Women warriors against Daesh: A Kurdish force to be reckoned with

Published May 29th, 2015 - 04:00 GMT

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Just a few weeks into the US-led airstrike campaign against Daesh in Syria last September, Kurdish militia YPG was barely holding off the militants in Syria’s Kobani.

Scenes coming out of the Kurdish border town were gruesome. Militants stormed the streets and locked into fierce clashes with the YPG, while gun-wielding Kurdish grannies banded together into makeshift civilian armies. Meanwhile, gritty photos circulated Daesh-affiliated social media accounts showing the severed heads of captured Kurdish fighters. Continue reading below »

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The Kurdish Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ) is a faction of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which was banned in the country. It hasn’t stopped the members from actively fighting against government forces since 2012, and in 2014 the female warriors were voted CNN's 'most inspirational women.' (AFP/File)
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Image 1 of 12:  1 / 12The Kurdish Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ) is a faction of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which was banned in the country. It hasn’t stopped the members from actively fighting against government forces since 2012, and in 2014 the female warriors were voted CNN's "most inspirational women." (AFP/File)

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For many of the 7,500-plus YPJ soldiers, the fight becomes personal because of Daesh’s history of atrocities against women. 'We stand and fight, especially here in the Middle East where women are treated as inferiors,' soldier Viyan Peyman told NBC News. 'We stand here as symbols of strength for all the women of the region.' (AFP/File)
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Image 2 of 12:  2 / 12For many of the 7,500-plus YPJ soldiers, the fight becomes personal because of Daesh’s history of atrocities against women. "We stand and fight, especially here in the Middle East where women are treated as inferiors," soldier Viyan Peyman told NBC News. "We stand here as symbols of strength for all the women of the region." (AFP/File)

Enlarge
In Aleppo Kurdish soldiers have been a major influence in the fight against both Daesh and the regime. 'We’re not just a pretty picture. We are a way of thinking,' YPJ Gen. Narin Afrin told FT Magazine. Here a woman watches government forces through the wall in the central city. (AFP/Dimitar Dilkoff)
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Image 3 of 12:  3 / 12In Aleppo Kurdish soldiers have been a major influence in the fight against both Daesh and the regime. "We’re not just a pretty picture. We are a way of thinking," YPJ Gen. Narin Afrin told FT Magazine. Here a woman watches government forces through the wall in the central city. (AFP/Dimitar Dilkoff)

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Training camps for women continue to be offered in certain areas of Syria, including in Aleppo and Ras al-Ain. Here the women take part in a training session by the YPG in the northern province of Hasakeh on Oct. 19, 2013, shortly after government troops had pulled out of Kurdish-majority territories in the country. (AFP/Fabio Bucciarelli)
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Image 4 of 12:  4 / 12Training camps for women continue to be offered in certain areas of Syria, including in Aleppo and Ras al-Ain. Here the women take part in a training session by the YPG in the northern province of Hasakeh on Oct. 19, 2013, shortly after government troops had pulled out of Kurdish-majority territories in the country. (AFP/Fabio Bucciarelli)

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Kurdish forces in November 2012 parade in the streets of northern Derik, near al-Malikiyah. By early 2013, the YPJ established the first women’s battalion of about 150 soldiers to fight in Aleppo. The units initially joined rebels in their fight against regime forces, before Daesh became a major influence in the region. (AFP/Giulio Petrocco)
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Image 5 of 12:  5 / 12Kurdish forces in November 2012 parade in the streets of northern Derik, near al-Malikiyah. By early 2013, the YPJ established the first women’s battalion of about 150 soldiers to fight in Aleppo. The units initially joined rebels in their fight against regime forces, before Daesh became a major influence in the region. (AFP/Giulio Petrocco)

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Syria’s not the only country to feel the influence of these brave women. A Kurdish PKK soldier works on her laptop after leaving Turkey and arriving in Dohuk, Iraq. The YPG is an affiliate of the Turkish militia group PKK, which is classified as a “terrorist” organization in a few countries including the US. (AFP/Safin Hamed)
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Image 6 of 12:  6 / 12Syria’s not the only country to feel the influence of these brave women. A Kurdish PKK soldier works on her laptop after leaving Turkey and arriving in Dohuk, Iraq. The YPG is an affiliate of the Turkish militia group PKK, which is classified as a “terrorist” organization in a few countries including the US. (AFP/Safin Hamed)

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While the exact number of female soldiers killed is unknown, several women have lost their lives on the battlefield — some beheaded by Daesh, others sacrificing themselves to take the extremists along with them. Syrian-Kurdish women here stand guard during the funeral of a fellow YPJ fighter. (AFP/Giulio Petrocco)
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Image 7 of 12:  7 / 12While the exact number of female soldiers killed is unknown, several women have lost their lives on the battlefield — some beheaded by Daesh, others sacrificing themselves to take the extremists along with them. Syrian-Kurdish women here stand guard during the funeral of a fellow YPJ fighter. (AFP/Giulio Petrocco)

