On Beauty

“Who is a beautiful person, what is worthwhile and worth loving, which identity and personality should be loved the most, who is in possession of attitudes that lead to love? We must be able to seek, reveal and develop beauty and what is most loving. Your purpose in these ranks is the ability to be a source of love and beauty.” (Abdullah Öcalan)

Before aesthetics was confined to the sphere of philosophy and art, before it was conceived as a female body appealing to men’s desires, what was perceived as sacred and beautiful was all that added value, beauty and meaning to life. Öcalan adamantly points this out: “I do not recognize beauty outside of an ethical and political society. Beauty is ethical and political! Especially with the rise and rise of power and the state, beauty and goodness were only able to be protected through struggle. Zarathustra’s saying “Think well, speak well, and act well” laid out principles, a path on which many like Mani, Buddha, Confusion and Socrates developed thoughts to defend social values.

Heroes, prophets, totems, deities, religions and beliefs have emerged in the cultures of all people of the world, showing people the way to beauty, goodness and well-being. In the longest period of human history women were seen as a source of beauty, due to the personifying all that is sacred in life and the representation of women in the communcal culture of this society.

In ancient times, in periods when human living conditions were limited, that which reinforced the conditions for reproduction, nourishment, and protection was revered and considered beautiful. Among the most impressive archaeological artifacts of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods are the much-debated female figures, which are commonly referred to as the Venus, and which embody this phenomenon. Despite the scarce means of support under a non-sedentary life, where conditions for corpulence were almost impossible, the veneration of fertility and the Venuses played a remarkable role in life, and became symbols for social values such as beauty and the sacred. These figures represent women with large bellies and prominent breasts hanging down to their wide hips, who are often in the process of giving birth.

In the geography of the Middle East one can find larger and more significant female figures from the early Neolithic era, beginning c.6500 BC. Among the oldest of these are the houses of Çatalhöyük with reliefs of representations of women, as old as between 6,500 and 5,600 BC. These reliefs are generally pregnant and have large breasts. Öcalan refers to the source of the Çatalhöyük female figures when he writes that: “The Neolithic revolution (…) took place in the cradle of the Euphrates, Tigris and Zab rivers. It starts there and goes all the way to Çatalhöyük. Women are the first to develop agriculture and animal husbandry. She is depicted as protecting herself with two leopards. In excavations at these sites many female figures have emerged because the power of women was ubiquitous. The famous Potnia Theron (lady of the beasts) between what appears to be two panthers, is both a mother and a judge of nature. According to one archaeologist, Potnia must have been the mother of other goddesses, who would have been a source of hope for peasants and shepherds from the beginning of the Neolithic to the rise of monotheistic religions of male domination.

In later periods, matricentric farming communities expressed the meaning of beauty, fertility, kindness and goodness in the worship of the goddess. Inanna for the Sumerians, Ishtar for the Akkadians, Astarte for the Canaanites, Kubaba and later Cybele for the Hurrites and Hittites, el-Uzza for the Arabian Peninsula, Demeter for the Latin cultures, and Aphrodite for the Greeks all represented common symbols, rituals and practices. They are all goddesses of fertility, love and beauty. Öcalan claims that the tradition of Inanna-Aphrodite represents a femininity that has not yet lost its beauty, sexual charm, and physical strength. What is thus represented in the goddesses is society’s agricultural tradition, its ethical-political way of life. It is still possible to find traces of the goddess’ cultures in the remains of ethical-political societies, and to recognize the immense struggles generated in places where this culture is strong. Although there is no trace of them at first appearing alongside the goddesses, the gods emerged first as their little children and then as their husbands. Dumuzi next to Inanna, Tammuz next to Ishtar, Baal with Astarte, Attis next to Cybele, Osiris with Isis, and Adon next to Aphrodite. The sacred ritual of marriage, which is a union of the goddess with her chosen partner, held in early spring, took place on the goddess’ terms. The tributes relate the beauty and fertility of this process. In autumn, Dumuzi, Tammuz, Bal, Attis, Osiris and Adones die, representing nature’s return to the earth, only to be reunited with the goddess again at the beginning of spring. These mythological stories still prevail in our epics such as Leyla and Majnoun, Mem and Zîn, Kerem and Aslı, Tahir and Zühre, Yusuf and Zulaikha, Arzu and Qamber, Siyabend and Xecê, stories that are still told today. The beauty of the women vaunted in epic love stories actually represents the goddesses as the source of life and beauty, expressing the longings of that time. For this reason, in these tragic love stories, love is always attacked by malevolent forces, lovers never succeed in meeting in this evil world, but their love remains the source of true beauty. That is why Farhad and Shirin say to each other:

