Women of Kurdistan: free or enslaved?

How can one reconcile recent reports of brave, independent Kurdish women defending their ancestral land with earlier accounts of widespread honor killings of girls and women in Kurdistan? Can one claim that the female fighters and the murdered girls came from different social strata or different regions? Or has the war changed everything? And for how long?

I’m thinking of millions who were, objectively, slaves to the Stalinist system pre-WWII but displayed clear signs of courage, independent thinking, inventiveness, and a sense of responsibility while fighting Nazis, only to slip back into indifferent obedience in peacetime. I recall that some Soviet soldiers experienced the war as a liberating experience and its aftermath, as a time of broken hopes and soul-crushing serfdom.


  1. I’ve ready several accounts of Soviet soldiers in the latter stages of WWII and afterwards thinking that “things cannot go back to how they were”, based on the degree to which the soldiers themselves have changed because of what they’ve seen and been through, plus the sacrifice so many of them made. Many seem to have thought that the war would change Stalin and the country, but alas no, and many found themselves shipped off to the camps same as before.

    It’s not difficult to see Stalin’s concern. He was worried that his moments of weakness and stupidity (and there were several) during the early stages of the war would be remembered, but more importantly he was concerned his soldiers would have noticed how much higher the living standards were the further west they marched. I have read accounts of Soviet soldiers stumbling upon an ordinary German farmhouse convinced it belonged to a prince because of the clock, crockery, and mirror.

    Anne Applebaum wrote that the camps did change quite a lot after the war though, mainly because the ex-soldiers banded together and were usually stronger than the criminal gangs that dominated before. Plus the camps were now full of Germans, who had a habit of sticking together and getting stuff done.

    While I’m on the subject of German exiles, I went to a wedding near Shymkent in Kazakhstan last October, close to the Uzbek border, which was an area where a lot of the ethnic groups were exiled to. The nearest town was Lenger, and up until the fall of the USSR it was mainly German, but they all left in the early 90s. The next village along was Chechen, again made up of exiles, who had all left. The village I stayed in was Uzbek, and there was barely a Kazakh within sight of it. Very little mixing in those parts.

    • Yes, extreme poverty may also have accounted for the mass looting. But while rural Central Russia had been poor before 1917, farmers in Ukraine, Siberia and southern Cossack areas were not doing so badly pre-1917. Collectivization probably pauperized them.

      You have mentioned that wedding on your blog but I don’t remember you writing much about that place. Any pictures perhaps?

  2. You have mentioned that wedding on your blog but I don’t remember you writing much about that place. Any pictures perhaps?

    I have written about 10,000 words but am reluctant to publish them because it might be taken the wrong way by people who treated me very well. At some point I’ll tidy it up and .pdf it, I’ll send you a copy. And I didn’t bring a camera, mainly because I didn’t want to be seen to be behaving as if I was in some kind of circus. But I can tell you, it was a fascinating experience.

    • I understand your reluctance but it would be great to read about your trip. I don’t write much about my own trips because that would mean giving out too much personal information.

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