Qamishlo is the capital of Rojava [the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Syria]. The main thing you notice is a picture of Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the PKK and leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, on almost every wall. Known here as "Apo" (Kurdish for "uncle"), he's been in solitary confinement in a Turkish island prison for 18 years, where he devised the social and political philosophy driving the Rojava revolution.
I miss my family terribly, especially at night.
Watch: PKK Youth: Fighting for Kurdish Neighborhoods
That's the reason I'm here. We want to destroy ISIS, of course. But something else is happening here, not just war: an anti-capitalist, secular, environmentally-friendly movement that puts women's liberation at the centre of the struggle.They've torn up and redrawn all aspects of society. State education is compulsory for girls as well as boys, from the age of seven to 15, regardless of class or ethnic background. They've even built a university that's open to all. There's a co-operative system of government where a man and woman share power at every level.
In the YPG and the YPJ, officers are elected by troops, and men and women fight side by side. Of course, they have had to retain some of the traditional values of Islamic culture: men of the YPG and women of the YPJ live and fight together but eat and sleep separately; men can't bare their upper arms in front of women; and women can't show leg or cleavage.After the hamburgers, I went to meet some Kurdish friends from my old unit for tea. We talked about why we joined the YPJ. Xezal*, for example, is from Kobani, where ISIS massacred hundreds of civilians in 2014, before the YPG drove them out a year later. I asked her why she joined. She said, "Oh, the war of Kobani." That made sense – a lot of YPJ girls are from there. But later I spoke to her again and she told me the real reason: she'd been promised to another family in a forced marriage to a cousin. "I told my family that I didn't want to do it," she said, "but they wouldn't listen. So when they tried to formally arrange the wedding, I ran away to join the YPJ."
But I can't go home, not yet. And not just because I might get arrested if I do. I have a job to do, and won't leave until it's done. This is for something bigger than me and my family – it's for the potential of a better world. But this isn't just a fight against ISIS. They're just a thorn in the side and once they're gone, the YPJ will still be fighting: against fascism, against patriarchy, and for women's rights across the Middle East.Do I want to die? Of course not. But honestly, I don't even think about death anymore. I think only about life. I believe in this revolution with all my heart. And I hope that, one day, it will provide a model to inspire change, not just in the Middle East, but across the world.*Name has been changed. Illustrations by Nayon Cho.Read all of our fighting ISIS coverage here.