“I have found perfection only in you/ From now on I cannot hope to create perfection/My first defeat is my supreme defeat/ Farhad’s work is completed/ Shirin opposes Farhad’s words. Says: … We are already embarked on creation/All beauties will be asked of us/We have begun the good and right thing/Our thought will always seek eternity/Eliminate all that you created if you wish/If you wish, create everything again/If you wish, tell of a passion that will not diminish itself/Walk towards the times awaiting us/I want you to surpass my beauty/I do not want to remain alone in nature/I must understand myself with what you created/Give me greater beauties… [Unofficial translation]

Over many periods of time, beauty found meaning in the form of collective values. Those who were brave, self-sacrificing and modest, those who lived communally, those who did not kneel before injustice, they were seen as beautiful. Before our minds were poisoned by positivist paradigms of science, it was the tales, epics, songs of the dengbej [Kurdish bards laments], poems, and proverbs that were the greatest source of social education, conveying and spreading what was beautiful, good, and just. However, perceptions of beauty have changed more and more over time.

Among those who formed our notion of beauty is Aristotle. He defined beauty with mathematical ideals and proportions. He said: “The principal forms of beauty are ordered, symmetrical and precise, with the demonstration of mathematical science to a special degree” and he claims to express this in the “golden rule” of mathematics. According to this, this measurable character was seen as the source of beauty of faces, bodies and art, even the bodies of women and men were represented with this formula in paintings and sculptures of Greek, Roman and Renaissance artists. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was created in this way. While on one hand beauty was idealized and expressed in art, on the other hand it was increasingly reduced to its physical appearance and being an artistic trend. Especially the “inner beauty”, as it had been evaluated in Eastern philosophy, was pushed aside. The only beauty that seemed to make sense and be valid was that which appealed to the eye and is expressed in form.

Today, faces and bodies are cut out and reconstructed by plastic surgery as if they were made of clay, in order to achieve mathematical standards such as “the golden ratio”. Bodies and living organisms are turned into replicas of statues. The definitions of beauty, of women’s beauty to be exact, follow Aristotle’s claims that defined women as “mutilated men”, who are inferior to men. Presenting that the ideal measurements of women’s bodies are 90-60-90, declares any other shape or size of women’s bodies as defective. Even when such shapes and standards are impossible for a large majority of women to achieve, especially not in a healthy way, there is a vested interest in ensuring that women invest their time and energy in achieving these ideals. As a result, many women experience problems with their health, for physical or psychological reasons, including depression and other mental conditions. Women seen as unable to achieve such idealized standards of beauty are condemned for life to suffer inferiority complexes as a result. People are created to fear the natural cycles of life, to dread aging and maturity. Instead of living the intrinsic beauty of each age, we mourn after a visible loss of youth and “beauty”. Every wrinkle, every white hair in the mirror becomes a source of pain.

As long as we don’t beautify life, all existing beauties are in danger. The ancient forests, the fecund rivers, the lively seashores, are greedily watched by companies, states and markets driven by interest and profit. Every day, cement buildings, dams and other infrastructure destroy the natural beauties, often irreversibly. Nature is losing its defense. Beautiful young women are sold as objects by their parents to marriages with rich old men, objects at the mercy and service of abusive and violent couples, commodities that generate money in the marketplace. Women have also been forcibly deprived of their means of defense. Every day, women are killed by their partners in the name of love. There are many testimonies of how ISIS or similar groups chose the “prettiest girls” to sell as sex slaves. In other words, beauty that remains unprotected and unorganized in such an ugly world is vulnerable to murder or rape. This is why we must live beauty collectively – and we must create spaces for it to happen. Only by affirming our ethical and aesthetic values in all spheres of life, including politics, economics, and culture, can we meaningfully set standards of beauty, live beautifully, and become sources of beauty.

In this sense, beautifying life can be accomplished by fighting against ugliness, injustice and evil around us. Especially as women we must be aware of our responsibility to beautify life, because we have always been the greatest victims of ugliness. As beautifully expressed by the guerrilla, comrade Bêrîtan (Gülnaz Karataş) after an action in Rubarok, where she was hit by an enemy bullet in the face: “Look how beautiful one can be. I am so beautiful now.” Comrade Bêrîtan is one of the first to understand that we have no choice but to be beautiful through struggle. This becomes even more evident when we consider the latest developments such as the systematic increase in violence against women. I am not just talking about defending ourselves physically with weapons. Women who democratize politics, women who risk their lives to protect the community and other women, women who educate themselves and those around them, women who live communally, women who save the ecological balance, women who fight to raise their children in free territories, with their own identities… and many others, are all women who make themselves beautiful by fighting. In today’s world full of ugliness, injustice and evil, not the aesthetics of physical forms, augmented, constitutes beauty; only women who defend life through struggle are those who can create beauty.

In this sense, is there anything more beautiful than young women fighting ISIS fascism?

Zozan Sîma, member of the Jineolojî Committee