Hanna Bohman discusses fighting alongside leftist Kurdish militias against ISIS, and the YPJ’s proclaimed mission of democracy and women’s liberation.
First of all, I’m sure you are asked this question a lot, but what inspired you to move to Kurdistan to fight with the YPG against ISIS? I truly believe that you have the most important job in the world.
Just to clarify, I was in the YPJ, not the YPG. Two separate armies. YPG is the men and YPJ is the women. I was inspired by an army of women who were actually fighting and were not some token army just to look good. I was also inspired by what they were fighting for: Women’s rights in the Middle East and the symbolism of fighting ISIS, an army that wants to enslave women. It was a true, good-versus-evil battle and I wanted to be a part of that.
Walk us through your daily life. What does a typical day look like for you?
Depends on whether we are on the offensive or defensive. When we are holding a defensive position, it can get pretty boring, with rotating watch looking for ISIS attacks, but offensively, when we’re on the move pushing the front lines fighting for new territory, that’s when it gets fun, but it’s also when we lose the most friends.
The hardest thing isn’t the friends who have died. It’s sad of course, and frustrating, but I know where they are. I know they’re safe. The hardest part is the ones who disappear. The ones I never hear from again. The hardest part is spending the rest of my life not knowing what happened to them. I hate that part.
Tell us about the demographics of the YPG. There are many Kurds. Are many YPG members Yazidis? What about Assyrians? How do the different groups work together?
The YPG, YPJ (mainly Kurds) YBS and YJÊ (Yazidis), MFS, HSNB, Sutoro (Assyrian/Syriac/Arab/Armenian Christians) and a bunch of Arab units fall under the SDF banner. As you can see, there are all kinds of people fighting against ISIS and they get along fine despite what some pro-Turkish or Assad puppets say.
What are the YPG’s current priorities?
[The capture of ISIS’s former capital] Raqqa was an SDF operation and rebuilding has already started with the implementation of a democratic council made up of locals. The SDF is still battling small pockets of ISIS along the Euphrates river towards the border with Iraq.
There are many Yazidi women and girls still being held captive by ISIS. Many have been sold to different families. Can you tell us if the YPG is hopeful about finding them?
There is always hope but the reality is many of the girls have been sold overseas as sex slaves. For example, a Kurdish girl was rescued from a brothel in Mexico this past winter, so many, if not most of those kidnapped may not even be in Iraq or Syria anymore. What doesn’t seem well known or reported is many were murdered and their organs sold in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Can you please tell us about the YPG’s stance on the PKK and Turkey?
They follow the same democratic model as the PKK but do not engage in any activity in Turkey or Bakur.
Lastly, if you had to summarize the YPG’s goals, what are they?
To help establish a new, democratic society based on equality for everyone regardless of race, religion, or gender. It is very much a feminist revolution.
Tara is a journalist and campaigner based in San Francisco, US