February 19, 2017

Gulîstan, Land of Roses

Nadia Yassen & Steve Henderson

Sunday, February 19, 1:00PM–4:00PM, Room 2270, SFU Harbour Centre

Co-sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities & Kurdish House Vancouver

Kurdish Women Fighters Wage War on ISIS

Hungry for justice, they stand at the forefront of the fight for freedom in the Middle East. These young women, all weapons experts, belong to the armed wing of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is also an active guerrilla movement. The group defends Kurdish regions besieged by military attacks from neighbouring countries. Today, these guerrillas are fighting Daesh (the armed Islamic State group) near the Iraqi and Syrian borders. The documentary Gulîstan, Land of Roses sheds light on the lives of these women who are collectively fighting for a revolutionary ideal. Many of them, particularly Rojen and Sozdar, invite us into their intimate moments and openly share their thoughts and dreams.

From their camp hidden away in the landmine-littered mountains of Kurdistan, the women lead a nomadic life according to guerrilla rules. Though their leader, Abdullah Öcalan, has been imprisoned by the Turkish regime since 1999, these PKK fighters continue on with their fight for a more just democratic system. Surrounded by wilderness, they undergo ideological and practical training before being sent out to the front lines. Their daily routine consists of a steady stream of political meetings, strategy lessons, physical training and weapons handling—all in a spirit of military camaraderie. By giving these women a voice, the film captures their ritualized activities as well as the emotional and intellectual bonds that unite them. As they open themselves to filmmaker Zaynê Akyol with poignant sincerity and authenticity, we become privileged witnesses of these moments suspended in time, stolen from the war.

Each woman has her own story. Twenty-three-year-old Rojen feels guilty for leaving her family behind to fight on the ground—especially her mother. But the call of the revolutionary movement was too strong. Despite the rigours of military discipline, she now feels at peace with the decision she made in secrecy. Rojen views her commitment as a token of solidarity toward all women, explaining that she enlisted in a movement that fights for their political education and emancipation from the pervasiveness of male power. Like the rest of her troop, Rojen is eagerly awaiting permission to go to war.

Sozdar, meanwhile, is older and has been involved in the party for a long time. She is a benevolent soul and in some ways, the group’s conscience. She’s also a sharpshooter who has fought in several battles and knows all too well the consequences of war. At times she faces the camera while conversing with the director. Set up in a makeshift shelter behind closed doors, the camera takes the place of a personal diary. Sozdar is an ardent feminist who considers woman to be the origin of everything.  In her mind, woman represents the fundamental moral force; the one who gives birth to people. Sozdar also decries capitalism, calling it immoral and the root of oppression and sexism. As war approaches, Sozdar says she believes a truly democratic regime is coming to Kurdistan and that no sacrifice is too great for this ideal.

Gulîstan, Land of Roses is also a film about anticipation. With the enemy active and threatening in the distance, each woman dreams of one thing only: to uproot the Islamic State armed group from their territory. Though these seasoned fighters play a central role in the PKK, they also bring a different tone to the armed struggle. Amid rocky mountains and arid deserts, they are the future of a people and confidently serve the ideal to which they have dedicated their lives. As fighting against Daesh intensifies in the Middle East, these women stand in the front lines of the fight against barbarism. Offering a window into this largely unknown world, the film also exposes the hidden face of this highly mediatized war: the female, feminist face of a revolutionary group united by a common vision of freedom.


Nadia Yassen was born in Hawler, Kurdistan (Iraq) and like millions of dispersed Kurds world-wide, her family fled from that region due to the Kurdish-Iraqi war and historical persecution of Kurds by the governing bodies of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria when she was four years old. Throw into this mix "ISIS,"and we now have a recepe for disaster to humanity on a global scale. She fled to Iran, then Sweden and finally settled in Canada where She grew up and found myself as a person. Nadia has a college and a university degree, has served in the Royal Canadian Navy.

Steve Henderson is a Vancouver-based Communalist.