Women Fightin’ Islamic Gangstas


Photo by Mohammed A. Salih

Guerrillas from Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party are on the front lines in northern Iraq. Half of the organization’s leaders, including 24-year-old Avesta, are women.

MAKHMOUR, Iraq — Mohmmed A. Salih reports: Avesta enters the cramped room in a teachers’ residence turned temporary military base, ready for a meeting with her fellow fighters. The six commandos rise to shake her hand. She greets each individually. “Hello, heval,” she says, calling them by the Kurdish word for comrade. Then she lays down her Russian sniper rifle, and tea and coffee are served.

“Avesta attended an intense boot camp where she was immersed in the party’s revolutionary leftist ideology and view of women’s role in society, and trained to use weapons.”

The Islamic State’s fearsome fighters are just around 10 miles away, but the Kurdish snipers, some still teenagers, are mostly relaxed. They debate the merits of drinking coffee versus tea, discuss the situation in the camp, and joke with each other. “You are very photogenic,” one of the fighters tells Avesta cheerfully as she poses for a photo. She smiles shyly as others burst into laughter.

“The organization’s rules prohibit romantic relationships, and the fighters have little access to their families.”

Avesta is only 24, but she looks much older, with piercing gray eyes. Her long face is wrinkled and roughened; her hands are calloused. Her sniper rifle is at her side at all times; when it isn’t hanging from her back, it’s resting within arm’s reach — a constant companion to her uncertain life as a Kurdish guerrilla.

Avesta, whose nom de guerre is the same as the holy book of Zoroastrianism, a religion that Kurds consider as their original creed, commands a group of 13 fighters, eight of them female, from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — a rebel group that has fought the Turkish state for three decades in pursuit of Kurdish rights. They wear olive and gray uniforms of baggy pants and a vest, with a wide cloth belt around their waists.

Avesta’s squad arrived in Makhmour, a dusty town in Iraqi Kurdistan, by bus on Aug. 6 from a PKK base in the Qandil Mountains, a range that spans the Iraqi, Turkish, and Iranian borders. They are among the hundreds of Kurdish volunteers from around the region who have descended on Iraqi Kurdistan to fend off the vicious jihadists of the Islamic State.

Following a four-day battle that ended on Aug. 10, the Kurdish guerrillas retook control of their main target, a camp populated until early August by more than 10,000 Kurdish refugees from Turkey, many of whom are believed to be PKK supporters.

During the battle, Avesta used her sniper rifle to shoot at Islamic State fighters, providing cover for her comrades as they advancedtoward the jihadists’ front lines…(read more)

Foreign Policy


2 Comments on “Women Fightin’ Islamic Gangstas”

  1. swo8 says:

    Never underestimate the power and will of women for the fight for justice.

  2. […] [Also see our item from Sept 12, 2014 – Women Fightin’ Islamic Gangstas] […]

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