Our village was built to create a peaceful place for women in Syria who have fled war and other hardships. But now our futures are full of danger.
Original article by Fatima Sebah Neisan, The New York Times, November 4th, 2019
Many guests once visited us at the autonomous women’s village called Jinwar in northern Syria: journalists, politicians, friends from all over the world. They got to know us, our village and our daily lives. They saw the houses of clay in which we lived together; the school where our children studied Kurdish; the center for natural medicine, which was supposed to open soon; our communal bakery; our chickens, peacocks and dogs; the trees we planted in our garden.
Now all of this is under direct threat from Turkey. Our village sits less than three miles from the border.The bombs are drawing close. Military planes and drones have been crisscrossing the region. Turkish-backed jihadist groups are reportedly being positioned just across the border, threatening to kill the “infidels” on the other side. These forces continue to advance toward Jinwar from the west, ignoring the cease-fire.
Our daily life together has been interrupted. Everything we have built up is in danger of being destroyed. We were forced to leave our homes, not knowing whether we would be back in a few days, or whether we would never return. We don’t know what will come next or when our life will be able to return to normal. But even though we have had to find another safe place because of the ongoing attacks, we will never give up on Jinwar.
Before the Turkish invasion, Jinwar offered a sanctuary to women from all over northeast Syria and beyond — Kurds, Arabs, Yezidis. Some of our husbands were killed by ISIS; others of us left abusive relationships to live in Jinwar. Here was a place where women were able to live communally and autonomously, to raise and educate our children free of male influence. Jinwar was just one small part of the societal revolution taking place across northeast Syria — known to us as Rojava — where women are organizing autonomously in every city, creating alternative ways of life based on the principles of communal living, ecological thinking and a cooperative economy.
Turkey and its proxies have targeted women. In Kurdish regions already under Turkish occupation, there are reports of forced prostitution and trafficking and kidnapping of women for forcible marriage. During this invasion, Turkey’s jihadist proxies have already beaten and executed a leading female politician, Hevrin Khalef, and abducted and abused female fighters. Turkey’s occupation of other regions of northern Syria will mean the same brutal exploitation for women here.
We have already known danger once; our village was built to create a peaceful place for women who have fled war and other hardships. But now our futures are full of danger as well.
In the weeks since the invasion, we have all scattered to different places, villages farther from the border. But now the shelling is drawing close to these villages too. Just last week, there were reports of three civilians killed in shelling close to Jinwar.
Back in Jinwar, when we woke up in the morning, we knew that we were safe and that the other women were close. Now I cannot sleep at night. My heart is always beating fast these days; I am afraid of the noise of the shelling. Everyone helps one another, but we also suffer one another’s pain. I don’t want to hear of any more friends who have died.
Our village came alive from dry, empty earth. Now it has fallen quiet once again.
We have had to leave behind our peacocks, our dogs, the garden where we worked together, the songs we shared together in front of the kitchen. We have left behind our dreams. I only hope that one day we can come back for them.
Fatima Sebah Neisan is a resident of the autonomous women’s village of Jinwar whose husband was killed by the Islamic State.