Monday, September 15, 2008

Tara Jaff: Kurdish Musician

Tara Jaff is a Kurdish musician specializing in harp. She studied classical music and piano at Baghdad's Musical Academy and her fascination with the ancient harps of Sumeria and Mesopotamia led her to the contemporary Celtic harp. Over the years Tara has attempted to introduce the harp to Kurdish folk music, in particular to folk songs in the Hawrami dialect. Her innovative style adapts to the various musical rhythms and modes of the region, bringing a contemporary expression to an ancient form of song and music.

Tara Jaff was born in Halabce in 1958 and moved to the United Kingdom in 1976 after the Ba'ath party forced her to leave the Musical Academy in Baghdad. She continued her studies in the UK and has since performed in various concerts and festivals, mainly as a solo artist. She is regularly featured in radio and television in several countries. She is also a member of the organizing committee of the annual London Kurdish Film Festival.

To listen to her music, go to her official website:

Monday, May 12, 2008


Leyla Zana now a symbol of Kurdish patriotism was born in 1961 in Silvan, Kurdistan. Her wish to breathe freedom and live in a fair society created her love and commitment to politics and the Kurdish cause as early as age fourteen, when her husband Mehdi Zana was detained for three years after his campaign for the Communist Party of Turkey. Leyla, pregnant with her first child she was left helpless when Mehdi, the former mayor of Amed was arrested. Struggling for visitation rights many time she forbidden to even see Mehdi. As a result, it led to her first arrest in 1988 after her and a group of people rioted against the Turkish soldiers for torturing the imprisoned men they wanted to visit. She was tormented and treated with cruelty for the 57 days she was in prison.

The mistreatment received by the Turkish government convinced her to do something. Leyla took a first step to break cycle of oppression on October 20, 1991 by becoming the first elected Kurdish woman for parliamentarian position. Celebrating her identity and her successes Leyla concluded her oath as a Kurdish female parliamentarian, with the following statement:

“I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people."

The above statement left the members of the Turkish Parliament and government furious and shocked calling Leyla a separatist and a rebel. Turkey for years and years has robbed the Kurdish citizens of basic human rights such as freedom of speech or expression, political affiliation, and freedom of identity. Therefore, their reaction to her representation and pride in the Kurdish flag, her identity, and the statement she made in her native language (Kurdish) in the parliament was anything but positive. She was accused of treason and prosecutors passed the verdict by sentencing her to 15 years in prison. In 1994 Leyla joined the many other Kurdish activists in prison who have been convicted for wanting basic humanitarian rights. Her arrest gained the attention of the international community and an incredible number of supporters joined to condemn the actions against her, such advocates included even members of the U.S. Congress.

A year after her sentencing, in 1995 Leyla was nominated and won a Nobel Peace Prize for her courage and will to create a peaceful environment between Kurds and other nationalities. During her years in prison she was also awarded with other peace awards, including the Sakharov Prize and Bruno Kreisky Award. In 1998 she was nominated a second time for a Nobel Peace Prize. Not only did she gain respect globally for her nobility, character, and courage she most importantly helped many Kurds in particularly women to choose and shape their lives independently and break the norms by dedicate their lives to themselves and their nation.

On June 9, 2004 ten years after unreasonable jail time in the Turkish cells Leyla was finally released by order of a Turkish appeals court along with three other parliamentarians.

Currently her husband Mehdi Zana, along with their son and daughter Ronayi and Ruken live in exile in Europe. Meanwhile, Leyla is staying strong and very active by continuing her fight for peace and democracy. Despite all of this, on April of 2008 she was sentenced to two years of imprisonment by a Turkish Court after giving a speech at a Kurdish Newroz festival and naming three of the prominent Kurdish leaders.

Her strength and spirit has endured tremendous rough times and she continues to do so with a strong spirit. In a recent speech given in Amed she said,

“Kurds are fire, if approached correctly they get warm if approached wrongly they burn.”

The necessity for basic human rights for herself and her fellow Kurds were motives that persuaded Leyla to fight and become a strong female activist in the Kurdish struggle. Her active role in politics has had an enormous affect on Kurdish souls and she has awakened many Kurds to continue the fight and keep the fire burning and the Kurdish pride alive.

Kürkçü , Ertugrul . "Defiance Under Fire." Amnesty Magazine 2003 15 Jun 2008 .
Jon Gorvett. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Washington: Sep 2004. Vol. 23, Iss. 7; pg. 40, 2 pgs
Jon Gorvett. Middle East. London: Jun 2004. , Iss. 346; pg. 26, 2 pgs
Jon Gorvett. Middle East. London: Aug/Sep 2005. , Iss. 359; pg. 24, 2 pgs

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hapsa Khan

Hapsa Khan was born in the Kurdish city of Sulaimania to a prominent family in 1881. She later married into a revolutionary family to Shaikh Qadir, brother of Shaikh Mahmud. She is believed to have been the first woman in Sulaimania to stress the importance of education for women as a means to gain freedom.

