YPJ fighters who have been waging an epic resistance for 80 days in Kobanê have not just been defending a city, but are also demolishing the mentality of male dominance. “We are not just fighting here. We are organising a new way of life and war in these emplacements”, the YPJ fighters say.
We spent a day in the emplacements of YPJ fighters, who have gained a special place in the hearts of women everywhere with the leadership they have demonstrated in the resistance in Kobanê.
We have to walk for 15 minutes across muddy ground under heavy mortar fire to reach the positions of the YPJ fighters. Then a vehicle comes to take us to the south western front where Commander Peyman and the YPJ fighters are stationed. On this front clashes are inside the city and houses have been transformed into emplacements. When we reach their positions we notice a figure of a woman drawn in mud on the wall. When we ask about this, fighter Zinarin Zagros says: ”We drew it as this is the women fighters’ area.”
Zinarin Zagros takes us to the position where Commander Viyan Peyman and a group of YPJ fighters are situated. As we reach the position a mortar shell falls nearby. Viyan Peyman turns to us, smiling, and the fighters say we are lucky to have arrived at tea time. Fighter Nesrin Tiltemir laughs, saying a photograph of hers has been on social media, and as it is usually the photos of those who have fallen that are shared she had asked herself: “Have I died and don’t know it.”
Other fighters join in the laughter. After the tea the fighters return to their positions. Zinarin Zagros is using a machine gun (BKC). Zinarin says she is devoted to the weapon as it has made a very important contribution to the defence of Kobanê.
Zinarin Zagros says she is strengthened by the presence of other women alongside her when there are clashes, adding: ”Our loyalty to each other and our affection ensures we inflict more blows on the enemy.” She adds that the YPJ fighters’ ululations also have the effect of shaking the morale of ISIS gangs, saying the ululations are their second weapon.
Zinarin Zagros says the emplacements are not just for conflict, stressing that they also carry out educational activities there. ”We have a philosophy of life and we carry on the war according to this. If only the YPJ were left, ISIS could not enter Kobanê.”
We move to another position, where Commander Viyan Peyman tells the fighters what needs to be done that day. Just at that moment a mortar shell lands and everyone throws themselves to the ground. But there is no panic. Everyone is covered in dust from a wall that was demolished by the mortar shell. No one is wounded, but we move to another emplacement in case a second mortar shell is fired. Everyone bursts into laughter as they look at each other covered in dust.
We move to another position for a meal. As a large number of fighters do not gather in the same place the space is not large. We assemble around a stove where YPJ fighters are evaluating the previous day. Meanwhile, 2 fighters prepare food. Immediately after eating we hear that there is ISIS activity and move to emplacements. Warnings of possible infiltration are given over walkie-talkies.
We go to an emplacement next to a YPJ sniper called Arjîn Ararat. She indicates two ISIS members in the distance who are trying to infiltrate, adding: “I reported shooting dead 3 of them this morning and I hope to make that 5.” She asks us to move back and fires two shots. “Now I can report my 5th for today”, she says.
The attempt at infiltration has been foiled and two ISIS members lie on the ground.
We leave this position and move outside the city. We reach a position where there are 2 women fighters and some male fighters around a fire. They welcome us with a smile and it seems quiet. They say that things are quiet at the moment on the western front. They have covered emplacements in earthworks. They say they generally stay in their emplacements and only emerge to chat around the fire when it is quiet. In another position we see 2 YPJ fighters doing washing up, while others are carrying stones and wood.
YPJ fighter Hêvîdar Serhad says: “We left our emplacements and had an early breakfast.” At that moment the fighters are warned of ISIS sniper fire and we move to safety. There are tents near the emplacements in which fighters can rest.
Fighter Jiyanda Bilbêz says: “We don’t just rest in the tents. There are discussions and morale-boosting activities. We keep blankets in the tents and in the emplacements to keep warm and light fires in the evening.”
As the sun sets flames from fires lit by the guerrillas in their positions can be seen flickering. While those on sentry duty remain in their emplacements the others gather around the fires for a chat.
A YPJ fighter asks us to take a photo of her with her commander, who says: ‘I’m not your commander, you’re the commander!”
As night falls the YPJ fighters say clashes will begin and that we must leave. As we depart we can hear the voice of a YPJ fighter singing the song ”Rêwiyên Azadiyê” (Freedom travellers) …