Download: The brave Kurdish women fighters in Syria and Iraq

By Conflict Studies


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Women have been fighting alongside men in the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to wrest Mount Makhmur in northern Iraq back from Islamic State (IS) jihadists, whose treatment of women makes the fight especially personal for the dozens of female fighters on the mountain.

IS-led militants have overrun large areas of Iraq, and the group also controls significant territory in neighbouring Syria, enacting its harshly restrictive and brutal interpretation of Islamic law in both countries.

Tekoshin, 27, says she and other women are fighting the group not only because of the threat it poses to Kurds but because it "is against women's liberation".
Kurdish women have fought alongside men for years in the PKK, its Syrian offshoot the People's Protection Units (YPG), and to a lesser extent, the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Asked whether she was married, Tekoshin laughs: "Most of us here aren't married. I joined the PKK when I was 14 years old."

Tekoshin says the PKK does not forbid its fighters from marrying, but that it is generally frowned upon.

- 'More afraid of us' -

She also finds amusing the idea that the jihadists may have been surprised by coming face to face with women fighters.

"When I was a child, I didn't think I would be a fighter. But I realised how much my (Kurdish) nation needs me... and I chose this road," she says.

"It is important for us to find our place in war, side by side with the men," she says.

On the mountainside, the PKK fighters live a communal life. Normally they take turns cooking, but in wartime, male volunteers from nearby Arbil city take care of feeding the fighters.

For Shimal, a 26-year-old fighter, the anti-IS battle is as much about solidarity with women who have fallen victim to the jihadists as it is about the Kurdish national cause.

IS "turns women into slaves," she says.

Female Kurdish and Peshmerga fighters