She was active during Shaikh Mahmud's autonomous government in the early 1920's and was a supporter of the nationalistic cause.
She established what is considered the first Kurdish women's organization in Iraq. She pursued an agenda for the progression of Kurdish women, especially in gaining access to literacy and education.

In the book Kurdistan in the Shadow of History, a German photographer named Lotte Errell describes Hapsa Khan as the woman "whose husband gets up when she enters the room." She founded an evening school for women in the region and Errell describes it as thus:
"Every afternoon she receives in her courtyard all the women who want to learn by her wisdom and who want to discuss the problems of the day with her. They live separated in the house but are often quite powerful as far as their husband and family is concerned."
Hapsa Khan's father used his house as a place for intellectuals in the community to gather and discuss different topics. After her father's death, Hapsa Khan turned the family house into a public meeting place and became the leading figure at home. Her visitors ranged from writers to artists, to men of high rank. In an interview with Shaikh Mahmud's niece, Drakshan Jalal Ahmad, published in Kurdistan in the Shadow of History, she mentions that Hapsa Khan said, "There is no difference between men and I am going to continue..."

Drakshan further explains that Hapsa Khan's boldness was met with some contempt:
"Some people were angered from a religious point of view that she was imitating a man, but she did not stop."

"Shaikh Mahmud himself said that if she had been a man, she would have been a strong challenge."

It's evident that she possessed a strong character and was adamant in continuing what she believed in.

After her death in 1953, her home, as she had intended, became a school.


Kara Fatma, referred to by New York Times, as
"The redoubtable female warrior of Kurdistan."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Asenath Barzani

Asenath Barzani, Born to Samuel Ben Nathanel halevi in 1590 CE in the Kurdish city of Mosul in Southern Kurdistan. She was raised by her father Samuel who taught her Kabbalah and excused her from all daily tasks that other young girl her age usually did. She dedicated her life to studying and memorizing the Holy words of God. Asenath was quoted by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, The Receiving; Recovering Feminine Wisdom p. 112 as saying “Never in my life did I step outside of my home. I was the daughter of King of Israel… I was raised by scholars; I was pampered by my late father. He taught me no art of craft other than heavenly matters.”

Asenath married a cousin named Jacob Ben Abraham. Her father secured her dedication to only religious work in her marriage paper work so she is not distracted from religious studies for domestic house wife duties. She had two children with her husband Jacob, a son and a daughter.

After her husband’s death, Asenath headed the Yeshiva in Mosul, teaching Torah in Kurdistan until her son became of age to head the Yeshiva. Modern scholars consider her as the first Female Rabbi in Judaism for her role as the head of the Yeshiva in Southern Kurdistan.

Asenath died in 1670 CE in the Historic town of Amedi in Southern Kurdistan. Her grave was a pilgrimage site for the Jews until modern centuries.

Today, Asenath Barzani is considered not only the first Female Rabbi in Judaism; her story marks the oldest record of the role of Kurdish Women in history. Her story is kept alive in the Israel and the Jewish journals. Asenath Barzani proves the role of Kurdish women in society centuries ago. Her story as a women philosopher will be remembered by Kurdish women of this century and the future generation.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Friday, April 4, 2008

Widad Akrawi

Widad Akrawi, a Kurdish author, politician, lecturer, and a devoted human rights activist. She was born in 1969 in the city of hospitality, Akre (in Southern Kurdistan). She relocated to Denmark in 1992, which is where she studied at the Technical University of Denmark and maintained a living by working as a geneticist at the Royal Hospital in the capital city, Copenhagen. She dedicated lots of her time volunteering for Amnesty International, Danish section (April 30, 2006 – June 18, 2007). She is currently the chair of Defend International and working with the International Action Network on Small Arms. She is a board member for International Women Steering Committee, Women of Europe Award. In addition, she is the author of the book "Taras bog: En beretning fra Kurdista, novel in Danish , 265 pp., Forlaget Forum, København, 2003."

On October 22, 2007 she traveled to New York City on an invitation by the IANSA (The International Action Network on Small Arms) to be present at the United Nation’s General Assembly as Defend International’s representative. IANSA is a global movement against the misuse of small arms and light weapons. As the representative of DI and a human rights defender she is committed to making our world a better place from the abuse of small arm.