Zerin: Rousseau says when we are born we are bound up in swaddling clothes, our corpse is nailed down in our coffins and all our life long we are imprisoned by our institutions or traditions. I can say that this totally applies to Kurdish women. Yet I believe that in any time or circumstances, people can gain their freedom as Buddha says, our source of being is our imaginations; through our imaginations we can build up our lives.

Kurdish women have faced so many miseries. Unlike those from developed countries, they have been tortured and suffered a lot. And we have so many brave women who could get rid of those miseries through acting bravely. A good example could be my grandma. My grandma was a really brave woman. Wait, let me tell you the date, she might have been born around 1875. She was very young when her dad died and her mother got married again. She had two brothers and two sisters, for whom she was both father and mother. Because she was a smart lady, my grandpa wanted her to marry him and asked for her hand.

Before they got married, my grandpa had another wife. When my grandma came to live with them, she saw that all of their children were sleeping in one blanket and my grandpa slept in his own coat. But my grandma was very smart. When she saw the way they lived, because they had sheep, farms, and a prosperous life, she could get the wool and make bed stuff. She planted many things with her own hands and took care of them and then harvested or collected them by herself. Then, around 1914, it was 1914, wasn’t it, the Russians came and occupied here. My grandpa and one of his brothers got killed. At the time, my grandma had two children and was young. But with all her bravery she could take care of her children and bring them up. Then plague came and there was hunger. During those years of famine, she could save herself and her relatives from this hunger. She collected oak nuts, wild pears and so on, then dried them, as they did not have wheat, she ground them and made flour out of it so as to save her people and children from that hunger.

Afterwards, she became a therapist, too. When she was not working, she would guide people what to do in their daily work, planting trees and so on.

Interviewer: You mentioned guiding people, how did she do that?

She guided them in work, planting and so on. She taught her grandchildren how to make carpets and rugs because she was skillful at embroidery. Then she became a traditional therapist. She made medicine from herbs and treated many people’s burns, spots, lumps and so on. I remember that she always asked us to collect herbs for her. She recognized these herbs. She would name the herb and ask us to get it, either she ground it or extracted oil from it and used it as an ointment.

Interviewer: What else? Your grandma, how do you think that she contributed in educating those people, and what happened to her afterwards?

Zerin: She reached 100 years of age, her eyesight was as good as ours, and she was not disabled or so, she was also very religious. She fasted even when she was at her 100 years of age. She fasted and did her prayers. She gave her children advice. She used to buy lands and distribute them among her grandchildren, especially before her death. She also gave people lands particularly those who needed them.

Interviewer: Could you tell us how she took men’s positions, by working?

Zerin: She was more than just a man, I’m afraid. She also liked spring. Whenever spring came and we were kids, we would become very excited to collect flowers and show them to her. She would kiss those flowers and laugh a lot, she became excited when spring would come.

Interviewer: Do you think that you remember any thing about spring, like getting back something for her?

Zerin: We would go out on purpose, just to get stuff for her. She liked plants and grass, every time she would tell us ‘whatever thing is green, try to bring it in’, in Kurdish it is rhymed too, she was such an admiration. She needed the plants mostly for making medicine and treating people. She was very successful, too, in being a therapist. She never treated anyone by mistake, or never hurt people with burnt skin or with lumps. She was a very successful therapist. When we were kids, one of my nieces and I would sit next to her, fighting against each other over who would replace her as a therapist when she passed away. And each time when she asked why we were fighting, we would tell her that we wanted to replace her if she died and all her belongings would become ours, and she would laugh about that. She never got angry, we made jokes with her so many times, but, unlike other elderly women, she was really patient, she was just bright and laughed at us. Was she 105 years old? And she was never afraid of death. Whoever came to visit her, say relatives, sons, or grandchildren, she would ask them to pray for her to die peacefully. She was not sick nor disabled or felt tired, but she was really brave.

Interviewer: What do you want to tell us after what you mentioned about your grandma? What do you infer from that?

Zerin: I can say that women are capable, as there is a Kurdish saying, if man has power, he can kick as well. This means if someone exists, he/she can become powerful or dominant. I also had a great aunt, who governed this area for three years. She was the ruler of the area, her name was Fatma Mir, she was my grandma’s aunt.

Interviewer: How did she rule the area?

Zerin: I have a picture of her, which I would like to show you. It was not photographed, they drew it. I mean we had such women, she governed the Sidakan region for three years.

Interviewer: How?

Zerin: She was the ruler of the whole area.

Interviewer: Can you tell us how that was? How did people communicate with her or so?

Zerin: Just like other areas that had their own chiefs, she was the chief, too, executing people’s affairs in these places for three years. We have a lot of brave women.

