"In Search of Revolutionary Ways of Life" - A book Recommendation by Sara Angeli
At a time when global crises are coming to a head, for many this phrase is likely to express their existence, their struggles, their desires. For the internationalist Ellen/Stêrk, who died in 2016, it describes her life. To learn from this life - to commemorate this life - is what the newly published book “I wanted to change a lot - From the life of the internationalist Ellen/Stêrk” [German original title: "Verändern wollte ich eine Menge - Aus dem Leben der Internationalistin Ellen/Stêrk"].
In a process lasting several years, the editors' collective not only compiles Ellen's individual life, but also contextualizes her steps and decisions. The result is not only an impressive portrait of an extraordinary woman, but also an important contemporary document of the feminist and leftist movements in the Federal Republic in the last 20 to 30 years. A variety of materials are used: personal memories of her friends, family and companions, letters, reflections and mails that Ellen wrote herself, pictures and helpful information boxes that explain terms, events, places. At this point we would like to thank the editors for their time and energy that went into this book.
In twelve chapters Ellen, who was born in 1976, is portrayed in her respective stages of life. Beginning with her childhood, her studies in Berlin and her first political activities - in a feminist housing project to her first contact with the Kurdish movement, her stays in Turkey and Kurdistan, her return to Germany, the renewed paths to Kurdistan and the political work in Germany until her death in 2016. The constant search that shaped Ellen's life comes out clearly. Not only did she constantly seek for herself the connection between individual life and revolutionary politics, but also the linking of different struggles, people and generations.
An organization that has a utopia
It is vividly portrayed how Ellen over the years came closer and closer to the Kurdish movement and finally dedicated the majority of her political work to it. This crystallized during her first stay in Istanbul and Amed in 2007-2008, as she herself described it in a 2016 interview:
"... I actually went back and looked - looked somewhere else entirely. I lived in Turkey for a while and got to know the Kurdish movement there. That changed my life, because for the first time in my life I actually got to know a fighting movement, a grassroots movement or a people´s movement - a movement that is anchored in the population - which the autonomous movement [in Germany] is not at all. I got to know a completely different kind of political organization. And above all, I got to know an organization that has a utopia."
However, her connection with the Kurdish movement was not to be limited to activities in Kurdistan itself. Rather, Ellen spent years looking for ways to connect struggles. The "Amed Camp" in 2009 was an important step for her to create a space where radical leftists from Germany and the movement in Kurdistan could come together. An entire chapter is devoted to this camp and its connection to the "Mesopotamian Social Forum"; thus, on the one hand, the significance of the encounter is expressed in this, and on the other hand, relevant critiques are also addressed in the memoirs, for example, on Eurocentrism in the German left.
Much space is also given to subsequent activities. For example, Ellen co-founded the campaign "TATORT Kurdistan," which, starting in 2010, dedicated itself to the goal of building an internationalism that would address and intervene in German participation in the dirty war in Kurdistan in the form of arms deliveries, but also the repression associated with the PKK ban. The main focus was on arms exports and "infrastructure projects", thus addressing investments from Germany and the West as well as the ecological question and repression in Germany. The debates that unfolded along these activities are still relevant. Their presentation serves to classify the projects, some of which are still active today, as well as to provide an opportunity to learn from them. The book shows that there is an enormous treasure trove of knowledge and discussions to draw on, especially since the topics are more topical than ever. Thinking of Ellen thus also means entering into this debate.
Women's biographies as part of feminist struggles
"We want to write women's life stories with this book. Because we think it's important and we see it as part of feminist struggles to make women's biographies and their perspectives visible. And we also want to tell them as a piece of contemporary history of leftist movements and struggles."
This is how the editors put it at the beginning of the book. After reading the book, it becomes clear how much Ellen's biography is made for this purpose. Ellen wanted to live in a collective and feminist way. On the basis of her story, various forms of this become clear, including all the difficulties. It is beautiful how the book not only illustrates the projects, such as the women's and lesbians' house “Grüni” in Berlin, but also Ellen's enthusiasm, her personality and her ability to approach people and bring them together. Moreover, the importance of these projects becomes visible.
Learning from the Kurdish women's movement is another important part of her biography. In 2010, she and other women organized a delegation to South Kurdistan and the Medya Defense Zones to learn how Kurdish women live, struggle and organize. The book “Resistance and Lived Utopias” [German original title: “Widerstand und gelebte Utopien”], which resulted from this trip and was published in 2012 - by the now-banned Mezopotamia Publishing House - remains an important document of this exploration. That same year, Ellen's year-and-a-half-long stay with the guerrillas in the mountains of Kurdistan began. A great deal of space is given to this chapter. Thus, it becomes clear with which desires, goals and intentions Ellen went to the mountains. But also, with which difficulties she and the guerrilla had to fight there. The memories, which the women from the mountains share in the book, describe not only Ellen's temperament, but also the realities in the guerrilla. It is also impressively shown how different the situations are that women are confronted with. This should be understood as an opportunity for debate, in which there should not be more division, but rather a celebration of diversity, without losing sight of the specific contexts nor adopting Eurocentric hegemonic positions.
Unfortunately, the author of these lines did not have the luck to meet Ellen personally. But Ellen's work, her personality and her activities are very current and close. This book helps to better understand the presence of this extraordinary woman and to meet her in retrospect in a new way. In times of interrelated and existential crises and, unfortunately, the indifference of many to them, the stories of women, of minorities and the oppressed also serve as inspiration, since it is them who do not give up, who fight for a better world. Ellen's effort to bring together different struggles for self-determination, for freedom, for humanity, should serve as an inspiration to us more than ever. After all, we cannot afford to look at things separately. Feminism, as Ellen thought it, lived it, communicated it, seeks to do just that. Ellen's "courage to take new steps" (Chapter 12) should guide us in our current and coming struggles.
»Verändern wollte ich eine Menge – Aus dem Leben der Internationalistin Ellen/Stêrk«
Münster: edition assemblage
This article was first published in the May/June 2022 edition of the Kurdistan Report.