A Brief Introduction to the Syrian Civil War and the Kurdish Female Fighters Battling ISIS

During the Kurdish Liberation Movement of the 1970s and 1980s, female Peshmerga (a Kurdish word meaning “facing death”) guerrillas in Iraqi Kurdistan established a reputation as fierce fighters. The women of the YPJ (an acronym which translates to “Women’s Protection Units”) are continuing in the tradition of Kurdish female fighters as they challenge ISIS in Syria. The YPJ is the female brigade of the armed forces of the Syrian region of Kurdistan. Formed in 2012, the YPJ has amassed an army of over 10,000 volunteer troops and has become vital in the fight against ISIS. The women of the YPJ recognize that ISIS targets women and fight for their own freedom first, then for the freedom of their people and their land, according to one of the fighters who spoke with Patrick Cockburn at the Independent. They know that, if they are captured, they will be raped and murdered, so the soldiers fight with the awareness that losing is not an option. They say that ISIS fears them, because the men believe that if they are killed by a woman in battle then they are disgraced and will not go to heaven. Although they use this fear to their advantage, the Kurdish female fighters believe their womanhood is not the only thing that ISIS should be afraid of. In recent months, the battle between ISIS and the YPJ has gotten incredibly tense. The “Wrath of Eupherates Operation”, an initiative led by Rojda Felat of the YPJ to remove ISIS from its self declared capital Raqqa began at the end of 2016, and Felat vows that the mission will be over by the end of the year. In January, Felat told KurdishQuestion.com, an online platform for news, context and insight about Kurdish Matters, “We assure that 2017 is the year of ISIS’ annihilation…The people of Raqqa should be ready, as the sun of freedom will be shining soon in their skies.”

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