Fighting ISIS – Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ)


According to terror research group TRAC, as much as 35 percent of Kurdish troops in Syria’s north are women.(1)

660x390cbaba52bd0f4000799250b82a6e47e93f1bb1e74The Islamic stage of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS, or Daesh) militants launched a siege of Kobani on 13 September 2014, in order to capture the Kobanî Canton and its main city of Kobanî (also known as Kobanê or Ayn al-Arab) in northern Syria, in the de facto autonomous region of Rojava. On 26 January 2015, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), along with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Peshmerga reinforcements and the continued US-led airstrikes, began to retake the city, driving ISIL into a steady retreat. The city of Kobanî was recaptured on 27 January.(2)

Defending the Kobani borders, one in three of Kurdish fighters are female, fighting underBzsYddCCEAAl3yd the banner of Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ), and the entire defense force is being co-commanded by a woman, Mayssa Abdo, known by the non-de-guerre of Narin Afrin.

In Abdo’s words as translated in the New York Times article:

Kobani’s resistance has mobilized our entire society, and many of its leaders, including myself, are women. Those of us on the front lines are well aware of the Islamic State’s treatment of women. We expect women around the world to help us, because we are fighting for the rights of women everywhere. We do not expect them to come to join our fight here (though we would be proud if any did). But we do ask women to promote our case and to raise awareness of our situation in their own countries, and to pressure their governments to help us.

We have proved ourselves to be one of the only effective forces battling the Islamic State in Syria. Whenever we meet them on equal terms, they are always defeated. If we had more weapons and could be joined by more of our fighters from elsewhere in Syria, we would be in a position to strike a deadly blow against the Islamic State, one that we believe would ultimately lead to its dissolution across the region as a whole.”(3)

Abdo is known as a beautiful, ‘cultivated, intelligent and phlegmatic’ woman who ‘cares for the mental state of the fighters and takes interest in their problems.’ While it may be surprising to some that a woman is leading the Kurdish fighters in a Muslim country, by law women receive the same treatment as male fighters; and there are actually hundreds of Kurdish women fighting against ISIS. They have been trained with SWAT teams and the special forces, and are proud to be fighting against ISIS.(4)

ISIS is scared of the female fighters, says a young YPJ fighter from the frontlines:

It is true ISIS is scared of female fighters. In fact, it tries to avoid attacking positions with women in them.

Some explain this by saying: “If they are killed by women then they won’t be allowed entry into heaven,” but I think this has more to do with the fact that they have never come across women as determined and as courageous as us.

ISIS see women as sex objects. And yes, this does motivate me when I fight against them. This is why I know ISIS is scared of us women in the YPJ. They know how they treat women, and they know we are aware of what they do and can feel our resentment and hatred of them.

This is what makes us such big enemies, our approaches to women. We have made the liberation of women a central idea to our struggle, whereas it has made rape central to its way of life.

The success of women in Kurdistan is the success of all women against the patriarchal system in the world and this makes me very happy. In this sense, I am proud of all women. We even have female fighters from other countries.

Even now, there are women from across the Middle East who have asked to be trained in order to defend themselves and their countries. We do tell people that this cannot only be achieved through the use of arms.

There are social, political and ideological factors in this struggle. We will never refrain from supporting the women of our region. But not only our region, who can deny that our struggle has not had an impact on all the women of the world?

Organizations such as ISIS are the embodiment of the climax of the patriarchal system we live in. ISIS go about subordinating women by capturing, raping and enslaving them. But we do know that women suffer in even the most “developed” of countries.

ISIS’s treatment of women doesn’t overshadow what women suffer in other parts of the world; rather, I believe, it uncovers it.

The last words of many of our fallen comrades have been “this story must be told”. I cannot forget these words. The spirits of these people must be transferred to future generations.”(5)

54823cc703334_-_4-ypjportraits-hr-trieb-9We have to be free from the Syrian government,” says YPJ member, Evin Ahmed, 26. She continues, “We need to control the area ourselves without depending on them. They can’t protect us from [ISIS], we have to protect us [and] we defend everyone…no matter what race or religion they are.”

For now, the YPJ has no backing from western nations, relying mainly on their community to provide funding and supplies. Nonetheless, the women remain committed to the YPJ and its mission and are dedicated to protecting their people. The YPJ exists on a volunteer basis, many of the women are also unpaid. The YPJ operates in two-week rotations on the front lines. Some live in abandoned Iraqi army buildings, which, as one might imagine, are run down and lack any luxuries. Often, ISIS snipers are just 500 feet away, ready to shoot.

Yet even under such intense conditions, the YPJ are always staged and ready for conflict. They are fearless though they might not say they are. They consider fear and then they go forward anyway.(6)





  1. + Featured image
  7. Region map –

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