It is with great sadness that we have learned the passing of our beloved colleague and friend Cynthia Cockburn. At Sabancı University, we have benefited immensely from Cynthia Cockburn’s lectures and conference presentations on gender, militarism, war and peace since 2004 and we feel honored and privileged to have had her as part of SU Gender’s International Advisory Board since 2016.
With her groundbreaking research and writing through the years, feminist researcher, Women in Black activist, birdwatcher, and songwriter Cynthia Cockburn has paved the way for a whole new body of critical feminist scholarship on war and peace, introducing us to creative feminist struggles for peace and justice, from Bosnia to Ireland, from Okinawa to Cyprus, from Sierra Leone to Palestine. Cynthia’s comparative and intersectional lens has taught us that we would be missing a crucial part of human creativity and wisdom if we do not see the light that so many courageous people around the world are shining on to the darkest moments and acts of humanity, and that “gender” is crucial to understanding and moving beyond violence and war.
Cynthia Cockburn has been to Turkey at least four times, the first being in 2004 as a guest of the Sabancı University Cultural Studies Program to talk about her inspiring research on Cyprus, published in The Line. Before the talk, Cynthia had a chance to participate in various March 8 activities in Istanbul, expressing her astonishment and joy for the dynamism and diversity she had witnessed. This visit also coincided with the publication of The Space Between Us in Turkish, which was followed by the Turkish publications of The Line in 2005 and From Where We Stand in 2009.
Cynthia Cockburn’s second visit to Turkey was in 2012 for two different occasions: “Gendered Memories of War and Political Violence Conference” (co-organized by Gender Forum, Sabancı University and Central European University) and the “Transborder Feminist Encounters Conference” (organized by Amargi). Cynthia’s impressive presentation at the Gender Forum conference was later published in the book Gendered Wars, Genderes Memories, edited by Ayşe Gül Altınay and Andrea Petö. In 2014, she was invited to Turkey by Ankara University’s Women’s Studies Center (KASAUM) on the occasion of their 20th anniversary, during which she gave talks and participated in joint events by Ankara University KASAUM and the LGBTI+ rights organization Kaos GL.
During these visits, Cynthia Cockburn went to other parts of Turkey for research and solidarity as well. In 2004, she traveled to Diyarbakır and Mardin and visited the local KAMER women’s centers for her research on women’s peace and nonviolence activism, while also giving a talk at the Diyarbakır Art Center. In 2012, she was in Habab (Elazığ) for the opening of the newly restored Habab Fountains (by Fethiye Çetin and the Hrant Dink Foundation), a historic peace event in itself, carrying Amargi’s bag “women do not want war.”
In May 2017, SU Gender organized an international academic conference on gender and peace, in honor of Cynthia Cockburn, which began with Ayşe Betül Çelik’s opening speech and brought together prominent scholars, writers and activists in the field, including Cynthia Enloe, Andrea Petö, Rela Mazali, Maria Hadjipavlou, Vanessa Farr, Elissa Helms and Tajma Kapic, with Turkish academics and activists. Unfortunately, Cynthia could not join us physically, due to her health, but she sent a video-recording which conveyed her powerful and inspiring analysis of the connections between gender, war and peace.
Through her research and writing, Cynthia Cockburn demonstrated a relentless curiosity for women’s activism for peace and justice in different corners of the world, always searching for new words and new methods. She connected many worlds through her research and theorizing. For her 2007 book From Where We Stand alone, Cynthia interviewed more than 250 women in 15 countries across five continents, covering ninety-one groups and organizations, and traveling (in the course of two years) more than 130.000 km.
From Where We Stand ends with an invitation for the reader to step into the footsteps of a “woman war slave” and look at life from where she stands.
“From where she stands I see something that surprises me. The struggle no longer seems to be against war itself, or rather not against war alone. War is the most violently coercive form taken by othering, the space in which differentiation becomes lethal. (…) But it is othering itself that is the problem. (…) [the woman slave’s] project, and perhaps our project therefore, doesn’t stop at opposition to militarism and war, and goes beyond even the positive search for peace. It’s a project of liberation. Liberation from what? From fear. Because the slave fears her ruler. But even more because the rulers too are afraid. I am afraid of whomever I cast out and down.”
Thank you dear Cynthia for not only showing us that we can only liberate from fear by listening, being surprised, doing research, and looking at the world from where each other stands, but also for leaving behind so many gifts for us to do all these! We will miss you dearly!