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Gulistan, Land of Roses (2016)

They belong to the armed wing of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is also an active guerrilla movement. The mission of these female fighters? Defend Kurdish territory in Iraq ... See full summary »

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They belong to the armed wing of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is also an active guerrilla movement. The mission of these female fighters? Defend Kurdish territory in Iraq and Syria, and defeat ISIS (the armed militants of the so-called Islamic State group), all while embodying a revolutionary ideal advocating female empowerment. As filmmaker Zaynê Akyol follows their highly regimented lives, seasoned fighters like Rojen and Sozdar openly share with us their most intimate thoughts and dreams. Even as fighting against ISIS intensifies in the Middle East, these women bravely continue their battle against barbarism. Offering a window into this largely unknown world, Gulîstan, Land of Roses exposes the hidden face of this highly mediatized war: the female, feminist face of a revolutionary group united by a common vision of freedom.

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Kurdish women fighters wage War on ISIS

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8 March 2017 (France)  »

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Gulistan, terre de roses  »

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16:9 HD
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Guns and roses, with a tall order
22 February 2017 | by See all my reviews

I just saw Gulistan, Land of Roses, a recent film (2016) more talked than written about, with a mix of curiosity and weariness. It claims to offer the viewer an intimate look at the lives of female guerrilla fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as they are first trained in mountainous Turkish Kurdistan, and are then sent to the northern Iraqi desert to help their local peshmerga comrades stand their ground against the onslaught of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in 2014, while laying the groundwork for female empowerment and a kernel of a feminist utopia in their all female brigades. Their endeavor is truly heroic and well worth the documentary. However, anyone who is familiar with Middle East politics knows that the PKK is an old-school Marxist-Leninist party also considered a terrorist organization. Of course, it reeks of the classical opposition where one's freedom fighter is someone else's terrorist, but the added feminist twist makes it all the more intriguing, and suspect at the same time. So I couldn't help wondering, besides the obvious admiration these female fighters deserve, how much of this is wrapped in more or less subtle propaganda, or perhaps self-mystification.

The movie is well worth watching provided you hold back any immediate skepticism. The filmmaker has shunned all political analysis in favor of crude anti-capitalist remarks by some of the female fighters who, for all their idealism, look embedded in a classic militaristic and patriarchal movement where indoctrination is paramount, even more so than fighting skills. If you still think of Che Guevara as Jesus in a hurry, you may fall for this. If not, you're likely to think, as I did, that the filmmaker, in her urge to praise these heroic Kurdish women, has taken far too many shortcuts, and has willfully, or perhaps through naiveté, disregarded anything that could complicate the idyllic vision of the Land of Roses being exposed. The PKK is a latter-day gasp of revolutionary romanticism aligned internationally with the Columbian FARC, and Kurdish Iraqi peshmergas and Syrian YPG fighters have committed their share of ethnic cleansing and brutal retribution against Sunni Arab civilians, though not on a scale comparable to IS or Shia Iraqi militias. That said, these reservations should not detract us from praising and admiring the spirit and determination of these Kurdish female fighters trying to forge a future for themselves against overwhelming odds. Just be aware, if you go and watch this movie, that roses can also hide some thorny political issues.


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