Kurdish Women: A story Of Struggle And Inspiration

Asenath Barzani 1590-1670

Regina Jonas
Regina Jonas

It is proven that she was the first Jewish female Rabbi in the world thereby effectively preceding Regina Jonas who was ordained as a Rabbi centuries later.

Asenath Barzani was famous in Kurdistan for her knowledge on Torah, Talmud, kabbalah and Jewish law which she studied through her father. She was nicknamed as Princess of Israel because she didn’t do any housework even after her marriage.

Her father married her off with a Rabbi who promised not to try to make her a housewife. Asenath became technically the leader of the local Yeshiva, the religious school whose students become Rabbis. Yet, for the sake of appearance, the official Asant Yeshiva headmaster was her husband. That being said, Asenath Barzani should be considered as the first female Rabbi in the Jewish history.

Lady Adela 1847-1913

She came from the city of Sanandaj of the Iranian Kurdistan. She was the wife of the governor of the district of Shahizar. Lady Adela 02Lady Adela was responsible for a great deal of developments in the area of Halabja.

She oversaw the establishment of new buildings and palaces which were constructed in the characteristic Persian style that she introduced into the area. Moreover, she built an entire market, which was named after her and is said to have opened the eyes of Jewish merchants. Due to the almost constant absence of her husband, as he was travelling a lot, she took over his duties as a mayor. In this capacity, not only she built the first court of justice, but she also chaired it. Finally, she built a prison as well.

Lady Adela (center), ruler of Halabja, meeting with Major Soane in 1919.
Lady Adela (center), ruler of Halabja, meeting with Major Soane in 1919.

It is said that when her husband Osman Pasha was back, he was wasting his time smoking nargila while she was discussing the people’s problems. Lady Adela was technically governing the city and organizing its affairs. So, when her husband died in 1909, she formally took over governing the province.

Leila Bedirkhan

Leila Bedirkhan
Leila Bedirkhan

She is thought to be the first ballet dancer from the Middle East and accordingly the first Kurdish ballet dancer.

She was born in Istanbul in 1908, from a Swiss mother and a Kurdish father who was the Prince Abdul Razak Badirkhan. She moved with her mother to Switzerland and staged her first show in Paris on May 30, 1935 in Centre Marcelin Berthelot.

Leila incorporated suggestive dance into ballet thereby drawing wide attention. She had the chance to display her art in many countries like Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and Spain.lailabedrkhan01

Unfortunately, her art wasn’t popular to her traditional Kurdish folk which perceived it as outlaw art.

Ayshe Shan

Despite her father being one of the most famous singers, her family impeded her from cultivating her singing talent. In this context, Ayshe, like a lot of Kurdish women in her days, was forced to marry at an early age. Eventually, her marriage failed and after her divorce she decided to leave everything behind and move to Gaziantep where she put her talent to the test. She began singing in folk clubs and then worked in a radio for 3 years.

Ayshe ShanAyshe recorded Turkish songs but always wanted to sing in her mother tongue. So, her love and strong desire to sing in Kurdish pushed her to move to Istanbul where she made her first Kurdish cassette in 1960.

Ayshe Shan’s voice became the most beloved one in Kurdish radio broadcasts. A persistent theme of her songs relates to the suffering of Kurdish woman and love. It should not be omitted that Shan was the first Kurdish singer to be singing with men singers such as Mohammed Arif Jaziri.

Unfortunately, after the death of her only daughter, she deprived herself from singing until 1991. At that moment she decided to unleash a special album dedicated to the struggle of Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan during their revolution against Saddam Hussein.

Leyla Zana

Leyla Zana during her court

Born in May 1961 in the village of Sivan near Diyarbakir, Leyla Zana was forced to marry at the age of 14 with her cousin who was 35 years old. Leyla couldn’t read properly until she was twenty years old. When her husband went to jail for political reasons, she became a single mother for her two children.

Although her husband was considered to be one of the major Kurdish political figureheads in Turkish Kurdistan, he was treating her with the least respect possible. She later claimed that he was using her as a sexual tool. The combination of her own mistreatment and the ominous social situation of the Kurdish people pushed her to study and engage in political activities, thereby causing a massive change in personality.ooE-5r_D

In 1984, she officially inaugurated her political activity and on the 20th of October, just like today, of 1991 she won 45,000 votes in the Turkish parliamentary elections, which made her the first Kurdish woman in the Parliament. But her parliamentarian era was short-lived as she was put in jail straight after her constitutional oath. This happened because she defied the protocol and voiced her oath in Kurdish which was forbidden. What is more, during the performance of the department, who played in the Kurdish language, she said: “I swear, under this Constitution, brotherhood relations between the Kurds and the Turks”. Leyla Zana remained imprisoned between 1994 and 2004.

Dashni Murad

Dashni was born in 1986 in the city of Sulaymaniyah, and began working as a presenter in a TV program for young Kurds in the Netherlands called “No Control”.

She, then, released her first album in 2009 which was called “Hela Hopa” which was considered a qualitative change in the Kurdish pop music. Although, her singing and dancing style raised many objections across the Kurdish communities, it got very positive reaction by the modern generation. This album opened the doors of the modern art for the Kurdish girls and without restrictions.tumblr_msx1cjxQNP1sfa7bro1_1280

Dashni also founded an organization called “The Green Kids” which was the first organization concerning the situation of children in remote areas. She distributed more than 200 thousand books for them.

Unlike a lot of contemporary artists, Dashni never promoted cosmetics through her social media channels. She prefers to promote the beauty of Kurdistan’s nature and history.

Rehana, the Angel of Kobanî

Rihanna was studying law in Aleppo when she joined the women’s protection units (better known as YPJ) on the August 22, 2014.1414401272199_wps_1_Claims_famous_Kurdish_Pes

Rehana, with her magical smile, attracted the attention of many people after a Saudi blogger spread the rumor that she had died on the October 3, 2014. What made the attention even bigger was the news that not only she was still alive 10 days later, but that she had also actually killed 100 ISIS men. This news was tweeted 5.500 times. ISIS then published an image of a beheaded woman claiming it was Rehana, but her friends confirmed that the story was fake.

Rehana, with her unknown fate, and regardless of the validity of all the stories about her, became a symbol of resistance of Kobanî women, as she sparked the interest of the international media.