Stories from Kurdistan

Kurdish ‘Angelina Jolie’ devalued by media hype

The following article was originally published in BBC on September 13, 2016. 

She was, according to Western media, a poster-girl for her people, admired as much for her striking good looks as her military prowess.

But for her fellow fighters, Asia Ramazan Antar’s portrayal in the press and social media came as both a surprise and disappointment.

The 19-year-old, from the Syrian Kurdish city of Qamishli, was killed by Islamic State (IS) militants in northern Syria last month.

Focusing their stories on her looks, some Western media said she was known as the “Angelina Jolie of Kurdistan” after the glamorous Hollywood actress.

Some compatriots have decried these comparisons as sexism and objectification.

The Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), to which Asia Ramazan Antar belonged, say their philosophy is simplicity and modesty.

No-one is judged based on his or her appearance, shape or size. Individuals, they say, make personal sacrifices for the collective good.

Last year, despite resistance from conservative religious groups, female fighters pushed Syrian Kurdistan to pass progressive laws that make violence against women, forced marriage and polygamy illegal. An all-women police unit was created to implement the law.

One of many

For the Kurdish media in Syrian Kurdistan (know to Kurds as Rojava) where she fought and died, Asia Ramazan Antar was simply another fighter who lost her life battling IS.

Asia Ramazan Antar joined the YPG in 2015, adopting the nom de guerre Viyan Antar.

After completing her military training, she went to the frontline to fight IS militants.

Asia Ramazan Antar took part in five battles before she was killed around Manbij near the Turkish border on 30 August.

She was a team leader and machine-gunner. Over the past two years, six of her cousins and uncles were also killed in the fight against IS.

Just like Asia Ramazan Antar, hundreds of other Kurdish fighters have been killed. Most of them were young, in their late teens and early 20s – but none garnered the kind of publicity showered on Viyan.

‘Sexist portrayal’

Choman Kanaani is one of the Kurdish fighters dismayed by Asia Ramazan Antar’s treatment by the Western media.

He is in charge of rebuilding Kobane, the Kurdish city occupied by IS and extensively destroyed in 2014-2015 before Kurdish forces drove the jihadists out.

Mr Kanaani lost many of his fellow fighters, both men and women.

“The entire philosophy of YPJ is to fight sexism and prevent using women as a sexual object,” he said.

“We want to give women their rightful place in society and for them to own their own destinies. Viyan died for these ideals. In the media, no-one talked about the ideals for which she gave her life, nor what Viyan achieved for women in Rojava in the past four years.”

Agrin Senna is a YPJ commander who lost one of her legs in the battle to liberate Manbij. She also lost many of her friends.

She urged people to look at images of her fellow fighters who had died and had refused to live under IS’s particular form of Sharia, or Islamic law.

“Look at their pictures, they are all angels, all beautiful, you can’t pick one just because she looks like a Hollywood actress, Angelina Jolie or Julia Roberts.

“They have nothing in common with them. They prefer to die rather than live under one of the most anti-women groups in the world.”

The BBC’s Guney Yildiz contributed to this report.

Access the article above in BBC here.

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  • Comparing Asya Ramazan Antar to Angelina Jolie

    I do not agree with my Kurdish brothers and sisters who are offended by the Western media comparing our beloved and martyred YPJ fighter Asya Ramazan Antar to Angelina Jolie. They either do not know Angelina Jolie very well, or they are not quite familiar with the Western (especially the U.S.) societies. Comparing Asya Ramazan Antar to Angelina Jolie is a very good thing. Here is why:

    1. Angelina Jolie is not just a woman with a pretty face. She is also an accomplished actress, filmmaker, and humanitarian. “She promotes various causes, including conservation, education, and women’s rights, and is most noted for her advocacy on behalf of refugees as a Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).” [Wikipedia] Angelina Jolie is loved and admired by hundreds of millions of people all around the world. We the Kurds should take it as a badge of honor for one of our women to be compared to Angelina Jolie.
    2. Asya Ramazan Antar’s physical resemblance to Angelina Jolie has generated multiple articles in world’s media, which have shined light on the Kurdish struggle for freedom and independence. For that, we the Kurds should be very pleased and grateful as well.
    3. A few years ago, the people of South Sudan gained their freedom and independence, thanks, in part, to support that they received from American celebrities like George Clooney. Clooney tirelessly campaigned on behalf of the people of South Sudan and lobbied for them with the U.S. and other world governments. Who knows, maybe Western media’s comparing Asya Ramazan Antar to Angelina Jolie can catch the attention of Angelina Jolie and her husband, Brad Pitt (who is also a very famous and world-wide known actor) and they will pick up the Kurdish cause and do for the Kurds what George Clooney did for the people of South Sudan. We the Kurds should pray for that to happen.
    4. Last, but not least, because Angelina Jolie is such a beloved person in America and all around the world, media’s comparing Asya Ramazan Antar to her can only result in more love and understanding for the Kurdish people among the American people and the rest of the world. How can that possibly be a bad outcome?

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