By Tara Biglari
Diana Nammi has spent the past few decades fighting to protect Iranian and Kurdish women against so-called honor killings, forced marriage, child marriage and domestic abuse. In a recent talk in north London, she discussed her new book “Girl With A Gun: A Teenage Freedom Fighter in Iran,” to be published by Unbound.
Diana Nammi – who founded the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation in 2002 – was born in 1964 in a village in Iranian Kurdistan. She learned about fighting for justice early on, from her father who always treated her the same as her brothers, and she developed a special bond with him.
During the London talk, Diana Nammi recalled the first wedding she attended as a child, where the groom publicly denounced his bride-to-be for not being a virgin. When the bride’s father stood up to defend her and successfully defused the tension, Diana realized that there was “always room for change, no matter what.”
At boarding school in Sanandaj aged 14, she defended herself against an aggressive teacher who called her promiscuous. She had two choices: to bow her head and lose respect, or to rebel and be thrown out of school. She threw a plate of food at the teacher, “and overnight I became a political leader.” Diana Nammi went on to organize protests and call for secularism, equality and human rights during the 1979 Revolution. When the new Islamic regime attacked Kurdistan shortly afterwards, she joined the Peshmerga fighters to “take control and fight for freedom.”
Addressing the challenges of being a woman in a militarised environment, she saId, “It’s always difficult for women, no matter what.” Still, the Peshmerga were inclusive enough for her to feel that she could make a difference.
Tensions were frequent. At one point, hostilities broke out between her socialist Peshmerga faction and a rival democratic faction. Both groups knew the terrain, yet they suffered heavy losses.
She nevertheless continued to live in Iranian Kurdistan until the increasing crack-down by the Islamic Republic forced her to flee to Iraq and then Turkey with her newborn child. She decided at that point that she had to move to the U.K.
“I had to give my daughter a chance to experience a different world,” she said.
She hailed the extradition of two of the killers of Banaz Mahmod, a 20 year old Iraqi Kurdish woman who lived in London, from Iraqi Kurdistan to the U.K. as a chief success in her campaign for both human and women’s rights.
Diana Nammi has received a number of honors including a special jury award at the 2014 Women on the Move Awards, hosted by the Forum, Migrant Rights Network and the UNHCR, the Women of Courage Award from the Women’s Refugee Commission in New York in 2015, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Essex in 2016. She continues to pursue her mission to shape a better world for Middle Eastern women and beyond.
Anyone wishing to help crowd-fund Diana Nammi’s book can make a donation here.