Love and War: Contemporary Kurdish Women Poets

‘A revolution incapable of liberating women is not a revolution,’ the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan has argued. Since Öcalan’s abduction and imprisonment by the Turkish authorities in 1999, the liberation struggle of the Kurds – the most populous nation in the world without a state of their own – has increasingly been led by women. Love and War brings together in English the work of forty-five contemporary Kurdish women poets, including Bejan Matur, Nazand Begikhani, Fadwa Kilani and Sîmîn Caycî. Some of these poets write in the Kurdish languages of Kurmandji and Sorani, others in Arabic, Turkish, Farsi or French. Five are Yazidis. Each has experienced persecution and war. Several have been imprisoned. Many now live in exile, others in Iraq, Turkey, Iran or Rojava. All write about the need to live in freedom and the right to live in peace. Feminist, radical and internationalist, the poets in Love and War draw on oral tradition and song to articulate and celebrate the lives of Kurdish women as daughters, mothers and fighters.

Cover image: Ronak Azeez, , في حضنك لا أخاف

Sample Poems

I don’t want flowers

I don’t want flowers
moments of union,
or dawns of separation.
I don’t want flowers
because I am the most beautiful of flowers.

I don’t want kisses
if to have them I have to
catch a prince
with a real dagger
no wedding day,
no dawns of divorce,
or twilight of widowhood.

I don’t want a kiss
If through love, I become a martyr.
I don’t want tears
on the coffin, where I am the corpse.

I don’t want a cherry tree planting by my grave
out of sympathy
no flowers nor kisses,
no tears or lamentation.
Bring nothing. Offer nothing.

I die, a homeland without a flag, without a voice.
I’m grateful.
I want nothing.
I will accept nothing.

Kajal Ahmad


Without a compass
Long ago we lost our women’s direction
We’ve gathered losses in ourselves
We’ve burnt it with our toiling hands
It’s a tornado which explodes beneath our skin

When the dawn becomes incandescent
What we kill by drinking poison
Is death
Don’t think we will die
We are here
With our revolt which is hidden in the earth
With the severity of secret lakes
And with our hair in forty tresses

We come from the stupefying valley
We are women from an incandescent time
We have woken up from a loss
We lean against the mountain
With many sunsets in our eyes
We are reborn

The laments stick to our bodies
And between the sounds of percussion
We have torn the winding-sheet
Our cage has been broken
We have dissolved the magic of death
We have purified
And with our assembled hearts
And our silver virgins
And with our doves
We came with our infinite cries

We are the women of the lunar time
We were born in the silver night
We haven’t forgotten the torment of massacres
And the wound of moonlight
We have lit a candle in the darkness

Loss faints in our hearts
We are reborn
With our ember faces

We have attenuated all the pain in our hearts
Our illuminated eyes brighten the darkness
We have left all distances in the arms of pain
We have understood our invisible chains
We have made a pact for the time of women

Sara Aktas

Woman Life Liberty

Women have become a symbol of life
Their hair is liberty’s banner
They have cried
‘I don’t want a life of modesty
And slavery’
Well done girls!
The children of the revolution and water
have become the leaders of the revolution
In a sunny country
A homeland become One as its aim
They shouted at the tops of their voices.

‘Woman Life Liberty’
Has become the world’s banner

Once more the sense of revolution
has given a soul to the street
The kiss of the wind dancing
on the girls’ fringes
in the smell of gunpowder and smoke
tight bands
of cries in the night
against the enemy of time
People hand in hand
All with one voice

‘Woman Life Liberty’
It’s become the world’s banner

The revolution coloured
In blood
will never stop
Thousands of magnificent audacious girls
have sacrificed their life for that
It’s how the tree of liberty
grows with blood
The day of vengeance is not far away
The reign of the enemy will disappear
A homeland become One through struggle
They have all shouted at the tops of their voices.

‘Woman Life Liberty’
has become the world’s banner.

Simin Cayci

I love you with half my heart

I love you with half my heart
With the other half I kiss the beautiful
	street children

I kiss you with half my lips
And with the other half I call the names of
	this town’s women

I flirt with you with half my body
And I carry toolbars with the other

I watch you with one eye
And I watch the mountains of our land
	with the other

I caress you with one hand
And I caress the wounds of the street with
	the other

Half my head is on your shoulders
And the other half is buried on the shoulders
	of the people.

