Heartbreaking fate of women in terrorist groups

Tehran, IRNA – The complex world of terrorist groups often portrays a distorted reality, particularly regarding the role of women. While some might envision women solely as victims, the picture is far more nuanced.

Women actively participate within these organizations, holding leadership positions, carrying out logistical tasks, and even engaging in combat in some instances. This involvement, especially within leftist groups, can be deceptively presented as a form of empowerment, masking deeper issues and exploitation.

However, beneath the surface of proclaimed equality often lies a harsh reality. Despite playing crucial roles, women within these groups frequently face a multitude of challenges and dangers. This article will delve into the specific issue of sexual exploitation, drawing upon the firsthand accounts of survivors and the insights of researchers to shed light on this pervasive and under-addressed issue. Sexual exploitation of women in terrorist groups is a phenomenon rooted in the nature and organizational relationships of these groups. While men also suffer as subordinates within this structure, due to the distorted perspective and pathological personalities of the leaders, women become the primary victims of sexual slavery.

It can be argued that the sexual exploitation of women is an integral part of the modus operandi of anti-social terrorist groups, compelling their forces into a life that is secretive, underground, and hostile to the family.

These groups are scattered across the globe, from Africa to Central America and the Middle East, such as FARC, Tamil Tigers, PKK, PJAK, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), or Komala. With slogans advocating gender equality, they all hypocritically transform women into sexual slaves.

By exploring the narratives of those who have experienced the darkness of these groups, we aim to bring awareness to this critical aspect of the complex situation women face within the realm of terrorism.

The sad guerrilla

Tania Nijmeijer, a Dutch woman with a degree in Spanish, met a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) while teaching in a Colombian city in 2002. Captivated by the guerilla ideals, she underwent training and ventured into the jungle to fight alongside them. In 2007, during a surprise attack on the guerillas, Tania's diary fell into the hands of the Colombian army. Harper's Magazine published the English translation of her writings. In part of her memoirs, she has mentioned:

July 2006: More than two of our team comrades have AIDS. The girl who recently contracted the virus doesn't even understand what happened to her. When she told me the news, a big smile formed on her face, and her boyfriend didn't seem to care either. Everyone has relationships here, and sooner or later, everyone will get this deadly disease. Luckily, my local lover, though 25 years old, is completely healthy, as I could guess he was a virgin.

November 2006: I am tired. I am tired of the Revolutionary Army. I am tired of the people and the group life, and I am tired of not having anything personal. It would be worth the trouble if you knew what you were fighting for, but in reality, I no longer believe in their ideals. What kind of organization is this where some people have money, cigarettes, and snacks, and the rest have to beg for them and be ridiculed? The system has been the same since I arrived and has not changed. A girl with a pretty face can turn the leaders against each other.

April 2006: Here, the wives of the comrades in the leadership are aware of everything and can even order us around. They are allowed to get pregnant. They have both nice clothes and shampoo... This discrimination is not fair. If the "Revolutionary Army" ever takes power, we will surely see their women riding Ferraris and eating caviar. The wife of one of the comrades in the Central Committee has a beautiful nightgown, and we have to be lucky if, instead of throwing away her old clothes, she takes pity on us and gives them to us. I'm wondering if they're secretly ashamed of what they do. I should be glad that I'm not like them and don't value these things or seek power, but seeing these things bothers me. I feel very depressed.

Apo's harem!

Nejdet Buldan, a journalist and former mayor of Yuksekova, interviewed ten women from this group in Europe who had gotten away from the harassment and abuse of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the PKK, and other leaders of the organization.

Buldan, who was a former member of the PKK, published these interviews in the form of a book titled Being a Woman in the PKK (PKK'de Kadın Olmak). This book exposed the ugly face of this terrorist organization. According to this book, Abdullah Ocalan and other leaders of this group spend a sweet life with the beautiful women they have gathered around them. Its leaders sexually assault women who resist them as a form of punishment.

Abdullah Ocalan carefully and obsessively selected the women who were supposed to be around him, seemingly choosing them for his harem. He would not accept just anyone. To be close to Ocalan, one had to be a high school or university graduate, attractive, and if necessary, go swimming with him, give him a massage, wash his feet, and make seductive offers. Women who succumb to Ocalan's demands, even if they are in the mountains, receive various creams and henna as a reward.

Women who did not yield to the sexual fantasies of Abdullah Ocalan and other leaders and members, and had escaped the group, described life in the PKK as follows: "Apo (Abdullah Ocalan) practiced discrimination among women. He did not like unattractive women. Apo cared about women’s appearance. If he spoke affectionately to the beautiful women who were high school or university graduates, using terms of endearment and in response, they made seductive offers to him, he would treat them in a special way. Have you ever wondered why only beautiful women remained in the houses of focus (indoctrination centers)?

There are pictures of him in the pool with women. While we were dying of hunger in the mountains and deserts, they were living in palaces; their feasts were even more sumptuous than the feasts of kings and reminded me of ancient harems.

Within the party, a special class was formed. The class is composed of the goddesses of Ocalan, whom we call the "Central Women." This class consists of women who have not participated in the war and have generally stayed in the bases, especially in Abdullah Ocalan's houses of focus outside of the harsh and difficult conditions. These women have a completely privileged position within the organization. After completing military training, while we searched in vain for a tree's shade, the central women enjoyed pre-arranged tents and shade providers. They had creams and henna that were hard to find in the mountains. These women did not engage in manual labor.

There was a woman who, after seven years of war, went to the academy and came to us after completing her education. Her mental and intellectual balance was disturbed. Ocalan had harassed her. I realized that all of the central women had lived in houses located in Syria. They said they had washed his feet and given him massages. If anyone refrained from serving the leader, he would be tormented.

