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The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline

Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

March 21, 2017
4 min read

Kurdish YPG Fighters, Photo Credit: Kurdishstruggle/flickr

Kimmie Taylor is a 27-year-old woman from Blackburn, who after just 10 days’ military training is attached as a ‘media officer’ to the YPJ, the Women’s Defence Force allied to the YPG (People’s Defence Unit), the mainly Kurdish revolutionary militants fighting to liberate communities from the oppressive rule of ISIS/Daesh.

You’ve recently been at close quarters to a combat situation with a lone Daesh sniper?

We put up an incredible fight for three hours. Just two friends slightly injured. One woman was shot in the right arm at first but continued fighting with the same arm. Only when the Daesh blew himself up and a piece of shrapnel lodged in her head did she stop fighting. I’m so proud to call these people my comrades. We fight with unconditional resistance.

How would you respond to those feminists who would see war and militarisation as masculine and patriarchal?

We are fighting for our beliefs. Women need to know that men can’t protect us. If the women of Sinjar had established their own forces, ISIS wouldn’t have taken them as sex slaves. [As for the Americans] they don’t fight carefully like we do and may cause unnecessary civilian deaths. Even with air cover… there is a kind of psychological warfare being played by the coalition to show who’s boss.

What’s it like being with other women from a different culture in such dangerous conditions?

Many of them I don’t know very well… I’m new here and we’ve been dispersed around the front to mix in with all the forces. But my bond is more like awe. I know them on a shallow level, like how they laugh and smile and talk to me and then I see them run fast towards the fight. There’s no second thought. They run forward. They aren’t afraid at all.

How does everyone there cope with death in your midst, when there are such close bonds?

Although most of the women are in their 20s, the age range being 18 to 30s, they have lost enough of their friends to have become used to death… It doesn’t mean they aren’t sad about it. They cry sometimes – when it’s just us women together, and a song comes on or we talk about a friend who died. But they aren’t torn apart by it like we would be in the west.

The sense of relief and joy the women feel on joining the YPJ is indescribable… At home, they would be expected to get married and faced such restrictions on their freedoms before the revolution that they were not even allowed to greet a male neighbour. It is their new-found freedom that motivates them and they want to give that to other women.

The YPJ only sends single women to the frontline – married women and mothers work in diplomacy, on tasks like public relations, administration and recruitment. Do these rules also apply to the men in the YPG?

No, married men can go to the front but they go home every ten days for a few days. It’s a difficult question to answer because you have to remember that we are autonomous. YPJ make their own decision on how to deal with married women and mothers, based on their own ideas, not just comparing to what men have.

That’s the difference between here and western feminism. Feminists are always comparing themselves with men instead of just thinking about what they want and what’s best. Here the women know what oppression is. For the average white westerner it’s mostly more subtle. That’s why so many women in the west say we aren’t oppressed and patriarchy doesn’t exist.

What about the allegations made in The Nation and other publications about the YPG burning down Arab villages and brutalising the Arabs they have liberated from Daesh?

This is anti-Rojava propaganda, I can say that a million per cent. Do you know the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces – the alliance of different groups fighting ISIS] is 70 per cent Arab now?

A longer version of this interview was published by OpenDemocracy. Follow Kimmie Taylor on Twitter

at @Kimmieslife

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