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Drawing Revolution in Rojava

Janet Biehl is joined in conversation by Emek Ergun for this virtual conversation about the release of Biehl’s new graphic novel Their Blood Got Mixed: Revolutionary Rojava and the War on ISIS.

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In the summer of 2012 the Kurdish people of northern Syria set out to create a multiethnic society in the Middle East. Persecuted for much of the 20th century, they dared to try to overcome social fragmentation by affirming social solidarity among all the region’s ethnic and religious peoples. As Syria plunged into civil war, the Kurds and their Arab and Assyrian allies established a self-governing polity that was not only multiethnic but democratic. And women were not only permitted but encouraged to participate in all social roles alongside men, including political and military roles. Their Blood Got Mixed is the story of Biehl’s month-long trip and exploration of how the revolution in Rojava had progressed and especially the effects of the war on the society. With beautiful illustrations done by the author herself, she tells how war had reinforced social solidarity and welded together the multiethnic, gender-liberated society. As one man in Kobane told her, “Our blood got mixed.”

Janet Biehl, an independent scholar and artist, collaborated with the social theorist Murray Bookchin for his last nineteen years (1987–2006). After his death, she wrote his biography. Bookchin’s writings influenced an ideological transformation of the Kurdish freedom movement away from Marxism and statism and toward grassroots democracy and ecology. To observe the implementation of his ideas, she visited northeastern Syria several times and chronicled her observations in numerous articles. She has also translated several German-language books about the Kurdish movement into English. Their Blood Got Mixed is her first graphic novel.

Emek Ergun is an Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Global Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her interdisciplinary area of expertise is at the junction of transnational feminisms, cultural globalisation and feminist translation studies. More specifically, her research focuses on the political role of translation in connecting feminist activists, discourses and movements across borders, particularly between the US and Turkey. Emek co-edited the collection, Feminist Translation Studies: Local and Transnational Perspectives and has recently become a co-editor of Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. Her most recent translation is of Octavia E. Butler’s classic novel, Kindred, which was published in 2019.