Gender equality

The situation in the PJAK terrorist group is not much different from its parent organization, namely the PKK, and in some aspects, it may even be worse. In the structure of this group, men and women share a communal life, justifying it under the banner of gender equality. However, this has provided a fertile ground for the exploitation of female members within the group. PJAK has turned this aspect into a propaganda tool to attract young individuals to join their ranks.

Erfan Ghanei Fard, a Kurdish writer, expresses the following regarding this issue:

Women and girls affiliated with the PJAK cult, influenced by a traditional and backward society, have never been able to return to their normal lives due to fear, shame, or the tarnishing of their honor. They remain silent about the abuses they suffer at the hands of this inhumane group, making it difficult to expose the realities. This cult has only managed to deceive some illiterate and less-educated individuals, brainwash them, and prevent them from easily breaking away. PJAK seduces simple rural Kurdish girls and there are many examples of girls who committed suicide due to sexual assault.

Marriage is prohibited in PJAK, but having secret relationships is common. Both the PKK and PJAK claim that their members should not marry, and one of the main slogans of these groups is to pay special attention to women's rights and respect them. However, this is not the case in practice. Osman Ocalan, a 60-year-old and the brother of the leader of the PKK, married twice both times with very young girls (one, 21 years old from Qatur Khoy, and the other, 22 years old from Akre, Kurdistan). The leader of PJAK also married a German girl. He resided in Germany and lived a comfortable life claiming to fight for Kurds, while the rank and file have no right to marry, suffer from malnutrition, and have no right to return. Kurdish people in Turkey and Iraq endure economic hardships. However, news reports, including one from the Turkish newspaper Milliyet stated that Osman Öcalan allegedly gave his new wife 5.2 kilograms of gold and the wedding cost was $52,000.

Women in Komala

Komala is another terrorist group where the sexual abuse of female members and their exploitation have come to light. The leaders of this group make no effort to deny these actions, and many female members have revealed their experiences of hardship and abuse.

One case involves Bahram Rezaei, one of the leaders of Komala, who sexually assaulted a female member named Soheila Nouri. She disclosed several instances of her abuse through a letter, in which she stated:

"I found it necessary to reveal a bitter truth that I have been a prisoner of for years, and against my will, this bitter truth repeats every day. It all began with me joining Komala just like the previous and current victims. One night in the early days of my joining, I was invited by an official named Bahram Rezaei to his room. He offered me a glass of syrup mixed with a pill (Valium) as a gesture of goodwill. I unknowingly drank the syrup, and after a while, Valium took effect and I fell asleep. Later, I became a victim of Bahram's demonic sexual assaults and this continued for some time. It was like a torture for me. I must inform you that I was not the only one who fell victim to Bahram Rezaei's desires. Unfortunately, all the women present there were victims of these acts by officials of the group who claim to be defending women's rights."

One of the critics of Komala provides a report on the current situation within this group:

This week in the Komala camp, controversies dominated the scene, and events unfolded that indicated a lack of control over the camp by the leadership.

The Komala Academy of Peshmerga, supposed to be the hub for nurturing and educating new members entering Komala, has transformed into a center for moral corruption and a place for the fulfillment of sexual desires of Peshmergas (the term used for Komala members) and the exploitation of newly recruited young girls and women. In this regard, a while ago, an individual named Khobat engaged in a sexual relationship with one of the girls employed in the training center responsible for the education of recruits to Komala.

Ramyar Rezaei, one of the Peshmergas of Komala and members of the Communist Party of Iran, was expelled from Komala on charges of drug and psychotropic substance use in the camp.

Salvation Dance

In the MEK terrorist group, Masoud Rajavi, the group leader, has established beliefs and rituals within the cult for the sexual exploitation of women. Rajavi has selected a special class of women, known as the Leadership Council. By creating this organizational structure, Rajavi has sidelined the old members of the group, considering them as rivals. While other female members of the group, like others, suffer from various deprivations. They are prohibited from family life and having a spouse and some face prosecution and imprisonment for engaging in romantic and sexual relationships within the group.

Batul Soltani, a member of the Leadership Council who escaped from this group, speaks about Rajavi's sexual exploitation of women after fleeing:

My promotion to the Leadership Council in the winter of 1998 turned into a bizarre and disturbing ceremony orchestrated by Maryam and Massoud Rajavi. Instructed to bathe and wear new clothes, I was told it was a Salvation Dance with Massoud." The event unfolded into a mass wedding ceremony with him, complete with individual vows and gold necklaces. But the true horror came after: senior women began undressing and dancing, urging others to join under the guise of "shedding the clothes of ignorance" and achieving "unity with Massoud."

Maryam said, "This is your salvation dance; believe that Masoud is your husband." She strongly encouraged us to witness scenes of kissing and lovemaking between Masoud and other women. At the end of the session, everyone received another package from Masoud as a gift, and the session concluded. The first session, which lasted for 5 hours, ended at 4 in the morning, and we all returned to our quarters.

In conclusion, the exploitation of women transcends mere opportunism within these groups and stands as a fundamental pillar of their coercive control. This pervasive pattern of abuse, veiled by deceptive ideologies of gender equality, underscores the urgent need for global recognition of this phenomenon. Only through international cooperation and unwavering efforts to dismantle these exploitative structures can true accountability be achieved and the safety and fundamental rights of women be safeguarded.

** Seyyed Mohamad Javad Hasheninejad, member of the Habilian Association. 

(Received article from the Habilian Association)

Opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the IRNA.


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