From a child in a cave, to a feminist academic rebuilding Kobane
Dr. Hawzhin Azeez is a Kurdish academic, activist, poet, and intersectional feminist from Southern Kurdistan (north Iraq). Born during the first Gulf War between Iran-Iraq (1980-1988) her political identity was heavily framed by her early experiences of war, particularly the state sponsored terrorism against the Kurds both under the Saddam regime as well as the newly emerged Islamic Republic of Iran.
Her family’s escape from Southern Kurdistan to Iran was defined by escaping the chemical weapons being bombarded down upon the Kurds at the time, finding refuge from the Iranian and Iraqi bombardments within mountains and caves, and like thousands of others negotiated this treacherous road allowing her family to be smuggled into Iran. Her experiences as a child refugee, amidst homelessness, poverty, statelessness, and immense losses within her family and community due to their resistance through the Kurdish Peshmerga, continues to be the foundation of her political perspective and ideology.
After almost eight years living in Iran as second class citizens and denied access to healthcare, education, and official recognition as refugees, Hawzhin’s family migrated to Australia as political refugees in 1994, where they attempted to start a new life. These years for Hawzhin were defined by the complexities of negotiating her dual identity, both as a stateless Kurdish refugee and someone living in the diaspora. Moreover, she was residing within a traditional, conservative and patriarchal Kurdish community—contrasted vastly with the dazzling brightness of white Australian society—which was deemed taboo as a form of cultural self-protection within the newly arrived refugee community. The tensions caused due to this hybrid identity created a strong sense of social awareness towards the plight of other minorities and oppressed peoples such as Aborigional, and other Indigenous and Native peoples.
Driven by her personal experiences Hawzhin completed her Ph.D. in Political Science and International Relations in 2014, majoring in post conflict reconstruction and nation-state building. Motivated by the desire towards promotion of peace and stability, she has been driven since then to locate alternatives to the neoliberal capitalist state interventionist methods of peace-building and democracy promotion. She would soon find the answer in Abdullah Ocalan’s Democratic Confederalism written in a remote island in Turkey under harsh prison conditions.
In late 2014, as she contemplated the paradoxes of neoliberalism, the Kurdish city of Kobane came under attack in Rojava (Western Kurdistan), north Syria. This came two years after the Kurds in Rojava had commenced a revolution as the people of Syria inspired by the famous Arab Spring rose up against the brutal Assad regime.
As a result, the stunning images of young women and men fighting in the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) against the Islamic State (ISIS) was a monumental identity shift for Hawzhin. The contrast between the brilliance of the YPJ in Rojava with the tragedy of the Yazidi people on the sacred mountains of Shengal in Southern Kurdistan, particularly of the young women kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery under the Islamic caliphate was deeply painful, informative, and defining for her.
This shift motivated Hawzhin to participate in the mass protests and calls for support for the Kurds in Rojava and the Yazidi people, as the Kurds united in a unique moment in their liberation history and took to the streets across Europe, America, Canada, Australia, and throughout all four regions of occupied Kurdistan. By January 26th, 2015, Kobane had been liberated and its resistance against ISIS had gone down in history as a monumental, historical moment of brilliance. By the 29th of January the Kobane Reconstruction Board was created in order to immediately rebuild Kobane and encourage the over 350, 000 people displaced in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and other locations across the region to return home. Hawzhin was asked to participate in the Reconstruction Board and relocated from Australia to Belgium where she and a group of other Kurdish activists, engineers, architects, feminists and supporters began the rebuilding process.
As part of the rebuilding process Hawzhin relocated to Kobane in 2015 and remained there until early 2018. The War Diaries section on this site chronicles her daily experiences of living in Rojava and rebuilding Kobane. While working to rebuild Kobane amid repeated attacks and massacres by ISIS on Kobane and neighboring villages and cities, she witnessed the rebirth of Kobane and the rise of Democratic Confederalism and the Rojava Revolution first hand. Much of her poetry is informed by these years and these experiences, speaking about the trauma of the oppressed and the stateless, with a particular focus on a feminist retelling.
Hawzhin has also written and published widely on Democratic Confederalism, Kurdish liberation, the YPG-YPJ, Feminism, and more. She is the creator of The Middle Eastern Feminist, and was the co-chair of the local NGO Hevi Foundation, which is currently working on the ground across Rojava to build libraries, schools, and universities.
When Hawzhin isn’t hoarding books on post-colonialism, overdosing on coffee, and binge watching post-apocalyptic Netflix series’, she’s mom to charming kitties Kishmish (raisins) and Floki.