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  • Kurdish female fighters face ISIS in Syria

  • Hundreds of Syrian Kurdish women are joining the female’s section of the People’s Protection Units (YPJ) because they see in the jihadist advance a serious threat to their rights. Human Rights Watch reports that women suffer severe discrimination in Al-Nusra Front and ISIS controlled areas.

    YPJ fighters guarding the frontline in Afrin region. David Meseguer©

    «The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant sees the woman as a weak being and something purely decorative. Only uses her for sex,” explains Farida Abdo from Afrin police station with a steaming cup of tea in her hand. «Women have skills and the best way to prove it is fighting the jihadists to make them feel lower,” highlights this police officer.

    Afrin is a predominantly Kurdish region of northwest Aleppo province and is located 60 kilometres north of the second Syrian largest city.

    Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, Kurdish women are pursuing a double struggle for the rights recognition of the biggest minority in the country (10% of the Syrian population) and claim the role of women in a distinctly patriarchal Middle East. Following the thesis of Abdullah Öcalan, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the dominant party among the Kurds of Syria, which has an ideology akin to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), promotes active women participation in the military-political sphere and co-leadership in the different social organisms.

    «We must leave the domestic sphere and take an active role in the democratic autonomy of the Syrian Kurdistan. It is an historical moment and the woman should take part in it,” says Rokan Ahmad, a high rank PYD officer in Afrin. The other big Rokan’s concern is “the serious threat that supposes the jihadist advance in Syrian areas under rebel control”. Since last June, Al Qaeda linked groups and some rebel factions are fighting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to gain control of the Kurdish areas in northern Syria.

    Discrimination against women

    According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published in early January, the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) are imposing «strict and discriminatory rules for women» in areas under their control. The Sharia, the Islamic strict law imposed by these jihadist groups, forces women to wear the niqab, a veil covering all of the face apart from the eyes. The restrictions also forbade women from wearing jeans, tight-fitting clothing, skirts or dresses above the ankle and make-up. In some areas, the groups ordered women not to style their hair or visit hair salons.

    HRW claims that the restrictions of these jihadist groups affect women daily lives by limiting their ability to receive an education and support their families. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London and with dozens of activists on the ground, confirms «cases of women arrests for political reasons, being a member of civil society organizations or supporting demonstrations in the streets.”

    «These extremist fighters practice Jihad al-Nikah (sexual jihad) that allows them to have and enjoy sex during the battle,» Rokan alerts. Witnesses from areas controlled by the ISIS report cases of women abductions and rapes to satisfy emir’s sexual desires. Akhin, the chief commander of Kurdish female police in Afrin, tells how the Al-Nusra Front stopped her for eight hours at a checkpoint while she was returning from Damascus. «They did not touch me because I was fully covered. If they know who I am, they would have killed me right there,» recalls this young experienced PKK fighter recently returned from Qandil Mountains.

    On the frontline
    The jihadist offensive over the predominantly Kurdish region of northern Syria has caused a large mobilization among the population and many women have joined the police and the People´s Protection Units (YPG). Since March 2013, both bodies have their own women’s section with a high autonomy from the central structure. «Much of our work is done jointly with men. We act independently when it is necessary to investigate cases where women are involved,” says Akhin. Now the female share of the military structure is around 35% but commanders point that the goal is to achieve nearly 50%.

    In Basufane’s frontline, it is possible to realize the large number of women that have recently joined the female section of the Kurdish militia (YPJ). There, dozens of women take cover in trenches and bunkers that are only 300 meters way from ISIS positions. «Our enemy wants to impose servitude of women. Because we refuse this idea we are fighting them,» declares Sakine, while she is cleaning her AK- 47. Like her, hundreds of young girls near twenties, have joined YPJ leaving their studies and works, and spend long periods of time on the frontline without visiting their families.

    Roksen’s mother holding a portrait of her daughter. David Meseguer©

    «ISIS militants fear us even more than men because according to their beliefs if they die during the fight killed by a woman they do not reach the paradise,» explains Zilan from her guarding post. This is a version that Abdullrahman, a member of the Kurdish negotiating committee that sometimes held meetings with the jihadists to exchange bodies, prisoners and manage truces, ratifies. «The emirs of ISIS beg us to remove women from the frontline because is a dishonour be killed in their hands», says Abdullrahman.

    Precisely, Roksen died in Basufane last September in heavy fighting with the ISIS while covering the withdrawal of its comrades. Abdullrahman, who recovered her body, says it was completely unrecognizable. «Roksen was immolated with a grenade before being detained. After that, the extremists threw his body to the dogs and it was totally disfigured”, complains the member of the negotiating delegation.

    For Badiaa Waqqas, Roksen’s mother, “my daughter’s blood has contributed to achieve a Kurdish autonomy in Syria. I am sad because she died before this desire comes true.»

abril 30th, 2014


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  • Portfolio David Meseguer
    abril 2014
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