[In order to help facilitate a wide-ranging discussion about the limits, possibilities, and ethics of doing research with/on stateless people and political movements, and to create a venue for addressing the challenges of feminist and decolonial methodologies, the Jadaliyya Turkey Page editors reposted this open letter recently circulated by the Jineoloji collective in Europe. The editors invited the authors of the article discussed here to respond to this open letter; the following is the authors' response to the Jineoloji collective of Europe’s letter.]
As the authors of the article Beyond Feminism? Jineolojî and the Kurdish Women’s Freedom Movement, we would like to respond to the letter written by the Jineolojî Committee Europe. Given recent developments in Palestine, particularly the onslaught on Gaza and the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Jerusalem, we did not react instantly, although we understood that a reply and some clarifications were in order. We recognize that criticism of our work can and should be articulated and that there are some aspects of the process we could have done better. Nevertheless, this was an article written in solidarity and intended to put the topic and practice of Jineolojî in conversation with a wider transnational and decolonial feminist literature - not an attack against the people behind the Jineolojî project or the Kurdish women’s movement more broadly.
Over the last years we have published and spoken widely about the importance and significance of the Kurdish struggle, especially the Kurdish women’s struggle. Both of us have been supporters and advocates for the Kurdish women’s movement, and have been invited by Kurdish activists and scholars to contribute to events, publications and knowledge production given our respective academic and political activist work. We were embraced and welcomed as we focused on highlighting the various forms of oppression and exclusion that Kurdish people have been facing in the region, wrote and talked about the tremendous achievement of the Kurdish women’s movement, as well as advocated to decriminalize the PKK. We have been outspoken against Turkish authoritarianism, militarism and government repression, have challenged Arabo-centric feminist discourses and contexts, have tried to mediate between Arab and Kurdish feminists, and we have challenged Western leftists who in the name of anti-imperialism have taken up anti-Kurdish positions.
While feeling connected to and trying to show solidarity with the Kurdish women’s struggle, we are also linked and committed to other feminist movements. Especially Nadje has been involved with Egyptian, Iraqi and Lebanese feminist knowledge production and activism. With this article we aimed to bridge and draw out connections between Jineolojî and the projects of other feminists in the region as well as other parts of the global south. Part of our argument in this article was to challenge notions of uniqueness in terms of epistemology while recognizing the important political significance of the paradigm/concept. Here, we intended to be very nuanced in our critique and not to be damaging to the movement in any way. It is certainly not up to us to define what Jineolojî is or does exactly, but while it is being developed in terms of content, scope and reach, feminists from across different geographical locations and embedded in different political struggles should be able to engage with the topic, given the international outreach of the movement. In addition to this broader political context in which we wrote and positioned our article, we should also stress that the article went through two rounds of rigorous peer review involving three reviewers who were clearly knowledgeable about the Kurdish women’s movement and Jineolojî and provided us with valuable critique and feedback. We took their critique on board as we revised the article. The letter addressed to the editors of Politics & Gender lists some factual errors, which are duly noted, but then mainly questions our integrity as scholars and activists, which jeopardizes avenues for constructive engagement and continuous discussion - the spirit in which this article was written. In our view, Politics & Gender took the letter to the editors very seriously, asking both sides to provide more information, eventually inviting the Jineolojî committee to submit their own article in response. Although we understand that it is perhaps unrealistic to expect activists to write articles in academic journals, we also know that there are many other contexts and platforms to engage with our article. We would have been happy to be involved in these discussions but were never directly approached.
In hindsight, we recognize that we could have done better on several fronts: first of all we should have avoided referring to a distinct group of activists as key to our article as it might expose and make potentially vulnerable individual activists. We should have relied on our broader pool of interlocutors, drawing on our respective previous research to avoid a situation where people could be more easily identified. Secondly, while it was not a precondition for anyone we interviewed to share a draft of the article, we had offered this to two activists who kindly spared their time to talk to us and shared their insights. We failed to do so and regret that. Yet, we strongly push back against allegations of a lack of consent or having distorted any conversations. Our intentions were communicated transparently to our respondents prior to the interviews. All interviews were recorded and carefully transcribed. Moreover, both of us have been involved in conversations, events and have also followed writings relevant to the discussions and development of Jineolojî for the past seven years. When writing this article, we made sure that any quote would reflect a wider trend we had noticed in previous interviews and interactions. Throughout, our article shows that there exists diversity in terms of specific interpretations and views on a range of topics. Clearly we could have consulted more, broader data in Turkish and in Kurdish, however, we state in our article what data our analysis is based on. We should stress that Isabel has been working with original (Jineolojî) sources produced by the Kurdish women’s movement for other projects, while Nadje, who can only work with Arabic but not Turkish or Kurdish texts, has previously been in contact with the editors of the Jineolojî journal. She contributed an article a few years ago and had been asked to suggest potential authors. We understand that there are many more sources in Turkish and Kurdish and we know that others will write and engage with them, possibly refuting some of our arguments.
Of course we are aware of the historical power relations between academics who have access to resources and whose knowledge production has historically been viewed as more authoritative by virtue of their institutionalised affiliations. Meanwhile, we are acutely aware that activists of the Kurdish women’s movement have been objects of knowledge production, particularly since the Rojava Revolution. We have been conscious of this dynamic and have been trying in our respective work to address it. Our intention with this article was, and we thought we had succeeded, to discuss the important role Jineolojî plays in transnational feminist knowledge production on a different platform. As feminist scholars and activists linked to many other struggles, aside from the Kurdish struggle, we were however challenging the claim of exceptionalism linked to Jineolojî and engaged critically with some of the essentialised notions of sexuality and gender. We did this in what we felt like in a constructive and respectful manner and also showed that there is a diversity of views on all these issues.
We are both committed to the project of decolonizing and also of transnational feminist scholarship. We recognize that we don’t always get it right and we certainly feel like we could have been more rigorous in some of our interactions. We trust that an interested academic and activist audience will read our article and the response to it with an open mind and will come to their own conclusions - perhaps be inspired to undertake their own research, or include the article and the response letter in classroom discussions about the challenges of decolonizing knowledge production. We still hope that we can discuss and debate the content of our article and wider issues of feminist methodologies and epistemologies in a constructive manner with activists and scholars of the movement and beyond.