The thirty million Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Armenia are the largest ethnic group that has not gained its own permanent nation-state (BBC News 2014). Although statelessness generally renders women socioeconomically and politically vulnerable, susceptible to male oppression, gender prejudices, and inequality, the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK) includes one of the largest contingents of armed women militants in the world (Yildiz 2013).

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Female combatants from the Women’s Protection Units (Kurdish, Yekîneyên Parastina Jinê; YPJ) and the women’s military wing of the PKK, Yekîneyên Jinên Azad ên Star (YJA-Star), have challenged traditional gender roles and contributed to the idea of “democratic confederalism,” a term the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan coined to highlight a move away from patriarchal nationalism. Kurdish women join the YPJ/YJA-Star ranks because they offer a possibility of achieving freedom and equality. In...

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