Roonak Faradji

All the Village Came Together Here

Everybody came, the old folk the girls, the young men. It was
	like going out for a big picnic, a group picnic. The women
	brought food and drink so the family wouldn’t spend a lot
	of time arguing. As if they were at a wedding, the wore
	fine, fresh-smelling clothes for this great get-together
	when no one stayed at home but everybody came.

There were those who asked for her to be killed in public:
	‘Kill the bitch.’ Voices were raised

Everyone came together in the centre of the village, on the big

‘Kill her. She ruins our children’s minds, entices them to
	immorality. Her poems betray their minds and corrupt
	their thoughts.’

‘Don’t we have a way of defending our ideas other than
	killing? Why are we killing those who are different
	from us. It’s a different mentality, and another culture,
	we must listen to her and draw the lessons, not kill her.’

‘Why kill her, let her write, and when words put
	people’s lives in danger.’

‘Kick her out. Throw her out of the village. It won’t do any
	good to kill her. You’ll make her a symbol, and her obscene
	poems will gain an audience greater than before.’

‘He must kill her to prove he doesn’t think like her.’

Opinions diverge and the debate has gone on for a long time
	between those who want to kill her and those who want to
	expel him, between those who asked for a withdrawal and
	those who demanded his expulsion.

And as the scene was replayed, the other loses, the individual
	and the group gains.

The vote for her murder was above 80%.
	The others were against the decision to kill her,
	but in favour of her exile.

And as no one knows her family and because she had no
	relatives, no brother, father or cousin who could kill her,
	the village decided to choose ten men to get together
	to do it, one by one, and the one who gave the
	fatal blow would be called the village’s hero and
	he would be given a medal.

Before the first ten approached her... like a butterfly,
	Amira the poetess got up and flew away

She fled to the desert, the red desert which previously was
	green. Everyone has chased her, the ten men and the
	rest of the population. The old men the young,
	the children, the women and the men, all running across
	the desert

‘She’s a witch, a fairy... It’s the proof the proof. Kill her!’

‘She’s sacred... Don’t touch her.’

Opinions diverged again.

In front of everyone. Amira slowly undressed. She stood
	naked before the astonished faces, she sang her poems
	in a warm, touching tender voice as if a genie or a
	fairy were dictating her words or melodies.

‘Go girls... Forward, girls... O girls of freedom... Join me...
	Come and comb my hair... come and bathe here
	daughters of Aphrodite, Eve and Venus.

Suddenly savage nature was transformed into a paradise...
	a green paradise.

The sirens are there... the girls are
	totally naked... they swim in the water which springs
	from a magic place, secret and invisible, the earth on
	which they stand is transformed into a spring of
	clear water, suddenly filled with coloured roses

The men dropped their knives and their killing tools,

And heavy rains fell...

White, transparent rain...




The red washed... the red desert shone with colours and the
	green shone. The green grass, tender and the new dew-fall.
	A cosmic spring was created at that moment jets of
	water sprang forth here and there, embraced, exchanged
	kisses... and slept

The women swore, sighing with love, lying under the men,
	they saw the faces of Sultana and Rehana drawn in
	the sky, laughing.

Maha Hassan

No One Like Me

I have worked like a man in a factory
like a female farm worker in the fields
a building worker
milkmaid and shepherdess of a flock of
sheep a gardener in my father’s garden
caretaker of the paternal home during the war
a musician
and a silent participant in demonstrations
I have been everything
before becoming a migrant
Now, everything is available
for me here
except the fatherland
and the smell of my father
and mother.

Rogen Kedo

A Woman in the Revolution’s Flames

Listen to the odour of freedom
on the barrel of the gun
The revolution has broken out
has shone
and the country
has changed
into a single colour
We just
Zina’s voice!
It’s the dance in silken hands
it’s her
it’s vengeance’s cry!
This country
sings the song of freedom!

Is it a dream
or an autumn butterfly
which cuts injustice’s fingers?

The revolution’s flame arrives
and confronts this season.
We are going to break it,
the town’s silence

I am a creative girl
Whose eyes are open
full of imagination and freedom
and spread the flame of this revolution
Display it
In your hair

The North wind of freedom
and autumn’s smile
have made it rain
on the ears of corn
in the mountains
and on the villages of this country

Everyone hold the torch
Everyone get up

In autumn
the rose of spring
has flowered decorating
with red
the fatherland’s neck
so you can yourselves become citizens

So we are going to reach the flame of this revolution

Until the

Koestan Omarzedeh