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In this photo the young Syrian-Kurdish fighters attend a training session by the YPG. Women rename themselves when starting training; a YPJ commander said the new name is to separate the soldiers from their past and who they used to be before they chose the revolution. (AFP/Benjamin Hiller)
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Image 8 of 12:  8 / 12In this photo the young Syrian-Kurdish fighters attend a training session by the YPG. Women rename themselves when starting training; a YPJ commander said the new name is to separate the soldiers from their past and who they used to be before they chose the revolution. (AFP/Benjamin Hiller)

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In the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, close to the Turkish border, a military camp serves for training YPJ fighters before they join the front lines. In this photo a Kurdish soldier plays with a puppy in Hasakeh province’s town. (AFP/Delil Souleiman)
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Image 9 of 12:  9 / 12In the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, close to the Turkish border, a military camp serves for training YPJ fighters before they join the front lines. In this photo a Kurdish soldier plays with a puppy in Hasakeh province’s town. (AFP/Delil Souleiman)

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Pervin Kobani, 19, joined the YPG along with her father, Farouk. This image was taken from an Associated Press video that showed the two embracing in Kobani — where the YPG, with help from Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga forces, reclaimed the key route city from Daesh. (Twitter)
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Image 10 of 12:  10 / 12Pervin Kobani, 19, joined the YPG along with her father, Farouk. This image was taken from an Associated Press video that showed the two embracing in Kobani — where the YPG, with help from Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga forces, reclaimed the key route city from Daesh. (Twitter)

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Women have been fighting alongside men in the PKK for over ten years. In this photo the fighters arrived in Dohuk, northern Iraq, preparing for battle against Daesh. (AFP/File)
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Image 11 of 12:  11 / 12Women have been fighting alongside men in the PKK for over ten years. In this photo the fighters arrived in Dohuk, northern Iraq, preparing for battle against Daesh. (AFP/File)

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Most of these women leave family behind as they enter the militia. Jin, a YPJ soldier, and her mother, Amina, had been apart for over a month despite Jin living at a base nearby her home in Girke Lege, Syria. (AFP/Erin Trieb)
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Image 12 of 12:  12 / 12Most of these women leave family behind as they enter the militia. Jin, a YPJ soldier, and her mother, Amina, had been apart for over a month despite Jin living at a base nearby her home in Girke Lege, Syria. (AFP/Erin Trieb)

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1

The Kurdish Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ) is a faction of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which was banned in the country. It hasn’t stopped the members from actively fighting against government forces since 2012, and in 2014 the female warriors were voted CNN's 'most inspirational women.' (AFP/File)

Image 1 of 12The Kurdish Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ) is a faction of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which was banned in the country. It hasn’t stopped the members from actively fighting against government forces since 2012, and in 2014 the female warriors were voted CNN's "most inspirational women." (AFP/File)

2

For many of the 7,500-plus YPJ soldiers, the fight becomes personal because of Daesh’s history of atrocities against women. 'We stand and fight, especially here in the Middle East where women are treated as inferiors,' soldier Viyan Peyman told NBC News. 'We stand here as symbols of strength for all the women of the region.' (AFP/File)

Image 2 of 12For many of the 7,500-plus YPJ soldiers, the fight becomes personal because of Daesh’s history of atrocities against women. "We stand and fight, especially here in the Middle East where women are treated as inferiors," soldier Viyan Peyman told NBC News. "We stand here as symbols of strength for all the women of the region." (AFP/File)

3

In Aleppo Kurdish soldiers have been a major influence in the fight against both Daesh and the regime. 'We’re not just a pretty picture. We are a way of thinking,' YPJ Gen. Narin Afrin told FT Magazine. Here a woman watches government forces through the wall in the central city. (AFP/Dimitar Dilkoff)

Image 3 of 12In Aleppo Kurdish soldiers have been a major influence in the fight against both Daesh and the regime. "We’re not just a pretty picture. We are a way of thinking," YPJ Gen. Narin Afrin told FT Magazine. Here a woman watches government forces through the wall in the central city. (AFP/Dimitar Dilkoff)

4

Training camps for women continue to be offered in certain areas of Syria, including in Aleppo and Ras al-Ain. Here the women take part in a training session by the YPG in the northern province of Hasakeh on Oct. 19, 2013, shortly after government troops had pulled out of Kurdish-majority territories in the country. (AFP/Fabio Bucciarelli)

Image 4 of 12Training camps for women continue to be offered in certain areas of Syria, including in Aleppo and Ras al-Ain. Here the women take part in a training session by the YPG in the northern province of Hasakeh on Oct. 19, 2013, shortly after government troops had pulled out of Kurdish-majority territories in the country. (AFP/Fabio Bucciarelli)

