Sofia Barbarani reports: A shot rings out across an oval of dusty land, next to a man-made lake.
There, crouched in front of a light support weapon, is a young Iraqi woman, her hair in a long plait tied with a silver butterfly clip, hanging over her shoulder. Two Syrian Kurdish soldiers instruct her on how to aim and shoot, while a row of women dressed in camouflage sit beind her on a mound of sand, looking on. And awaiting their turn.
Welcome to this remote corner of Syria’s Kurdish region, between the city of Derik and the Tigris River, where a group of 11 Yazidi women are being trained to form a resistance army.
They are among more than 1,000 men and women who have joined the Sinjar Resistance Units here and are being prepared to fight by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ); the female armed-wing of Syria’s Kurdish Supreme Committee.
In early August approximately 200,000 of Iraq’s estimated 600,000 Yazidis – a minority religious community – fled their hometowns in Sinjar province when the Islamic State gave them an ultimatum: convert to Islam or die.
While most found refuge in the Kurdistan Region, more than 15,000 fled to the Sinjar mountain range, where they were escorted by the protection units through a man-made ‘safety corridor’ into Syria. They have been sheltering here ever since.
Video footage from the area has shown refugees, including many children, living in unbearably hot conditions, with little food and water and reliant on aid.
But there is another side to the Yazidi experience. For, in driving these people from their homes, the extremist organisation IS – known for its barbaric treatment of women and girls – has unknowingly created an army of women, prepared to fight.
“For myself and for my people I will go to Sinjar to either die or live there freely,” 26-year-old Hend Hasen Ahmed tells me.
“We are being trained to use snipers, Kalashnikovs, rocket propelled grenades and hand grenades,” she explains. [Continue reading…]