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Broadly DK

I'm the First British Woman to Fight ISIS in Syria

In a diary for Broadly, Kimberley Taylor takes us inside the radical feminist utopia being built by Kurdish women in Northern Syria.

by Kimberley Taylor; as told to Matt Blake
19 May 2017, 11:00pm

ILLUSTRATION BY NAYON CHO

Writer's note: In March of last year, Kimberley Taylor became the first (and only) British woman to travel to Syria to take up arms against ISIS. