Unveiled and barking orders at fierce-looking Kurdish men nearly twice her size, commander Engizek is a shocking sight within Syria’s male-dominated rebel ranks.
A short, diminutive woman flanked by gun-toting loyalists, Engizek leads dozens of Kurdish combatants in Aleppo city’s embattled district of Sheikh Maqsud, large parts of which were seized late last month from regime fighters.
“Women can shoot machineguns, Kalashnikovs and even tanks -- just as well as men,” said Engizek, 28, wearing trousers and a sleeveless beige jacket, her dark hair bound tightly behind her head.
“Women are an integral part of our rebellion,” she told AFP in a deserted alleyway squashed between bullet-riddled and blasted buildings amid the sporadic crackle of sniper fire.
Fighters like Engizek -- whose Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) brigade is 20 percent women -- are the hidden face of Syria’s armed rebellion against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, now in its third year.
The YPG, which recently joined forces with Syrian opposition rebels, is the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), widely considered the Syrian offshoot of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Unlike their Arab counterparts, Kurdish women have a long tradition of combat roles. The PKK’s fierce women fighters grabbed worldwide attention in the mid-1990s with their frightening zeal in launching suicide bombings.
But women combatants, no matter what their ethnicity, still stand out as a striking anomaly in Syria’s male-dominated rebellion.
Some media reports indicate that women are part of both pro- and anti-regime armed forces, but their presence is far less visible on the front lines compared to Kurdish fighters.
Engizek, who goes by a single name, says the YPG’s women fighters undergo the same rigorous training as men and fight alongside each other as well as eat together and share cooking and cleaning duties.
Standing on top of a bed and taking aim at a regime sniper from a pigeon-sized hole in a shrapnel-scarred wall, 18-year-old Mumtaz says joining the rebellion more than a year ago was a “liberating experience”.
The only fighter in her family of four, she says she morphed overnight from an unknown high school girl to a warrior after she joined a YPG training camp in her hometown of Afrin, a largely Kurdish town north of Aleppo.
“Picking up the gun was a personal choice,” said the sinewy bandana-clad fighter, a choice that bestowed freedom from rigid social mores that deem marriage the only culturally appropriate rite of passage for women.
نستخدم ملفات الكوكيز لنسهل عليك استخدام مواقعنا الإلكترونية ونكيف المحتوى والإعلانات وفقا لمتطلباتك واحتياجاتك الخاصة، لتوفير ميزات وسائل التواصل الاجتماعية ولتحليل حركة المرور لدينا...اعرف أكثر