Bejan Ciyayi – The Story of a Kurdish feminal fighter has been edited by Rushi Bhimani.
‘I’ve come close to death on many occasions. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to talk about the experience, but after the moment it sinks in.
There is a natural fear of death. But to be honest I wouldn’t want to die in a dirty war against IS filth. My dream is to see them exterminated. The world must get rid of this dirt and I want to witness that. I must play a role in that. When you choose a path like this, and you know why you have chosen it, death has to be accepted as a sacrifice for the life choices you have made.
If I were to die, I’d rather it be while clashing face-to-face than opposed to a trap or an unexpected suicide bomb. I don’t know why, but I feel like I am not going to die. It may be the desire to see my people and humanity to be victorious that makes me feel like this.
I am not scared of being captured, tortured or enslaved by IS, because I will never let that happen to me. I will always have a single bullet with me just in case that scenario becomes a reality…’
- Bejan Ciyayi, Kurdish Female Fighter
Kobani, Syria: A 27 year old woman, fighting on the battlefield for over a year now, said these words. She is a part of an organization comprising thousands of women who call themselves ‘Kurdistan’s female fighters’. These women have one common goal—to kill the Islamic State militants who have turned their once beautiful, quiet country into a pile of rubble. A country, where earlier there was joy and merriment; but now, each step forward could be one’s last.
The war against ISIS has been going on for over four years now. The sad part is that the world is realizing the gravity of the situation now. Earlier, people had no clue that Iraq and Syria were in such a dire state. It hadn’t taken much time for the ISIS to get into major towns and cities and establish what they call ‘Islamic Justice’ and Islamic laws. There is now a ban on women studying at schools, universities or any other educational institutions; on women’s presence in radio, television or public gatherings of any kind, even for some festive occasions such as Eid.
We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ and it applies perfectly to this situation. The women of Syria decided to take up arms last year and today, they are strong in number. As of now, 18 months after formation of the organization, they have successfully taken back encroached cities. They have held their ground against their stronger, better equipped counterparts.
We’ve all seen news flashes and videos of air strikes on ISIS positions that have misguided common citizens. The ISIS know how to evade air raids done by the U.S and it’s allies, by building underground bunkers and trenches. They are fanatics who believe that they are doing ‘God’s job by removing the filth in the society-credit of the West’. High on narcotics and Adrenalin injections, armed with their AK-47’s/RPG’s, these men move ahead with their mission without any fear of death. Shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) they have been radicalized and brainwashed into believing that chopping off a woman’s head is ‘for the greater good’. Gang-raping her while her husband or brother watches at gunpoint is ‘for the greater good’. Marrying off fourteen year old girls to thirty year old fighters as ‘battle honors’ and ‘gifts’ is all for the greater good.
These Kurdish women often fight alongside local militia men. Make no mistake—these women fighters aren’t a backup force or a medic team. They do their jobs just like any other soldier on the front lines. Raids, shooting mortar rounds and other heavy artillery on ISIS positions. These women often lead patrol teams and rescue operations. One rule that they swear by, is never to leave a comrade behind—dead or alive. While the armies of these nations have proven to be ineffective, local militias have taken over.
The difficulties they face are tremendous—hot days yet severely cold nights, constant sniper threat, lack of food and water and faulty equipment to name a few. Despite these extreme conditions, the only wish these women have is to have access to better guns and equipment. Very often, they work with second hand rifles or the ones left behind on battlefields. While they blame Turkey and Pakistan for funding the ISIS militants, they are looking desperately for help from the Western allies (primarily the U.S, Great Britain and now Russia along with France) when it comes to funding and supplying war supplies.
To put things into perspective, imagine being in their shoes. These women are just like any other. They too love being mothers and sisters and wish to have a family. They too want to celebrate Eid with their loved ones. However, over the past couple of years, wounds have replaced the kajal on their faces. The handbags which once carried essentials, now bear the burden of arms, ammunition and grenades. The lovely heels they once wore are now combat boots. Camouflage has replaced dresses. Their once free flowing hair, tied up into buns covered by helmets.
This entire ordeal is something that these women are surviving through each day but something we can only imagine. Today, sitting here comfortably in developed countries, we are in a position to provide all kinds of solutions, counter measures; however, they are just in theory. We think we are capable enough to give solutions to the problems, yet we wouldn’t dare to set foot in an active combat zone.
Try and ask these women what they go through. Every day spent breathing is a luxury. They are left pleading for their lives if found by militants. Using rape as a weapon of war, genital mutilation and then hanging burnt carcasses over bridges and in public squares—that’s what happens to these Kurdish women. To prevent that from happening, they save themselves the luxury of one last bullet with their own name on it. No idea when you might need it.
Finishing off this post by writing about what an inspiration these women are and how we need to learn from them, does not do justice to their heroic actions.
Here is what Bejan Ciyayi said about what she would do if she somehow survived this war:
“There will be a lot of things to do. I will probably write. I think someone needs to write a novel about this war. The best person to do this would be someone who lived through it.
The last words of many of our fallen comrades have been “this story must be told”. I cannot forget these words. I would have wanted to elaborate so much more for this story but hopefully after the war, there will be more opportunities. As women, our position of self-defense will not change. At the end of the day we live in the Middle East and there are many powers that want this region to be in constant chaos, so we have to be prepared to defend our people at all times.
For us, there is no old or new life. I have devoted my life to my people, this will not change in times of peace. When the war is over, we will have a lot of building to do…”
Indeed, we need to do a lot of rebuilding. If there are women like Bejan Ciyayi and her comrades in this world, I know justice shall prevail, and the world will be a better place to live.
To read more by the author of Story of a Kurdish Female Fighter, click here.