y mother is an Iranian Kurd from her father’s side. She left Iran during the 1979 Revolution, with only the stories of her family and ancestors. Her father taught her to shoot a rifle at nine, taking her out doors and throwing plates in the air. Aim and shoot, she would repeat to me at the rifle game in Knotts Berry Farm, doing her best to teach me the same methods with a toy rifle. Her uncle taught her how to take the poison out of a scorpion’s tail, or what to do when she heard a snake. She told me stories of her Kurdish ancestors living in the mountains, flowing with nature and appreciating all of its essence. When her father died, she spent a day at a friend of a friend’s barn and cried with sheep.
I always found something magical about having a Kurdish mother and ancestors close to nature, or women being taught the same methods of defense as men. Especially Middle Eastern women, where although there’s been only slight progress, back-warded governments enforce back-warded laws to make the worth of women disproportionate to men.
In comes ISIS, making news waves in 2014. They aim to create an ultra-conservative Islamic State, beheading journalists and soldiers along the way, or taking women and girls captive to become wives, humiliating them through sexual torture in the process. Some of these girls are only ten.
But as ISIS began making news, so did the Kurdish Peshmerga women soldiers
who put themselves on the front lines throughout Iraq and Syria, avenging the women captured and murdered by ISIS. The name “Peshmerga” literally translates as those who face death. It is believed that 30-40% of combatants in Kurdistan are women. They demonstrated that they were an asset to combat forces, fighting bravely and even feared by their enemies. Images of these women are depicted in the same way as men: different ages, different body sizes, but all holding weapons.
Although men and women soldiers separate into different camps at night, oftentimes they train and fight shoulder to shoulder, keeping the community connected and equal. In doing this, building gender equality is promoted by showing, not telling. And of all places that really needs some gender equality magic, the Middle East hits the top of the list. Their impact on the male part of Kurdish society is substantial. Most of these men have learned to respect a woman who knows her weapons and can fight.
One particular story comes from VICE News: Joanna Palani,
an Iranian Kurd who was a politics and philosophy student from Copenhagen, leaving her home to fight for the Peshmerga. Like my mother, Palani fired her first rifle at the age of nine.
And then there’s Asia Ramazan Antar,
a 19-year-old who became a symbol of the feminist struggle when photos of her spread across the internet, dubbing her as the Kurdish Angelina Jolie as she stands exhausted in military uniform. She became the poster-girl to Western media because of her good looks, shedding a light on how her efforts in the Kurdish Women’s Protection Unit was devalued for her physical appearance as opposed to her male comrades. Kurdish fighters and activists called the comparisons sexist and objectifying, rarely discussing her participation in the war against ISIS. Asia joined the YPJ fighters at 16, holding the village of al-Yashli during the attack by ISIS, and was often seen with a Russian-made KM machine gun hung around her arm because she was exceptionally skilled with it. She died in an attempt to halt an attack by three suicide car bombers.
It’s actually considered humiliating for an ISIS fighter to be killed by a woman. According to Sharia law, a Muslim fighter who dies on the battlefield will become a Shaheed (martyr), who goes to heaven and welcomed by 72 virgins unless it’s at the hands of a woman, which in that case, he will go to hell. Without his virgins. Tragic, isn’t it? ISIS actually penned a poem about 72 virgins to excite their troops in order to make Martyrdom something to be sought. The poem can be seen here.
And Kurdish women soldiers make it known to the boys that they should be afraid. It’s said that when the ISIS fighters hear the Kurdish women approach, they run, because god forbid they die in their hands. Although inspirational in their fight against the enemy, shoulder to shoulder with men, the women soldiers shouldn’t necessarily be romanticized, or, like Asia Ramazan Antar’s case, sexualized. They are dying in a war to defend their homelands, and at times, they join because their governments are not protecting them, so they feel the need to do it themselves.
Kurdish troops have also been the U.S.’s most crucial ally in the fight against ISIS. Which is why Donald Trump’s decision to abandon Kurdish fighters in Syria, the same Kurdish fighters who shed blood of over 11,000 men and women for the U.S., is considered such a betrayal.
Kurdish women soldiers are fighting a war that is not only there’s, but one on behalf of humanity. They wage a war not just against the enemy, but the patriarchy.