Women join the Kurdish fight in Syria

Syrian Kurds are fighting for an autonomous region in the northeast of the country. They have largely managed to drive out Assad’s troops. Now they’re fighting the Islamists. A third of the fighters are women.

Source: Deutsche Welle; edited by Roj Women

 YPG troops

About 200 women and girls of the People’s Defence Unit (YPG) in Kurdish Syria stand at the ready on a sandy stretch of ground behind a small hill. “This is the brigade’s military base,” Warsin explains.

A year ago, Warsin, now 25, joined the Kurdish militia near Qamishli, the unofficial capital of the northern Rojava region of Syria, which is mainly settled by Kurds. She is clad in a typical Palestinian scarf and a protective vest. Roj, a petite young woman who fought against the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front on the Iraqi border, stands beside her. Last winter, the YPG militia drove the Islamists out, Roj proudly states, adding that they managed to chase out Bashar al-Assad’s troops a year before that.




Roj, Warsin and Canda
Roj, Warsin and Canda fight for an independent Kurdistan

The YPG was officially founded in 2012 in an attempt to keep Syria’s civil war from spreading into the region. The group is regarded as the military wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). In effect, the entire region is isolated from the outside world because the Syrian Kurds’ attempts at self-rule aren’t welcomed by all their neighbors. Ankara fears a Kurdish uprising in Turkey should the Syrian Kurds’ model succeed. The Kurds in Iraq are split; some carry on a brisk oil trade with Turkey, and would rather not threaten the good relations with Ankara. The Iraqi government entertains sympathies for Syria’s Kurds, but remains guarded as long as it is not clear who is to rule in Damascus in the future.

From the classroom to the battlefield

As a result, Syria’s Kurds are on their own. But that has led to an outright surge in mobilization in the course of which Roj and Warsin decided to join the YPG. A few months ago, Syrian Kurds proclaimed Rojava to be autonomous.

“First and foremost, we are here because our native country is under attack and we want to defend it,” says Canda, a 21-year-old who’s a member of the Military Council. “No one forced us, we’re volunteers.” Canda is talkative. “My parents are proud of me, they support and motivate me, and feel I’m doing the right thing,” she says, and adds that, should she be killed in battel, her family would say “she died for peace and democracy.”

areas of Kurdish settlement

Eylem looks young for her 18 years. She’s just graduated from high school and had planned to study Arabic. “No one spoke Kurdish here, and it wasn’t taught in school, either.” A degree in Arabic was much sought after and would have been beneficial, Eylem says – Kurds in Syria were used to adjusting to Assad’s regime.

But now, for the first time, Syrian Kurds – above all the women – have the opportunity to shape their own lives. Women make up 35 percent of the 45,000 fighters. “Women used to be suppressed and exploited in our society, and regarded as inferior by the men,” Canda says. “Now we have the chance to be role models for Kurds and for other ethnicities – for instance, for Arab women.”

YPG military base
The YPG’s military base is near Qamishli on the border with Turkey

Women will decide the future

The Kurdish party PYD has also introduced a women’s quota of 40 percent, and the party’s executive is half women. Co-chairwoman to Asya Abdullah is fully dedicated to her political work and equality. She is convinced that “women have become the benchmark.” And she continues, “In some sectors, women have become so dominant that now men are demanding a quota.” Not every man is happy about that, she says, laughing. Even the male member of the regional parliament who’s sitting beside has to laugh at that, but he doesn’t contradict.

The Kurdish women’s great role model is the rebel leader Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned in a Turkish jail since 1999. The leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who spent 20 years of his life in exile in Syria, repeatedly demanded the liberation of women. Many Kurdish families still display his photo in their living room, and Öcalan’s nickname Apo is sprayed on numerous buildings. In their fight for autonomy, the Kurds may turn out to be the winners of the Syrian conflict – as long as they aren’t pulverized amid the conflicting interests of Syria’s neighbors.

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Women of Rojava break their chains

In a report carried by ANF, Jina Zekioğlu interviews members of a 6-women committee from the Cizîre Canton in Rojava on a visit to Diyarbakir. The committee met with various local organizations in an attempt to develop joint-projects and to improve cooperation between women’s organizations in Rojava and North Kurdistan.  Zekioğlu spoke with the six women – Necah, Axin, Sadia, Jînda, Nora and Mona – about the Rojava Revolution and the role that women are now playing in transforming politics and society. Below is the second part of Zekioğlu’s report, translated into English. Part one can be found here.

Source: ANF

Jîna Sêxmûs is 26 years old. She has two children. The fire of the struggle sparklers in her eyes.

Zekioğlu: When you think about the past how do you feel?

Jîna: Very strong! I want to hope that we have left those dark days behind us. It was very difficult. It was difficult in every aspect. I had two children, I was to raise them – the war was a personal awakening for me as a woman. It was all very difficult. We, the youth, played our role and our mission in the revolution. Rojava is a region that possesses fantastic riches both below and above the ground. Our resources are very rich. The youth population is large. There is so much to do that we have no time now to waste. If the cooperatives are able to be brought together they will provide for the livelihood of women. A large majority of those migrating because of the war were men. Many of those who have lost their lives or became soldiers are also men. For that reason there is now a large population of  young women. We want to create new projects in order to that this population might be utilized. In this way we will be worthy of our freedom which we have won through countless difficulties.

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Kurdish women fight for equality in Syria

Like her five sisters before her, Ahin left school to help her mother at home. Now she’s training to fight.

Source: Reuters

At a remote Kurdish militia base on the grassy rolling hills near Syria’s border with Iraq, the stocky 19-year-old jumps and crawls with rows of women in olive green fatigues. Their commander barks an order, and they take position and aim their Kalashnikovs.

Kurdish female fighters of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) hold their weapons at a military training camp in Malikiya, Hassaka province December 9, 2013. Credit: REUTERS/Rodi Said

Kurdish female fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) hold their weapons at a military training camp in Malikiya, Hassaka province December 9, 2013. Credit: REUTERS/Rodi Said

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Prominent women’s rights campaigner in solidarity visit to Rojava

Margaret Owen, a well-known human rights lawyer and women’s rights advocate has returned from a solidarity visit with women’s groups in Rojava, northern Syria.

Source: Peace in Kurdistan Campaign

Ms Owen spent eight days in the region, which is also known as Western Kurdistan and is currently under the administration of a broad coalition of civil society and political organisations led by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). The region was largely peaceful until clashes with Al Qaeda affiliated groups began this year, and has seen a massive influx of Syrian internal refugees fleeing violence elsewhere in the country.

During her visit Ms Owen visited local initiatives, projects and programs led by women calling for peace, Kurdish self-determination and women’s rights. Among them were humanitarian groups, looking after nearly 200,000 internally displaced people (IPDs) without any international aid assistance.

Owen with Kurdish women in Rojava_Dec 2013

Ms Owen said: “The killing must stop. Humanitarian aid must go directly to Rojava. And all UN member states must stop providing arms to the regime, or the opposition, now so deeply infiltrated by Al Qaida militias.” Continue reading