Hozan Mizgîn – pioneer of Kurdish resistance music

Hozan Mizgîn died 28 years ago. The singer and guerrilla commander is a central figure of the Kurdish freedom and women’s movement, which shaped Kurdish resistance music.

Even almost three decades after her death, the life of the artist and guerrilla commander continues to inspire the lives of her companions in the younger generation. On the 28th anniversary of her death, the cultural movement of women from Northern and Eastern Syria, Kevana Zêrîn commemorates the life of a woman who is considered the most important pioneer of the PKK’s revolutionary art and resistance culture.

Hozan Mizgîn was born in 1962 as Gurbet Aydın in a village in Tetwan near Êlih (Batman). As a young girl in the mid-1970s, she first met Haki Karer,* later also Mazlum Doğan.** Both belonged to the PKK founding group of students around Abdullah Ocalan – the “Apoists” – who, after initial ideological and political activities in Ankara, spread all over Kurdistan to present their ideas and become involved in society.

Êlih was of central importance for the Apoists at that time. The city was a small village until the 1950s, and it was only through the settlement of oil industry companies that the population increased. The increase in population from other Kurdish provinces created the basis for a workers’ movement in the neglected “Southeast” – and a basis for testing the socialist revolution.

Immediately before the military coup on September 12, 1980, Hozan Mizgîn joined the Kurdistan Workers’ Party founded 1978, the PKK. After the Turkish military came to power, there were around 650,000 arrests nationwide; 200,000 people were arrested, of whom around 40,000 were still in prison at the end of 1983. Among them were about sixty cadres and thousands of PKK supporters – Hozan Mizgîn was not among them. The reasons for the coup included the strong left-wing movement in western Turkey and its violent clashes with Turkish Grey Wolf right-wingers, as well as the unstable political situation this created. Finally, the coup was also against the danger of a national awakening of the Kurds in the east of the country due to the strengthening and spread of the PKK. While Öcalan and other cadres of the first generation went to Lebanon via Syria as early as 1979 in order to establish contacts for a base in Syria and Lebanon, the resistance front shifted to the prisons, where thousands of PKK activists increasingly organised themselves there as well.

Gurbet Aydın

In Lebanon the PKK settled in the Bekaa Valley. The PKK’s central camp, later named after the guerrilla commander Mahsum Korkmaz, was set up directly on the border with Syria opposite the Druze village of Helve. Hozan Mizgîn also went to the Lebanese plateau. It was 1982, the two years before she had been working underground to organize Kurdish women. Especially the women in her homeland Êlih were close to her heart. In every house she visited, she recorded a cassette with her songs.

A good year later Mizgîn left Lebanon and travelled to Europe. Here she initiated the foundation of the “Association of Patriotic Artists from Kurdistan” (Hunerkom), the first organization with exclusively Kurdish artistic aims. Hunerkom supported folklore and music groups, released albums and organized a Kurdish folklore and music festival every year in early summer. The music group Koma Berxwedan (“Group of the Resistance”) was particularly associated with the association. The band very quickly established itself as the main instrument for communicating the resistance music of the PKK and became a permanent part of the Kurdish liberation movement. The example of Koma Berxwedan showed that music plays a significant role for the resistance. Music has always been a strong social and political means of expression and at the same time a way to convey the culture and history of a society to the new generation. With this awareness, Hozan Mizgîn had laid the foundation for the founding of Koma Berxwedan. In her role as a pioneer, coupled with her revolutionary-militant personality and identity as an artist, she shaped Kurdish resistance music.

The PKK has regarded the women’s liberation struggle as indispensable since its foundation. The belief that women’s freedom is the most important criteria for collective freedom is central to the concepts and structures of the Kurdish freedom movement. At its third congress, the PKK took the first steps towards the autonomous organisation of women. The change in the struggle for freedom was practically implemented in 1987 with the founding of the Union of Patriotic Women of Kurdistan (Yekitiya Jinên Welatparezên Kurdistan, YJWK). This organization examined the construction of women and the family in its historical context and initiated first discussions about the problems of women’s organization. It placed the perspective of women’s liberation in the foreground alongside the liberation of the nation and class. Hozan Mizgîn, who had meanwhile returned to Kurdistan, was one of the founding members of the YYWK.

But Hozan Mizgîn was also involved in the military struggle for the Kurds’ right to self-determination. She was the first guerrilla commander at the provincial level of the PKK, and in the meantime she led up to 700 fighters. She was sent as a delegate from Mêrdîn (Mardin) to the fourth party congress in 1991. There she was assigned as commander of the Garzan region. On 11 May 1992, she was in a village near her native Tetwan at the time, an informer revealed the location of her group. Hundreds of soldiers of the Turkish army then arrived and besieged the village. Serious clashes followed, which lasted into the evening hours. Hozan Mizgîn did not comply with the demands to surrender. She fought to the last bullet and fell in the resistance. The song Mizgîna leheng, written by Hozan Serhat, another pioneer of Kurdish resistance culture, is a homage to Hozan Mizgîn.

*Haki Karer was an internationalist comrade of Abdullah Ocalan from Turkey and the first fallen cadre of the “Apoists”. On a May day in 1977 he was murdered by a conspiracy. After his death, Abdullah Öcalan came to the conclusion that only the foundation of a party could do justice to the memory of Haki Karer and thereupon wrote the draft programme of the PKK. Like Kemal Pir, Öcalan called him his “secret soul”.

**The PKK cadre Mazlum Doğan hanged himself in Diyarbakir prison on 21 March 1982 in protest against torture and demands for surrender, thus giving the signal for resistance. After his death and death fasting in the prison, in which Kemal Pir, Hayri Durmuş and others died, riots broke out, which then led to the prison resistance becoming internationally known. Before his suicide, Mazlum Doğan set fire to his cell to symbolically refer to the Kurdish New Year Newroz and the myth of the blacksmith Kawa linked to it.