Saturday, January 31, 2015

The women who died defending Kobani against Isis

This week Kurdish forces took full control of Kobani, a Syrian town near the Turkish border, after months of bombardment by Islamic State. Mona Mahmoodspeaks to four Kurdish families about the female fighters who died helping to wrest control of the town from Isis

Shireen Taher

Mustafa Taher, 30, a lawyer and Kurdish language teacher, on his sister
A few months after the revolution in Syria broke out, the Syrian regime permitted predominantly Kurdish towns in Syria to teach the Kurdish language in their schools. This included my home town, Kobani. My sister Shireen, then 19, was supposed to study English literature at Damascus University in autumn 2012, but it became inconceivable to travel between Kobani and the capital given the increase in violence throughout Syria. Shireen instead studied the Kurdish language in Kobani while waiting for the chance to join the university.
Of my 11 brothers and sisters, I was closest to Shireen. We were more like friends than sister and brother. She was sensitive, fond of parties and loved sport. We were great fans of Barcelona football team. When the World Cup final was held in Johannesburg in 2010, Shireen travelled to Damascus where I worked as a lawyer, so we could watch the matches which were screened in large parks.
Shireen was inspired by her female Kurdish language teacher, Vian, 29, a fighter with the Kurdistan Workers’ party, PKK. It was a sombre day for the locals of Kobani when Vian was killed in a fight against Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida affiliate and Syrian jihadi rebel group, in the Syrian town of Tel Abyad on 26 July 2012. At the funeral in Kobani to extol Vian’s martyrdom, my father gave his old gun to Shireen and told her to follow her teacher and be a fighter – despite my mother’s disagreement. Shireen vowed to join the People’s Protection units, YPG, to seek revenge for her teacher and defend Kobani. If Shireen had not volunteered, I would have done.
Shortly afterwards, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) launched attacks against Kobani. They were initiated by a car bomb at the Red Crescent centre on 11 November 2012. My father, 67, and his friend were nearby and were killed, alongside 12 other martyrs. During my father’s funeral, Shireen said: “I always thought that one day my father would be named as the father of martyrs, but I never thought that I would become the daughter of a martyr.”
Our father’s death gave Shireen an enormous jolt to adhere to his will and be an outstanding fighter. Especially after we went to the mortuary for his body. It was hard to identify given the massive damage caused by the explosion. Shireen was devastated by the martyrdom of several of her friends. She could hardly cope with the loss of her father and teacher. Life became meaningless for Shireen. She would spend days training in the military camp on weapons like the Kalashnikov, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades.
During her two years of training, Shireen would visit us. I could not believe how much her personality changed during her long embedding in the military camp in a Kobani suburb. She used to have a Barcelona flag around her neck and wore full makeup. I can’t remember her hands without rings or bracelets. Her bag, which was full of perfume and cosmetics, came to be loaded with bombs and bullets.
The day I decided to move my mother and sisters to Turkey, like most of the locals of Kobani, to escape the hellish Isis attack against our town, my mother insisted that I call Shireen. She told my mother: “If you leave Kobani, you won’t be my mother any longer.” But after three days, Shireen asked my mother to leave as soon as possible as Isis was getting closer to the city.
Shireen was camping west of Kobani when Isis militants were pushing forward towards the city with their heavy weapons and tanks. The Kurdish resistance was able to distract the progress of Isis with their light weapons but they could not stop it forever. Shireen was hiding in a trench near the Kurdish radio broadcast office. I rang her from Turkey five hours before her martyrdom to check on her. She said: “Do not worry, I’m still alive.” At 8pm, my other sister – who had stayed in Kobani working in the hospital as a nurse – called Shireen out of her fear for her safety. Shireen asked her not to contact her any more as the fight was getting worse and she could no longer speak on her mobile.
When my mother answered, the man told her to come and get her daughter’s head. Then we heard about a heavy fight launched by Isis against Kobani. At 10pm, we got a call from my sister’s mobile. It was a man’s voice. He asked if he was speaking to Shireen’s family. One of my sisters confirmed that we were, and he told her that Shireen was killed by Isis and she needed to collect Shireen’s head.
Before my sister could break the news of Shireen’s martyrdom to my mother, the Isis militant contacted my mother in Turkey and told her Shireen wanted to speak to her. When my mother answered, the man told her to come and get her daughter’s head. My mother lost consciousness , and was taken to hospital.
We called Shireen’s friends at the war front, who said Shireen and five other female fighters were ambushed on 30 September by an Isis tank that shelled them all to death. I returned to Kobani to get Shireen’s body for her funeral, but her friends told me her body was still with Isis and no one was able to go into the district where she had been killed. I returned to Turkey with my sister – she had a nervous breakdown and could not stay in Kobani any more. Although Shireen’s martyrdom was heartbreaking for my family, we are all proud of her sacrifice and the sacrifice of all her friends killed defending Kobani... read more: