From Boudica of the British Celts to Corporal Klinger, few things unsettle the male mind like a lady in arms. The Kurds of Northern Iraq have long recognized this principle and incorporated it into their quest to build a Kurdish homeland in the overlap between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Fighting alongside their male comrades in a region not exactly known for its progressive stance on women’s rights, the female Peshmerga guerillas of the Kurdish Liberation Movement built a reputation for themselves in the 70s and 80s as demure diaboliques with the deadly poise of Leila Khaled or Tania-era Patty Hearst.
Having secured the northern third of Iraq for themselves in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, the Kurds have spent the last two decades divesting themselves of their guerilla jamjams, building up a stable and booming economy in their semi-autonomous little hamlet, and generally enjoying not being in the middle of the current Iraq War. Up in the hills abutting Iran and Turkey, however, the struggle for a Greater Kurdistan continues for boy and girl alike.
The successors to Iraqi Kurdistan’s old rebel militias are a milk-besodden Alphabits bowl of various Maoist, quasi-Maoist, and won’t-say-they’re-Maoist-but-come-on guerilla armies. You’ve got the PKK, the PJAK, the KCK—all of whom have slightly different tactics, territories, and ideologies but the same ultimate goal and, secretly, a lot of the same personnel. More importantly, they are all completely gender-equal, just like Mao wanted it. From the highest command to the lowest potato peeler to the ghillie-suited sniper on the front lines, dudes and dames do it the same.
We picked the youngest of these new Kurdish guerilla groups, PJAK, the Free Life for Kurdistan party, and drove up to their outpost on the Iranian border to see how their female fighters are helping their people draft a definitive answer to the Kurdish Question that’s vexed Middle-Eastern politics for the last century. And hopefully find an answer to our own Kurdish Question. Which is, What the fuck is the Kurdish Question?