SISTERS
IN ARMS

PAK PESHMERGA

PAK was founded by Said Yazdanpanah, a former member of the People's Fedai Guerrillas, in May 1991, as the Revolutionaries' Union of Kurdistan. Said Yazdanpanah was killed in September 1991, and his brother Hussein Yazdanpanah took over the organization afterwards.

So much for history.

Throughout the war on ISIS, PAK was a reliable, efficient and effective fighting force against Daesh, capturing many, killing even more. A key asset in their fighting power: Women.
ISIS is horrified by the idea of being killed by women. Because then, so it is written, they will go directly to hell. No heaven, no virgins. Screwed!

I always wondered who these fearless women were.
Where were they coming from?
What was their motivation about?

So when I eventually got the opportunity to join them for some days, I did not have to think twice. It was a privilege, because these women took great risk having me amongst them. With the Iranian aggression against opposition inside and outside the country increasing every day, anything out of the ordinary and, thus, remarkable means pushing their luck.

It was, therefore, not unexpected that we were asked to switch off our cellphones when approaching their hidden camps in the mountains between Slemani and Kirkuk. Any signal, any possibility of locating us means a high probability of immediate attack by missiles or suicide drones.

I'm greeted by Rubar Chiya, the unit's tough commander. She is around 1.70 m, obviously in good shape, very fit. Trained well for battle in a rough combat theater. She is friendly, humble, respectful. Her dark eyes, however, are hardened by fighting and deprivation. She has this unforgiving stare when she is obviously checking me out.
Am I friend or foe?
I certainly want to be at the positive end of her sympathy evaluation, but it takes quite some time and a deep conversation to actually make her smile.

Mobirise

"I lost some.
I killed some."

Rubar Chiya, commander.

After a while and a healthy lunch, she gives me more insights.

A lot of Iranian girls are joining PAK for the same reason - to bring back women’s rights that have been taken away by the theocratic regime. Recruiting girls and women is easy via social media, however, PAK makes sure to thoroughly assess and do background checks on all recruits, as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been known to send spies. PAK is only permitting Kurds from Rojhilat (Iran) to join their ranks.

Rubar herself has been fighting against ISIS since 2016. She has seen action in Kirkuk, Bashika, and Teleskuf, and has lost comrades and friend in the fierce fight. She tells me in her very humble me that she killed quite a few ISIS fighters, saying that they will go to hell and will never see paradise when killed by a woman - a most satisfying thought amongst female Peshmerga because ISIS is known for enslaving women.

Rubar is determined to do anything to save women’s rights and fight oppression: In Kurdish history, women have always played important roles in both politics and battle, and Rubar is following in that tradition.

With her experience in battle and her high sense of responsibility, Rubar is highly qualified to train those young women who are obviously accepting and respecting her leadership. No command has to be repeated or shouted out loud. Rubar's presence can be felt all over the place which seems to be a wild yet well orchestrated whole.

I have highest respect for this woman, she is what I feel great leaders and heroes are made of.

And then I get to know some of the recruits. My curiosity is burning, I have so many questions.
I want to know everything, and I guess those around me can feel my sincere interest as the girls and woman open up quite instantly. Maybe having spent some time with their commander beforehand helps, too.

Wareshia ("Shining"), 25, and Media Apdelani ("First Kurdish Empire"), 19, both nicknames, are both very recent recruits. They joined PAK Peshmerga only few weeks ago. They, too, share the same story of oppression, protest, threat and risking their lives on their escape from the brutal regime that I have heard so many times.

They both were intrigued by the courage and fighting spirit of PAK Peshmerga in the war against ISIS. Both were joining the protests recently. Women, Life, Freedom. They mean it as they are due to exactly the opposite in a brutal theocratic world that forbids any liberty and self-determined participation of girls and women in societal life. Both were warned and put on a list.
They both knew that they were doomed to probable prosecution, rape and torture - the cynical and disgusting way of the IRGC. Both had to escape and leave their families and friends.

Both will do whatever it takes to fight for freedom and equal rights.

And both have some strong words for us.

"Please help us, Europe!"

Wareshia, 19

Recruit

"Every Kurdish baby
is considered a threat."

Media, 19

Recruit

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