struggle against fundamentalism that refuses and denies woman. Any ideology, religion and belief cannot be used as a pressure against women. Women cannot be discriminated due to their life style or dressing.Therefore, they shouldn't incapacitated from their social, political, education and working rights.

We as women announce the struggle against rape, stone to death, female circumcision, woman killings and violence against women by the male and the state; neo-liberal politics that causes flexible and unsecured working to women.
We remarks that we will realize joint activities in order to struggle against inhuman implementations, tortures and execution of women.

We underline our opposition to all forms of discrimination based on ethnic, ideological, religious belief, sexual identity and sexual orientation. We should also defend the rights of non-religious people.  We are saying that every people have right to protect their mother tongue and education and living in mother tongue are also women's' demand.   

We are refuses every kind of occupation and external interventions and believe that national-social struggle and struggle for women's' right are inseparable.

We refuse the unitary nation-state model and suggest the democratic pluralist people model. We take in consider peoples' sisterhood against to the imperialist politics. Rising the struggle against to the fascism and every kind of dictatorship is our principal attitude.

We express that all the participant women who represents the conference delegation from different countries will continue to struggle for political, judicial and democratic fields until freedom of all the women political prisoners. We call the governments to release all the women political prisoners.

The January 9 Doğan and which is the date of assassination of three Kurdish Women politicians, Sakine Cansız, Fidan Leyşa Şaylemez; We declare that the January 9 will be the joint activity day among the conference representatives' regions against political murders.

We, women, reckon that, without ensuring the equal representation of women, a real peace-building process is impossible. In this respect, we invite all the women to raise the struggle to ensure the women representation in the peace talks. We support the peace talks and negotiations between Kurdish People's Leader Mr. Abdullah Öcalan and the government of Turkey. We demand freedom of Mr. Abdullah Öcalan and declare that we will make an effort for a result which covers the Kurdish People's freedom demands from this negotiations.

We support the ongoing freedom and concession struggle in Kurdistan that colonized by the 4 states in the early part of 20. Century.

We the women, perceive Kurdish and Palestinian Peoples' freedom issue as the basic two questions in the Middle East. We underline one more time that a deep-scaled peace can not be realize without the freedom of the two people.
We support all the peoples' freedom strugles in particularly Palestine and Kurdish Peoples. We remind one more time the right of self-determination.

We declare that, we support Palestinian People, right to coming back to the Palestinian refugees and their struggle against Zionism. We say that releasing is required for Kurdish woman arrestee, Zainab Jalalian, Tunusian woman activist who arrested due to her speech on "my body is mine", Palestinian leader Ahmat Saadat, Marwan Barguti and human rights defender from Bahrein, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja.

Regarding to the women rights and their freedom, we as the women that refuse political, ideological and ethnic oriented discriminative approaches. Express that we will struggle together according to the woman entity without discrimination on politic view and ideological approach. 
Therefore, we announce a joint and concurrent campaigns against the violence by the states and male in order to creating an awareness to the violence on women in public and special area in the Middle East and North Africa. We pay attention to 25th November as a symbolic date for women against discrimination and violence.

We will be in opposition to demolition of cultural history and save the damaged nature which fall into war and the occupation.

Our conference is a new political ground for women and promises hope to international struggle against tyrants, dictators and male-dominant system.
The sustainability and to strengthen the ground is up to us. We as women trust ourselves and say that the peace will come to these lands by the women.

Q 14-VOKRadion : What do you think was missing overall in this conference ?

It might sound ironic but I believe there was a gap and empty seat for Feminism in this women’s conference. In such a big landmark conference most of the women’s focus were on political matters. The phenomenon such as nationalism, statehood and even leftist terms such as Imperialism/Zionism were more focused on than women’s issues. Gender perspectives, even into the women’s experience exchange day (day 2&3), were weak.

The organizers were Kurdish women from Turkey who have as of late had a very optimistic experience with equal rights in the political arena. They are for the most part (as much as women can be treated equally in a patriarchal society) enjoying similar levels of participation in party politics and have same levels and ranks as their male counterparts. Their experience sharing and their final resolution did not reflect a feminist perspective. One very interesting aspect was in the final resolution paragraph. Not a single mention of a woman was made. They insisted that women should demand Mr. Abdullah Ocalan be released. It was not until a couple human rights activists from Iran suggested “Zainab Jalalian” that the name of a female political prisoner was added to the resolution.
(Zainab Jalalian’s condition and whereabouts is currently unknown. She has been on death row in an Iranian prison for several years and last anyone heard of her she had been severely tortured and mistreated.)

Some of the attendees even believed feminism is a western term. There were many debates taking place regarding politics in the Middle East but the main focus was unfortunately not on the needs of women, equality between men and women, patriarchy in society, men’s power over women

Q 15-VOKRadio: Diyarbakir is one the oldest cities in the Middle East. Did you and the other attendees have an opportunity to see this great city?
 1stmec_25.jpgYes, the participants were able to make a few short stops. 
On the first night we were invited to Kashan Koshk (Kashan Castle) where the famouse Kurdish singer Rojda sang along with her musical group.
The conference attendees visited a courthouse to observe the legal proceedings of several activists in Turkey.   Some conference attendees were able to go to Dersim to pay a visit to Sakineh Gansiz’s memorial.

Despite the conditions in Southeast Turkey (Kurdistan) some clear difference can be observed. People are voicing their dissent openly. For example on the tour of the city of Diyarbakir (Amed) we met a person who was wearing a pin with a photo of Mr. Abdullah Ocalan. I asked him if he is not afraid of getting arrested.  “Why should I be afraid? They should be afraid of me,” he responded.

A very interesting part of our tour to the city was a trip to the courthouse of Diyarbakir. A group of 100 of the conference attendees were taken as observers to a Turkish criminal court to the trial of 40 Kurdish women and men who had been arrested on charges of membership of parties such as the PKK or arrested individually under anti-state charges. They were allowed to speak Kurdish with the presence of an interpreter. This is a new development within Turkish judicial process. Up until 2012 Turkish was the only spoken language and Kurdish was banned but then a massive hunger strike lasting more than two months by Kurdish prisoners in Turkey led to some reform such as the right to speak Kurdish with the help of an interpreter. The prisoner or his/her family must hire (out of pocket) their own interpreters, which many cannot afford. 
I was very impressed with the proceedings. The defendants were very brave and spoke eloquently. 

Media outlets were present outside of the court. They spoke to many of the non Kurdish women. The conference attendees were all very supportive and demanded the release of all political prisoner’s in Turkey.

Q16-VOKRadio: Do you think the conference reached its objectives?

First let me review the objectives with you:

Originally the conference organizers set out to obtain a perspective of common stance based on political and social developments in the region from women’s viewpoint, effective struggle against racist nation-state structures, the hegemonic capitalist system,  problematic approaches  by religions and political Islam which are instrumentalised by tyrannical powers, find  a common democratic  organizational  struggle for women’s liberation, and create a common ground for discussion, acquaintance and sharing of mutual experiences in the current process of regional reshaping, with a view to take part in this newly emerging system as Middle Eastern women, with the rights, color, will and identity.
It is hard to say that the conference reached all of these objectives but I certainly think that certain points were reached, which is why we were able to agree on one mutual written resolution.

Q17-VOKRadio: to what extend did the media cover this conference?

Media outlets were present but not limited to traditional forms of media such as TV networks. The conference was highly technologically equipped, which allowed attendees to live broadcast, tweet or send their speeches across social media within minutes.
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