Recent Turkish attacks on female politicians in north east Syria raise concerns about a troubling pattern of assaults on women leaders within the Kurdish-led autonomous administration. The recent drone strike, which killed two prominent female politicians, highlights the deliberate targeting of women in positions of power by the Turkish government.
In recent years, Turkey’s ongoing aggression has inflicted a heavy toll on several key female figures who played pivotal roles in the fight against and defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS), and the establishment of the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria (AANES).
Hevrîn Xelef, the Secretary General of the Future Syria Party, was tragically killed on 12 October 2019, by a Turkish-affiliated militia. Subsequently, on 23 June 2020, Zehra Berkel, Hebûn Mela Xelil, and Emine Weysi, all members of Kongra Star, lost their lives during the Turkish attack on Helincê village in Kobanê. The Turkish drone attack on 22 July 2022, claimed the lives of Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) commanders Jiyan Tolhildan, Roj Xabûr, and Barîn Botan. Most recently, on 20 June 2023, two more prominent female figures fell victim to another Turkish drone attack.
A Turkish attack on 20 June targeted a vehicle traveling along the Tirbespiyê-Qamishli (Qamişlo) road, resulting in casualties. Among them were Yusra Derwêş, who served as the co-chair of Qamishli Canton, and Leyman Şiwêş, her deputy. Qamishli Canton is situated in northeastern Syria and functions as a self-governing administrative division within the AANES.
The deliberate attacks and targeted killings by Turkey are perceived by women associated with the Autonomous Administration as attempts to suppress the social system they have established in northeastern Syria, which challenges the prevailing male-dominated power structure of the region.
According to Zülfiye Kişmir, an activist from the Free Women’s Movement (TJA), these targeted killings are not isolated incidents but rather part of a broader pattern rooted in a deeply entrenched male-dominated system that has existed for centuries. Women in the region, particularly those in leadership positions, are more vulnerable due to the threat they pose to those seeking to maintain patriarchal dominance. The women in Rojava, therefore, continue to challenge and resist this system, especially its latest manifestation in the form of ISIS.
Meral Balter, another TJA activist, underscores that these attacks aim to suppress organised women and impede the struggle for freedom. Balter emphasised the need for ongoing training and unity among women to counter these assaults effectively.
Hamdiye Karakoç from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) also condemned the massacre and urged women worldwide not to remain silent. She emphasised the importance of raising global awareness and showing collective resistance to halt the ongoing war against women. Meryem Turan of the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) highlighted the significance of united efforts to end the assaults on women. Together, these voices condemn Turkey’s targeting of female politicians and stress the importance of solidarity in the face of such violence.