Sunday, 6 June 2010

Bread winners

This post is about Farha and Rozan, two women we met on our journey along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Farha was baking Kurdish naan bread in this wood-fired oven in the centre of Midyat, slapping the dough on the inner walls of the oven and pulling out the loaves with her bare hands and a frayed piece of cloth. (I think the technique is similar to Indian tandoori-baked naan; I also found this interesting blog about Kurdish bread, though the blogger's version is much flatter than Farha's).
She gave us a whole loaf as a gift. It was delicious. We chewed and smiled and chewed some more, and then she went back to baking the next dozen.

Rozan, pictured below, works for EPI-DEM, a women's rights organisation in Diyarbakir. The organisation was set up in 2003 to help women who had been raped or tortured in the war between Kurdish separatists and the Turkish army. However, Rozan's colleagues soon realised that women were approaching them with all sorts of problems, not all of which were caused by the conflict. A 2004 survey by EPI-DEM of 280 women in Kurdish villages found that 57 percent were illiterate. A quarter of the women had been married off before the age of 15. Two-thirds had more than four children, and many had eight to ten.

And yet, when it comes to politics, Kurdish women are among the world's fiercest. Teenage girls may not be allowed to go to a cafe by themselves, but they can pick up a rifle, head to the mountains and join the PKK. The all-women guerrilla units are well known, and female activists are often in the front line at demonstrations.

No matter how many books I read, no matter how many Kurds I interview, it's a contradiction that continues to puzzle me. If you have any thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them.

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