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An Interview with Houzan Mahmoud, M.A. (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/12/08


An Interview with Houzan Mahmoud, M.A. She discusses: impact of war on personal life; injustice and death in home territory; the impulse for war and atrocities; previous and current Iraq governments; respects for Kurds and Kurdish Culture; impact on women and children, as innocents in general; and rebuilding a generation who lost education, nutrition, family members, and reliable governmental support and institutions.

Keywords: Culture Project, feminism, Houzan Mahmoud, Iraq, Kurdistan, Kurds.

An Interview with Houzan Mahmoud, M.A.: Co-Founder, Culture Project (Part One)[1],[2],[3],[4]

1.Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When I reflect on the nature of war and conflict, the statistics tell one story. The personal narratives tell another. You experienced war, so I want to explore the latter with you. We did some work together, whether interviews or editing articles for Culture Project. How did war impact your life?

Houzan Mahmoud: This is a long story. It’s not easy to describe it. I shared the pain and sorrow of horrors of war with my family, friends, neighbours, and thousands of others. Therefore, telling my own story might be a fraction of a very small part of a huge story, the problem is those people who haven’t seen war, and only get statistics about it. They really have no clue how ugly, insane, and inhumane war is.

There is nothing humane about it. It’s only about bullets, air raids, bombardments, and shootings. It is all about sounds, sounds of bombs, and the wounded, really nasty and annoying sounds of different levels. Sometimes, even when the war is over, it stays with you.

Anything that falls, breaks, or explodes, even if it has nothing to do with war. It still connects with the images of war, the sounds and noises, and the destruction comes alive again in your mind. There is another thing I hate most along with war: the military uniform, especially of those that belonged to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

That particular clothing of men and their guns was repulsive, as it will always stay in your mind as a symbol of killing. Men in uniforms who kill. I spent the first twenty years of my life like this. I witnessed the Iraq-Iran war, the sanctions, the first Gulf War, then the Kurdish uprising in 1991 and its aftermath of instability.

2. Jacobsen: How did you cope, if you did, experiencing or witnessing widespread injustice and death in the home territory?

Mahmoud: Interestingly, you do cope. Sometimes, you get used to the situation. You become creative in finding life in small things that might have not mattered to you before. You try your best to protect your life, because it becomes more precious to you. You will do your best to live.

You want to live more. It may be the idea of a better life and future helped us to cope better. The idea that one day the war will be over. That we can start a normal life again. The reality is even when the war ends life is never like before again. By the end of the war, we would have lost many of our loved ones. We would have sorrowed and grieved.

Sometimes, you might even think the dead are the luckiest because they are gone, and we are here to pick up pieces, to mourn and to remember the bombs, the rockets, the air raids, in addition to living under dictator.

To sum up, the love of life, the beauty of this planet, and my ideals for a world without war, without the suffering of human beings keeps me going. I enjoy nature. I love seeing flowers, trees, and parks, but also human creativity such as art, music, cinema, and dance.

There is a lot to be happy about in life. I see all of what happened to me as different chapters of my life. Today, I live a new chapter of my life. I am happy to have survived, but I always remember those who didn’t make it. Their memories will stay with me forever.

3. Jacobsen: What impulse does war serve for us? Why do men commit most of the atrocities, to you?

Mahmoud: It is hard to have this discussion, there has been a lot of writings, talks and research into ‘why war happens?’ From sociological, psychological, political, economic and cultural aspects, at the same time, it’s hard to come up with one concrete answer.

Let’s not forget that after the First World War, there were more than ten million people who died in the battle fields in Europe.  Two leading thinkers (Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein) started to debate as to why, what could be the reason. Is it human’s destructive impulse, the lust for hate and destruction as Einstein wrote to Freud? What could be the reason?

They were shocked and burdened by the war themselves, but, look, even the Second World War broke out, and then many more wars across the world in different times and places.

I find it hard to solely blame this on human nature and assert that humans by nature harbour hate and violence. A lot of this violence and hatred is learnt. It is taught by the state through its apparatuses such as education, military, religion, media, and political ideology in general.

