Gender and Terrorism (Female Suicide Missions)

Driving Motivations

PKK leader as flag

Photo: 2010 PKK-leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Personal Motivations

It is not easy to get a clear idea about the personal motivation of the perpetrators. Some researchers posit that the woman did not volunteer for these missions; that all were forcibly recruited.[xxix] Others point out that the guiding motive was loyalty to the charismatic leader. Is actually such loyalty able to overcome the strongest human instinct – to survive? The answer could be yes. In all epochs and cultures leaders have been source of inspiration and sacrifice. This is especially true in patriarchal societies when the manpower has been transmitted to the leader. It should be pointed out that Abdullah Oclana is an unchangeable leader since the very foundation of the party, which means that a generation of Kurdish young people have been socialized in unconditional loyalty to him. Alongside with the specific group dynamics, characteristic for any military training makes a charismatic leader explanation quite reliable. Part of the available information confirms this conclusion. For example, the perpetrator of the second mission (November 1998) allegedly blew herself as an expression of  protest against the extradition of Ocalan from Italy to Turkey.[xxx]  The same could be said about the perpetrator of the acts of 24 December 1998,[xxxi] and of 29 March 1999.[xxxii]

Driving Force

  • Propaganda and indoctrination,
  • nationalist attitudes,
  • group dynamics,
  • revenge;
  • opportunities for leadership and
  • overcoming of restrictions imposed on the women by the patriarchal Kurdish society

should also be considered as a driving force for the suicide acts.

PKK Leader ProtestThe freedom from gender restrictions is often mentioned by feminists as one of the main factors inspiring female suicide missions. However, it is not easy to find reliable proof for this idea. It is true that some women have joined PKK because of this reason and that PKK, since 1990, has  had a special appeal to women. Paul Schemm, reporting for AFP who met PKK female fighters, reports: “Once Marxist but now saying it is committed to peaceful and democratic change, the PKK retains a quasi-military structure that gives its own brand of feminism a distinctly martial cast.” He mentions the words of a female leader saying: "We are opening the eyes of Kurdish society," … explaining how female fighters in the PKK symbolize women's empowerment among her people….That is the importance of martyrdom -- it gives our cause weight," said Kurman, adding that losses in battle and suicide bombings by women have forced men in the movement to take them seriously. According to the information provided by Schemm, the same is the position of the ordinary fighters: He cites Reha Baran, an administrator at the school under the control of the PKK who says: "A woman can't stand up and talk in such a society ….For example, in Kurdish society men are the only ones allowed to speak. If a husband is not home, then it is the eldest son, regardless of his age. Because of the backwardness of society, women have been pushed to the margins. Our aim is to return them to the center of daily life and society." MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, located in Washington) sources give proof for the same:

"None of us, a female guerilla combatant says, can attain freedom alone, and here, between the mountains and valleys [of northern Iraq], the course of our lives is somewhat slowed down. Nevertheless, here I feel great freedom and liberty. Women who live in the surrounding villages do not have as much as one hundredth of the freedom with which we, young women, are endowed. The weapons we always carry for the lofty purposes of liberation fill our hearts with fulfillment and boost our morale... I am determined to devote my whole life to the struggle for the liberation of other women like myself."

It should be recognized, however, that while this might explain why women jointed PKK, it does not explain why they have chosen suicide missions. For now, there is not enough information on motivations that would allow to anyone to make a definitive conclusion concerning the individual suicide choice.  Photo: Kurds in Finland demonstrated on 10th anniversary of Abdullah Öcalan’s arrest in Helsinki 14th February 2009. 

[xxix] ERGIL, Dogu. 2003. Suicide terrorism in Turkey. Civil Wars. Vol3, N1, (Spring), pp. 37-54

[xxx] Global News Wire. Turkish Daily News.  November 18, 1998

[xxxi] Kurdish rebel blows up Turkish military bus, two killed, 21 wounded, Associated Press Worldstream, December 24, 1998; Thursday 03:29 Eastern Time.

[xxxii] ANONIMOUS. 1999. ISTANBUL GOVERNOR SAYS KURDISH REBELS' INTENTIONS FAILED, Anatolia news agency, Ankara, in English 28.03

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