It's not a surprise why many are saying that the Kurdish freedom movement is undergoing a woman's revolution. Commanding armies, and armed with heavy weapons, Kurdish women have been at the forefront of the fight against the so-called Islamic State. But it would be misguided to state that this, in itself, is the "woman's revolution", for the advances that Kurdish women move beyond the military sphere. To subscribe to this view, is to fall guilty of what Kurdish activist Dilar Dirik calls the "oriental gaze" which fetishizes bad-ass Kurdish women while stripping them from their agency.
Women in areas under the control of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria are empowered with a social contract which makes them equal with men before the law, many traditional and feudal shackles have been broken for women of all stripes and women are working as doctors, teachers, journalists, and students. Women, be they Kurdish, Assyrian, Yazidi or Arab have found a broader space to express themselves.
This we hope is what the reader will take away with them, the complexity of women's lives in the democratic federation of northern Syria. There are, of course, images showing the Kurdish women of the YPJ. There are also, however, women of various stripes, some donning the headscarf for instance and others not, some old and some young, some Kurdish and some Arab.
The following photo-story follows the women who stand at the vanguard of the Kurdish struggle. From the battlefield to the classroom and emergency ward, we hope this story will expand the viewpoint that many might have about the women's revolution currently happening in northern Syria.
This is part i of this series produced by Loez, to view part Ii of this photo-story, see here
In the front lines, these women fight in the Sere Kaniye region. Female combatants, the YPJ, make up 35% of the armed forces. For them it is a double fight: to win their rights as women and to defend their region and their people. These women are determined to fight, knowing that the enemy will show no mercy if they are captured.
June 2014. Graffiti left by jihadists of the Al Nusra group, on the walls of a Christian village: "We will slaughter you." This territory was later taken over by the YPJ/YPG.
Front line and fighting in the Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ayn) region, around the village of Tel Khanzir, between the Kurdish YPG forces and the jihadists of the Islamic State. The female fighter on the right commands the operations. Two cars armed with heavy machine guns from ISIL approach Kurdish lines to test their defense. Immediately, the units win their positions at the front. The clash continues for half an hour, before the cars leave the area.
Sinjar, December 2014. PKK fighters are resting. Their shelter is regularly targeted. They have no electricity, and as only heating a fire of wood.
Front line and fighting in the Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ayn) region, around the village of Tel Khanzir, between the Kurdish YPG forces and the jihadists of the Islamic State.
Near Girke Lege, October 2014. YPJ unit in their base.
YPJ fighter with her mother. Some families, often with martyrs, are allowed to live near the base camp and see their children when they are not in operation.
Qaram training camp, time for relaxation at the end of the day
Sinjar, December 2014, on a hill overlooking the city.
Sinjar, December 2014. This nurse from the Kurdish Red Crescent, after working with the Ezidis refugees who were victims of the IS attack in August 2014, is treating the wounded fighters.
Kobane, April 2018. Women played a key role in the liberation of the city, including the sacrifice of Arîn Mirkan. This statue of the city center is dedicated to them.
Qamishli, Syrian Kurdistan. Feast of Newroz 2014. After a trying year of war, Newroz is for Syrian Kurds a symbol of their struggle for freedom, and an opportunity to say loud and clear their will to resist. The armed forces and the leader of the PKK Ocalan are particularly celebrated by the population.
Derik, April 2018. Cemetery of the martyrs.
Kobane, April 2018. Cemetery of the martyrs. Viyan Amara (Sevim Kaya) is famous for having been, an administrator, teacher, writer and filmmaker within the Kurdish movement. She prioritized the teaching the Kurdish language.
Academies are structures of political formation. Here, the future teachers receive an ideological formation to better understand the political system inspired by the theory of the Democratic Nation and the democratic Confederalism of Abdullah Ocalan.
Kobanê, April 2018. The Academies are structures of political formation. Here, the future teachers receive an ideological formation to better understand the political system inspired by the theory of the Democratic Nation and the Democratic Confederalism of Abdullah Ocalan, but also Kurdish language classes.
Sere Kaniye, YPG media center. This unit of YPJ is assigned for a few weeks to the YPG media center, as a rest after a period spent at the front.
Manbij, April 2018. Shadia. "I am a teacher and I work in the archives, and once I have completed the training, I intend to pass it on to the women who work with me. I learned four things here: ethics, morality, camaraderie and humility."
Qamishlo, March 2014. One of the first reforms of the autonomous administration was to set up Kurdish and Syriac language courses in cities where Christians are present. Today, in territories where the Kurdish population is large, a Kurdish child can attend primary school in Kurdish, while learning Arabic as a second language, which becomes Kurdish for Arab children.
Tirbespiye, Rojava, October 2014. Syriac course in public school. Under the regime, the practice of Syriac was only allowed only in a religious setting.
Kobanê, April 2018. High school girls at the end of classes.
Qamishlo, Rojava. Newroz Festival 2014. Group of young girls from a cultural centre preparing a Kurdish dance show.