The Syrian Civil War has torn apart homes, families and entire communities. But while many families have fled for the relative safety of Europe, a group of Kurdish women have stayed behind in Northern Syria and taken up arms to rebuild and reclaim their lives.
Telling the story of these brave people was more than a photographic project for me. I lived with these fighters and was able to truly experience their pain and sorrow, their joy and triumphs as they fight for their freedom alongside their male comrades.
While Kurdish women have gained some equality in recent years, for most of these women fighting with the military forces is their first opportunity for independent and empowerment in the traditionally male-dominated society.
I can’t help but feel angry at some point when I see the amount of suffering these women (and men) in Northern Syria endure, and the little help they receive from the outside world. This was especially true while I was in Kobane, where the Turkish border was closed to any national and international help.
The fighters liberated the city of Kobane and have reclaimed 160 villages. Every two days during my stay, there was a funeral of some fighters on the frontlines who are still defending the city.
But before and after the victories, there’s a constant threat of death or serious injury during firefights and patrols.
The fighters must move constantly, setting up makeshift camps in old structures, like this old school in Baghdak. The school closed when the city was seized by by the Islamic State.
I hope people are able to put themselves in the place of the women in these photos. That’s why I tired to focus more on the daily life and quiet moments of their lives.
And there were some moments of joy, too.
My main motivation to follow the story of the fighters -- beside my personal interest to learn more about them -- was the ignorance of the mainstream media over this important story. Yet after the liberation of Kobane, they've received more attention and people have begun to look and listen.
Too many pictures of people fighting would create an "us" and "them" dynamic in our mind. Portraits of normal life, or the moments of emotion, gives us moments we can feel, perhaps opening the doors of understanding.
I can only hope you will remember the faces and surroundings, and understand the plight of these brave people.
At the beginning of my project back in 2012, I lived with the Kurdish fighters of Iran who live in their military camps in Iraqi Kurdistan. My later travel to the Qandil mountains and in 2015, my stay with the people of Kobane all were great moments that helped me to understand the motivations of their fight.
The Turkish government is also threatened by the independence of the Kurdish people and sometimes attacks them. The fighters face threats from both sides of their border, the Islamic State and Turkey. They are alone and vulnerable.
I still wonder whether the people in power will do anything to defeat the Islamic State. Turkey, N.A.T.O. are not helping, leaving the Kurdish fighters alone to fight.
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