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Kurdish women wage war on Daesh

Published May 02, 2015 11:07am
A female Kurdistan Workers Party fighter stands guard at a PKK base on Mount Sinjar in northwest Iraq.
A female Kurdistan Workers Party fighter stands guard at a PKK base on Mount Sinjar in northwest Iraq.

By Asmaa Waguih

Women fighters at a Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) base on Mount Sinjar in northwest Iraq, just like their male counterparts, have to be ready for action at any time. Smoke from the front line marking their battle against the self-styled Islamic State which launched an assault on northern Iraq last summer is visible from the base.

Reuters photographer Asmaa Waguih spent time with the women who have taken up arms.

A fighter adjusts her scarf while another carries a picture of jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan.
A fighter adjusts her scarf while another carries a picture of jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan.

As the pickup truck carrying the soldiers passed by the winding road on Mount Sinjar, northwest Iraq, a child on the roadside cheered the soldiers and raised his hands with the victory sign. He chanted "Biji Scrok Apo", Kurdish for "Long live Apo," referring to the jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Islamic State militants overpowered Kurdish forces in the Sinjar area of Iraq last August and proceeded to purge its Yazidi population — an ancient, predominantly Kurdish people who follow their own religion — killing hundreds and taking thousands captive.

Women fighters greet each other.
Women fighters greet each other.

I had asked to go to Mount Sinjar because I knew there were Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant bases there and that women would be among the fighters. They were very kind and welcoming towards me but they had work to do.

A female PKK fighter works on her laptop while watching a Kurdish TV station at a base in the Sinjar mountains.
A female PKK fighter works on her laptop while watching a Kurdish TV station at a base in the Sinjar mountains.

Ever since the Islamic State took over Mount Sinjar and declared its cross-border caliphate last year, many minority Yazidis have joined forces with PKK fighters and Kurdish peshmerga fighters from Iraqi Kurdistan who defended their lands.

Grateful to the Kurds, many Yazidis decided to join with them to fight Islamic State and free the rest of Sinjar.

Fighters stand near a position hit by Islamic State car bombs.
Fighters stand near a position hit by Islamic State car bombs.

I didn't make it to the front line which marks the battle against Islamic State but I could see it from Mount Sinjar.

Women fighters at a Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant base on Mount Sinjar in northwest Iraq, just like their male counterparts have to be ready for action at any time.
Women fighters at a Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant base on Mount Sinjar in northwest Iraq, just like their male counterparts have to be ready for action at any time.

Male and women fighters worked together, side by side. All of the fighters, whether women or men, don’t get married, choosing to sacrifice their personal lives for the cause they believe in.

Many women I met were from families who were staunch supporters of the PKK, often with other members joining up. The fighters were willing to give up having a family of their own to defend their land, dying in the process if necessary.

Female fighters talk as they sit around a heater.
Female fighters talk as they sit around a heater.

Some of the women had cut links with their homes. The fighters came from different parts of Kurdistan but spoke a common dialect of Kurdish so they could understand each other.

They addressed each other as “comrade” and it was clear that they supported each other in whatever challenge they faced.

A displaced Yazidi family, including a fighter, who live in tents nearby, chant slogans as a military convoy carrying the body of a Yazidi fighter passes by.
A displaced Yazidi family, including a fighter, who live in tents nearby, chant slogans as a military convoy carrying the body of a Yazidi fighter passes by.

These women and their male counterparts are an example of what some may see as an extreme example of patriotism. They are very organised and strong-minded women.

It makes me feel that being a Kurd is something very unique. You always have another language and country that are part of your identity, while dreaming of a land of your own: an ideal that you’ll defend, come what may.

Fighters wave goodbye as they leave after a visit from another base.
Fighters wave goodbye as they leave after a visit from another base.
Female PKK fighters discuss how to reach a position that had been hit by Islamic State car bombs in Sinjar.
Female PKK fighters discuss how to reach a position that had been hit by Islamic State car bombs in Sinjar.
Female fighters walk through destroyed houses which were freed from Islamic State fighters.
Female fighters walk through destroyed houses which were freed from Islamic State fighters.
The mother of a Yazidi fighter killed during fighting with Islamic State militants mourns with relatives over his body during a funeral ceremony at a cemetery in Sinjar.
The mother of a Yazidi fighter killed during fighting with Islamic State militants mourns with relatives over his body during a funeral ceremony at a cemetery in Sinjar.
A female fighter waits for a drone to land at the PKK base in Sinjar, after it had gone to check enemy positions near a site that had been hit by two Islamic State car bombs.
A female fighter waits for a drone to land at the PKK base in Sinjar, after it had gone to check enemy positions near a site that had been hit by two Islamic State car bombs.
Kurdish women fighters sit with a Yazidi family, including a member of YBS, a Yazidi militant group also fighting against Islamic State.
Kurdish women fighters sit with a Yazidi family, including a member of YBS, a Yazidi militant group also fighting against Islamic State.
Female Kurdistan Workers Party fighters pose for a picture with a displaced Yazidi woman (R) who lives near the base in Sinjar.
Female Kurdistan Workers Party fighters pose for a picture with a displaced Yazidi woman (R) who lives near the base in Sinjar.
A female Kurdish fighter takes a photo of others visiting from another base.
A female Kurdish fighter takes a photo of others visiting from another base.
Fighters leave their base.
Fighters leave their base.