5

Kurdish forces in November 2012 parade in the streets of northern Derik, near al-Malikiyah. By early 2013, the YPJ established the first women’s battalion of about 150 soldiers to fight in Aleppo. The units initially joined rebels in their fight against regime forces, before Daesh became a major influence in the region. (AFP/Giulio Petrocco)

Image 5 of 12Kurdish forces in November 2012 parade in the streets of northern Derik, near al-Malikiyah. By early 2013, the YPJ established the first women’s battalion of about 150 soldiers to fight in Aleppo. The units initially joined rebels in their fight against regime forces, before Daesh became a major influence in the region. (AFP/Giulio Petrocco)

6

Syria’s not the only country to feel the influence of these brave women. A Kurdish PKK soldier works on her laptop after leaving Turkey and arriving in Dohuk, Iraq. The YPG is an affiliate of the Turkish militia group PKK, which is classified as a “terrorist” organization in a few countries including the US. (AFP/Safin Hamed)

Image 6 of 12Syria’s not the only country to feel the influence of these brave women. A Kurdish PKK soldier works on her laptop after leaving Turkey and arriving in Dohuk, Iraq. The YPG is an affiliate of the Turkish militia group PKK, which is classified as a “terrorist” organization in a few countries including the US. (AFP/Safin Hamed)

7

While the exact number of female soldiers killed is unknown, several women have lost their lives on the battlefield — some beheaded by Daesh, others sacrificing themselves to take the extremists along with them. Syrian-Kurdish women here stand guard during the funeral of a fellow YPJ fighter. (AFP/Giulio Petrocco)

Image 7 of 12While the exact number of female soldiers killed is unknown, several women have lost their lives on the battlefield — some beheaded by Daesh, others sacrificing themselves to take the extremists along with them. Syrian-Kurdish women here stand guard during the funeral of a fellow YPJ fighter. (AFP/Giulio Petrocco)

8

In this photo the young Syrian-Kurdish fighters attend a training session by the YPG. Women rename themselves when starting training; a YPJ commander said the new name is to separate the soldiers from their past and who they used to be before they chose the revolution. (AFP/Benjamin Hiller)

Image 8 of 12In this photo the young Syrian-Kurdish fighters attend a training session by the YPG. Women rename themselves when starting training; a YPJ commander said the new name is to separate the soldiers from their past and who they used to be before they chose the revolution. (AFP/Benjamin Hiller)

9

In the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, close to the Turkish border, a military camp serves for training YPJ fighters before they join the front lines. In this photo a Kurdish soldier plays with a puppy in Hasakeh province’s town. (AFP/Delil Souleiman)

Image 9 of 12In the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, close to the Turkish border, a military camp serves for training YPJ fighters before they join the front lines. In this photo a Kurdish soldier plays with a puppy in Hasakeh province’s town. (AFP/Delil Souleiman)

10

Pervin Kobani, 19, joined the YPG along with her father, Farouk. This image was taken from an Associated Press video that showed the two embracing in Kobani — where the YPG, with help from Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga forces, reclaimed the key route city from Daesh. (Twitter)

Image 10 of 12Pervin Kobani, 19, joined the YPG along with her father, Farouk. This image was taken from an Associated Press video that showed the two embracing in Kobani — where the YPG, with help from Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga forces, reclaimed the key route city from Daesh. (Twitter)

11

Women have been fighting alongside men in the PKK for over ten years. In this photo the fighters arrived in Dohuk, northern Iraq, preparing for battle against Daesh. (AFP/File)

Image 11 of 12Women have been fighting alongside men in the PKK for over ten years. In this photo the fighters arrived in Dohuk, northern Iraq, preparing for battle against Daesh. (AFP/File)

12

Most of these women leave family behind as they enter the militia. Jin, a YPJ soldier, and her mother, Amina, had been apart for over a month despite Jin living at a base nearby her home in Girke Lege, Syria. (AFP/Erin Trieb)

Image 12 of 12Most of these women leave family behind as they enter the militia. Jin, a YPJ soldier, and her mother, Amina, had been apart for over a month despite Jin living at a base nearby her home in Girke Lege, Syria. (AFP/Erin Trieb)

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YPG commanders were desperately calling on the US and Turkey to bulk up weapons support for a deteriorating situation on the ground.

Then one day in early October, a female YPJ commander clashed with militants on the outskirts of the border town, before detonating a grenade on herself and the militants that surrounded her.

The event is widely regarded as the first suicide attack to be carried out by the Kurds in the conflict’s four-year span.

Activists diverge on whether the young commander used the grenade to avoid capture or in a planned attack. But it became a symbol of the Kurdish struggle against Daesh, and the strong presence of Kurdish women on the battlefield.

With many Kurdish militias featuring women on the frontlines alongside men, these are the ladies who have come to own the fight against Daesh.

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