Young women of YPJ: No other option

These are the reflections of an internationalist woman from Catalonia who joined the YPJ defence of North and East Syria. Originally published in Spanish here.

I arrived in March, it was very cold and everyone welcomed me warmly. They all crowded together by the stove, brought tea and cigarettes. They looked at me with big eyes, asked me: “Where are you from?” Someone said quietly… “she’s from Europe”. “How did you get here? Do you understand Kurdish?” I felt an emotion not easy to explain… I had them before my eyes, members of YPJ, from the unit of Serekaniye. Young comrades, some mothers of children being cared for by their own mothers because they joined the People’s Defence Forces, some who had joined by escaping from their families because they did not want to be slaves to unknown husbands and unwanted babies, some from families ravaged by war, some convinced of the defence of Democratic Confederalism and the words of Serokatî, some for avenging fallen relatives and friends; Arabs, Kurds, Muslims… all together under the same promise. And I, who did not yet know all that I would be taught about the meaning of life and of being born a woman in the Middle East.

Many of the women of these peoples, of different beliefs and religions, live and share territory in Rojava. Armenian, Arab, Kurdish, Yazidi women… Your path as a woman is clear. From now on your life is the life of “taking care of others”, which means quickly passing from childhood to adulthood, sometimes there is no choice. You will be assigned a man as your husband and after your wedding you will be the mother of beautiful sons and daughters who you will wish could be free, but you will not be able to express it, because you will be so tired from the work inside and outside the house (washing, making the food, going to collect firewood…) that at night you will only be able to think about that friend you used to play with when you were “free”, and that now you look secretly at a photograph where you read quietly “şehîd [martyr] Beritan Cudî” and remember that the last news you had of her was that she had joined the YPJ and that she happily left the the frontlines of Manbij, to fight against the invasion of the Islamic State and to free territories from the hands of those who want women as slaves.

So one day, you will explain the story of şehîd Beritan Cudî to the youngest of your three daughters, and she will embrace you and hold this precious story until she reaches 18, when she will also decide to join in the defence of her land, to be part of the example of dignity and commitment that are the women of Rojava. And with the veil on her head, she will feel that it is also her responsibility to contribute to the construction of a just and democratic society, as well as to defend it.

And this is how I met Fatma, under her movement name of Zîlan. She was unnassuming, shy, her hair tied up, and strong arms from lifting her brothers up and down. And I realized that more than half of the comrades who would accompany me until the occupation of Turkey was defeated shared the same story.

Over the next few months I learned from them, from their stories and their struggle, from their fears and passions. It was not all perfect, each one had her own problems at home that dragged on from day to day, some days they just wanted to sleep, some days we danced and were patient with my clumsiness, some days we played sports together. And while they were teaching me Arabic and Kurdish I looked at them, and felt the deepest feeling of respect for all of them. In this way I began to know more about the reality of Zîlan; we shared cigarettes, reflections, explained life to each other, did sports, cooked for each other and listened to revolutionary Kurdish songs so that I could sing them too when the comrades sat on the stairs of our place and sang.

Women of the HBNS, the Syriac Women’s Protection Forces

And I kept looking at them… and I thought, these are the women of Rojava, different and equal, I felt lucky to be able to meet this part of society, which gives itself to the people, to defend one another.

When Turkey opened fire and started bombing Serekaniye, some I did not see anymore, and others only the first day. Under columns of smoke, artillery and planes I thought about them, and my courage grew when I remembered them.

The companionship with which I had been received was the way I remembered them. I thought about them and life in the unit, the hard and the easy, the beautiful and the difficult, under the bomb filled sky, became, from my point of view, the living example of şehîd Beritan Cudî. I wish that for all those women who seek freedom. I can tell them that they can and deserve to be free, that they deserve to be able to fight and resist alongside their people, like my young YPJ comrades.

And I arrived in Til Temir, where the resistance front was in the surrounding villages. And I thought about each and every one of them. In the mothers and daughters who did not leave their homes, even with the enemy at their doors, I found another of the most valuable moments of resistance and courage of the women of Rojava. They did not leave, mothers did not leave their villages. I thought that probably some of the mothers of my YPJ buddies would have made the same decision, not to give up. And I understood, generations and generations of women defending life, freedom and each other.

Women of the Women’s Community Self-defence Forces (HPC-Jin)

And on one of these wet nights, with the moon witnessing our steps toward enemy lines, with a smile on my lips after three hours of operation, with all the comrades back unharmed and happy to feel that together we were contributing to the resistance of the people of Til Temir, when we already had the vans loaded, ready to return to base, I heard “Heval Sara, heval Sara!” It was her! I hadn’t seen her since the Turkish invasion of Serekaniye began. It was her! It was the 18-year-old companion who had given me so much love when we lived together in the unit near Serekaniye. It was her! Who without realizing it had given me one of the greatest lessons of my life… by prevailing firmly in the decision to join the fight against the enemies of a free life.

We hugged, we laughed, we hugged again. My legs were shaking, until that moment I did not know where she was, if she had been wounded at Serekaniye or if she had decided to return to her family, who had to leave the house when the war began. Nothing. Just the hope of seeing her again, of being able to continue fighting together, even if now in different units but together in any way.

The commitment and courage in their actions has helped me to understand this part of the Rojava population. I have begun to understand how difficult it must be to be born into a Kurdish family, to be a woman and to experience from childhood how family members and friends are killed in the defence of the Redonda Revolution. She had buried three members of her family under the name YPG/YPJ. What did I expect? That she would not follow through on the legacy of years of oppression and resistance? That for many more reasons than me, she would not take her AK47, shoulder it and join the resistance along with other YPJ sisters? What does this damn world think? That they have another future, that they do not risk their lives to the last? Love for life and the dignity of women, that’s how I would define the youngest comrades I’ve ever met here. What does this damn world think? That no more mothers will mourn the loss of any of their daughters on the battlefield?

Come, comrades, come to Rojava. You must meet Zîlan and all the others! You have to see with your own eyes, that we all share the same story. Come, friends, comrades, come! The false privileges given to us by capitalism and patriarchy are nothing but chains and here they help each other break them. Just as Zîlan’s mother opened the way to freedom, just as Zîlan opened the way to understanding our resistance.

Come, comrades!

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