I have been at the receiving end of so many wars. I never wanted to be; I never harboured hate towards the people on the other side.

I saw a state, a bloody nation-state, backed by international forces, where weapons were sold to Iraq and Iran by the “civilised” western government, but we the ordinary people on both sides were the victims. Or those who were forced into military conscription had to go and fight a war that had nothing to do with them. So many soldiers who were ordinary people from the poor background died in these wars for nothing.

In our case, even when I look at it now, a lot of countries in the Middle East are drowning in bloodshed. There is a huge intervention by imperialists. They have an interest – both political and economic.

I, therefore, would find a Marxian approach to war more accurate in terms of its focus on modern wars are results of the competition for resources and markets between great imperialist powers, maintaining that these wars are expected consequences of the capitalist class system and their free market.

You hardly see men from the upper ruling classes die in these wars. You see mostly or only the poor who in the process of war become a burning fuel for the capitalist killing machines. Imperialists vying for the monopoly of power, expansion, and resources using religion, race, nationality, and other excuses to invade, kill, and occupy places.

4. Jacobsen: How does the current leadership of Iraq compare with the prior leadership?

Mahmoud: It is really not a good idea to compare. What do I compare this new Iraqi regime with? With the previous regime of genocide, dictatorship, a government that was responsible for mass graves and mass exactions? It is very sad to be comparing regimes after forty years of oppression and dictatorship.

The current Iraqi regime was a product of US/UK occupation, so they gave birth to it. It is an ethno-sectarian and religious establishment. They are so corrupt and indulged in inner fighting between different sects of Islam. They didn’t have time to fight with Kurds in the beginning.

There was the referendum of Kurdistan, which was even non-binding, where people peacefully voted and expressed their wish to be independent from Iraq. Yet, they brought their worst militias to invade Kurdistan and the language they use in their media and official statements is very similar to the language that was used under Saddam’s regime against Kurds.

I have opposed this Islamist and ethno-sectarian regimes from its establishment and there is no hope in them.

5. Jacobsen: Do they respect the Kurds or Kurdish culture?

Mahmoud: They respect no one, let alone Kurds. These are militia-based political parties, extremely sectarian. They act as mercenaries for regional as well as international powers.

Kurds have always had high aspirations for freedom, social justice, and rights. They don’t accept being treated as second-class citizens in their own lands. We have a history of the struggle for our rights. We will oppose whoever undermines and takes away those rights from us: be it a Kurdish government or Arab, or Islamists, and so on.

It is a basic human dignity. No one accepts being degraded and treated like a half-human or subordinate. Kurdistan has always been the centre of progressive politics, the left and progressive movements always were established there. The current revolution of Rojava is the latest example of an inclusive, egalitarian alternative.

When political parties in the Iraqi government have no ideological bases that recognises basic human rights and dignity, then they haven’t learnt the lesson, they only continue with their nationalistic, almost fascistic, rhetoric of ‘Iraqi unity’, and so on.

They have been dividing Iraq along lines of religious sects, ethnic backgrounds, and persecuting religious people who are not Muslims like Yezidis, Christians, and Shabaks.

Imagine if a government is such a failure and they have been fuelling the division and instead of making human rights and equal citizenship superior to every sectarian agenda then people will not call for break-up of Iraq.

6. Jacobsen: How does war impact women and children who remain innocent?

Mahmoud: Like in every war, women are the target due to their gender. Rape is always used as a weapon of war. For example, in the latest invasion of Kurdistan by Iraqi militias, there are many reports that they have raped Kurdish women and exploded homes of Kurdish civilians.

They are not even shy. They post them on social media, how they torture Kurdish men, how they kill them, and how they abuse the children and the elderly. Such militias are war criminals and mercenaries, who don’t think, but only kill and rape.

This takes the question to women’s armed resistance and how self-defence is as important as defending the cities from invaders. Unfortunately, these women were defenceless ordinary civilians, who never thought they would be victims of rape by the army or criminal gangsters of a government that claims to be our government and wants us to live in a “united” Iraq.

