Women Fightin’ Islamic Gangstas

women-fighters

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. Read the rest of this entry »