What I want to say is that if people want to, they can achieve success. Unfortunately, here, we lack confidence.

Interviewer: Any other events of your life?

Zerin: Which one?

Interviewer: Anything. You have worked in that center, what have you been through?

Zerin: We have been through a lot, such as difficulties, oppression.

Interviewer: Not necessarily about persecution.

Zerin: Like what?

Interviewer: Anything like women’s being smart, or even oppression anything … that has grabbed your attention as a woman.

Zerin: Indeed, we have many smart women, women who have been able to prove their existence. But right now I quite don’t remember anything specific.

Interviewer: An event, anything?

Zerin: We’ve just got tragic events.

Interviewer: That is fine, no problem.

Zerin: Is tragic story ok?

Interviewer: Absolutely.

Zerin: A couple of years ago, a girl got caught with a boy. That evening, they brought her to our home, because I was the head of the Women Centre. Then I sent her to my sister’s house in Diana, because her relatives were there and I wanted to save her.

Interviewer: Where were her relatives?

Zerin: In the same village as ours.

Next morning they asked us to give them back their daughter, they thought she was with us. They forced me to get her back from my sister’s house. They kept her in an empty house and she was beaten severely by three people to an extent that she was bleeding. Then my sister and I did not let them kill the girl. We also asked the boy’s family to come and ask for her hand.

Interviewer: When did that happen?

Zerin: In 2010, no, it was 2009. They were deciding to find someone to kill her, but my sister and I did not let them do that, until the boy’s family came and arranged the wedding and so on. We called the police but they did not come, because they would not confront clans.

Interviewer: Do you think that this is the authorities’ fault?

Zerin: It is the authorities’ fault that they cannot fight a village. Once, a woman called us about her bad conditions, telling us she was hiding because she had been tortured and that if they found her, she would be killed. She begged us to save her. Not only us, even the Centre Against Violence that we have here in Soran was not able to do something about that. We called the authorities about these cases, and they answered that they could not save a woman from a village.

Interviewer: So, that is one of the misfortunes of you working there, among the things you mentioned what issues you normally face?

Zerin: Like I told you, we really suffer when a woman calls us asking for help, and we cannot do anything about it, because our Centre doesn’t have enough support to protect women. We also had cases like a woman getting killed and her relatives wouldn’t let the police investigate and see what had happened and why she got killed.

Interviewer: And this phenomenon still exists?

Zerin: It does. Still clans are more powerful than the government.

Interviewer: Do you think that this exists only here or in other areas?

Zerin: It is the same in all places of Kurdistan.

Interviewer: If you have anything else to say…

Zerin: I would really like to thank you, and we are really pleased that you have visited us to participate in this project and take Kurdish women stories into your consideration and publish them. Well done. I wish that women have patience and confront men’s intolerance.

Interviewer: Thank you.

Zerin: Sorry, I forgot to say that she (her grandmother) used to collect and dry the nuts and fruits of some wild trees such as oak nuts and hawthorns and make them into flour. She told us that the taste of that flour turned out to be very delicious, she gave it to people and traded it for wheat seeds for us to plant during the coming year. I would also like to talk about her bravery. She was a really brave woman. Once…

Interviewer: Sorry, regarding making that type of flour, what did it represent in terms of economy?

Zerin: It was hunger, people did not have anything to live with.

Interviewer: What exactly the flour was made from?

Zerin: It was made from the fruits of wild pears and hawthorns gathered from mountains. Everyone could get them. She collected many of them, dried them then ground them by a stone grinder. The outermost layer was removed and then she milled them and it became a delicious material. It was awesome at that time, because people were starving and became cannibals.

Regarding her bravery, she was a very adventurous woman. She once went to collect gallnuts. People collected gallnuts to sell. On her way to the mountains, she ran into a bear. They were both scared of each other, they both stopped, staring at each other. Then she told the bear “Wait, you go your way, and I will go my way”. She said that “The bear went away, and on its way, after each few steps, it turned back, looking at me, until it disappeared”.

Like I mentioned, she was a very skillful woman. In order to improve their economic status, she used to collect wool and fur of animals. In spring, nomads came and stayed for a while, and when they left the place, the wool and fur of their sheep and goats or of old rugs stuck to thorny plants. She would collect, clean and weave them and then made rugs and felt from them. She said that she had made about three carpets from collected wool. She always had all colors of dyestuff, dying her woven wool. She also used to give her dyes to people so as they could color their threads and make felts and stuff from it.

Interviewer: Were people sitting on these felts or…?

Zerin: Felts were used for sitting or for clothing purposes; kepenek (shepherd’s coat) and vests were also made from them. So people were using felts instead of mattresses, carpets and so on.

Interviewer: Cheers.