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YPJ: The all-f​emale Kurdish militia in the fight against Daesh




WASHINGTON- “It’s a very visible and a very emotional reminder of the incredible amountof sacrifices that are being made every single day here,” said Hawzhin Azeez.


Azeez referred to a cemetery in the Kurdish area of northern Syria, where relatives and comrades convened to give respect to another “fallen soldier,” members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ).


“What the Daesh is trying to do is basically ethnically cleanse the Kurdish people. They have actively and repeatedly said that any Kurdish person will face that [extreme] level of violence,” said Azeez, an Iraqi Kurd and board member of the Kobane Reconstruction Board in the district of Kobane, Syria.


But within the Kurdish movement against the Islamic State, the “heroic resistance” of the all­ female militia group, the YPJ, has challenged Daesh, as it is also known, as a “traditional conservative patriarchy” that threatens their rights as Kurds, and more importantly as women.


The YPJ established in 2012, played a crucial role, with the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and Peshmerga forces, in 2014 when thousands of Yazidis were rescued from the Islamic State’s siege on Mount Sinjar.


“What the YPJ represents is the different aspects of the resistance, not only as women, but also as a community, as a minority group, resisting against a terrorist organization bent on genocide,” said Azeez.


“If there is an environment and a situation to be able to do so, they get about six months worth of training, ideological training, military training, all kinds of physical training in order for them to be prepared,” said Azeez. “Under war situations, they get about twenty days of military training and then ongoing military and ideological training.”


A 2014 report by the NGO organization Human Rights Watch, which consisted of interviews conducted with refugees from Iraqi Kurdistan, claimed that Jabhat Al Nusra and the Islamic State made public announcements in Ras al Ayn, Tel Abyad, and Azaz “declaring Kurdish women and property ‘halal’ [or permissible] for their fighters.”


“The YPJ represents the ideology of self protection as women. What they are trying to do at the moment is resist against any sort of terrorist forces, any ideology that is really believes that women are not capable of living equally alongside with men,” said Azeez.

“The YPJ represents the ideology of self protection as women. What they are trying to do at the moment is resist against any sort of terrorist forces, any ideology that is really believes that women are not capable of living equally alongside with men,” said Azeez.

“Daesh really represents that sort of that dark force, dark ideology, that sort of patriarchal conservative traditionalism that really prevents equality within society.”


In December 2015, the YPJ, along with the YPG, took control over the Tishrin Dam, a strategic dam located in northern Syria, previously in the hands of Daesh fighters, where they recently launched their offensive against the Islamic State.


While the YPJ “visibly resists” terrorist forces and their ideologies, according to Azeez, their fight doesn’t end with the defeat of the Islamic State.

“They’re not just a force that stands in resistance against Daesh and once that threat is gone, they dissipate and everybody goes home,”said Azeez. “The Kurdish community itself is also being impacted by that sexism, by that patriarchy.”


Azeez said the women will constantly resist against that “patriarchal” system because “the men will be the first one, their own comrades will be the first ones to oppress them once the revolution is over.”


The women in the Kurdish militia force often “escape their families” and face reprimand for their participation in the resistance.


“She has the right to leave, she can leave at any point that she wants but the idea is that she picks up the gun for life. That she actively makes a choice to defend herself and her sisters and other women selectively for life,” said Azeez.


Featured image: Kurdish YPJ Star (PKK) women fighters at their base in Kirkuk province, Iraqi Kurdistan. The base is on a frontline 300 metres from an Islamic State position. (Photo by Martyn Aim/Corbis via Getty Images)

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