7. Jacobsen: How does a country rebuild a generation who lost education, nutrition, family members, and reliable governmental support and institutions?

Mahmoud: To such governments, people’s welfare is the last thing they would think about. Imagine that Iraq is turned into a mafia land, a bunch of mafia with armed militias, and weapons protecting only their own interest both politically and financially.

They always need a story to maintain a narrative that the “nation” or the “country” is in danger in order to start small wars to send poor people to be killed, then they make people forget about their rights, health, education, housing: everything.

They came to power in 2003. To this day, most people don’t have electricity, clean water, or medicine. Iraq, including Kurdistan, is up for grabs. This is how it has operated since then. Multinational companies and local corrupt rulers have turned people’s lives into a living hell. So, there are no institutions as such, all corrupt, and dysfunctional. They have more alignments to one party or another. The interests of the citizen is the last thing that counts.

Iraq is a name only, empty of content, empty of the most basic human rights and dignity. If you hear the rhetoric of politicians in these regions, what they say under the name of “nation,” “country,” and “our people” is overwhelming, you would say, “Wow, what great politicians, they love their people. They are doing all they can for them…” In reality, it’s only lies and nonsense. The rhetoric that every dictator is saying and using against the best interests of the common person, the citizenry.

I have lived and remember Iraq as this empty shell, where millions were killed and massacred for its sake, but it doesn’t really exist at least for its majority poor, who are workers and women.

It has never offered us, and particularly me, anything apart from suffering and loss.

That’s why I have dedicated all my life to support ordinary civilians, especially women throughout Iraq and Kurdistan who have been silenced and their rights are curtailed. So, I only have my voice to speak up, and a pen to write.

I think this is enough for a feminist to expose these patriarchal, masculinist chauvinist, and dictatorial regimes.


  1. Fantappie, M. (2011, January 30). Houzan Mahmoud of Owfi Tells Us About Her Role in the Struggle for Equality in Iraq and Kurdistan. Retrieved from
  2. IHEU. (2008, September 31). Volunteer of the month: Houzan Mahmoud. Retrieved from
  3. Jacobsen, S.D (2017, July 4). Interview with Houzan Mahmoud – Co-Founder, The Culture Project. Retrieved from
  4. Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, June 24). An Interview with Houzan Mahmoud — Co-Founder, Culture Project. Retrieved from
  5. Mahmoud, H. (2006, September 27). A dark anniversary. Retrieved from
  6. Mahmoud, H. (2006, June 12). A symptom of Iraq’s tragedy. Retrieved from
  7. Mahmoud, H. (2004, March 8). An empty sort of freedom. Retrieved from
  8. Mahmoud, H. (2005, August 14). Houzan Mahmoud: Iraq must reject a constitution that enslaves women. Retrieved from
  9. Mahmoud, H. (2005, January 28). Houzan Mahmoud: Why I Am Not Taking Part in These Phoney Elections. Retrieved from
  10. Mahmoud, H. (2007, May 2). Human chattel. Retrieved from
  11. Mahmoud, H. (2006, October 7). It’s not a matter of choice. Retrieved from
  12. Mahmoud, H. (2014, October 10). Kobane Experience Will Live On. Retrieved from
  13. Mahmoud, H. (2014, October 7). Kurdish Female Fighters and Kobanê Style Revolution. Retrieved from
  14. Mahmoud, H. (2016, November 1). Mosul And The Plight Of Women. Retrieved from
  15. Mahmoud, H. (2006, October 17). The price of freedom. Retrieved from
  16. Mahmoud, H. (2007, April 13). We say no to a medieval Kurdistan. Retrieved from
  17. Mahmoud, H. (2007, December 21). What honour in killing?. Retrieved from

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Co-Founder, Culture Project.

[2] Individual Publication Date: December 8, 2017 at; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2017 at

[3] MA, Gender Studies, SOAS-University of London.

[4] Photograph courtesy of Houzan Mahmoud.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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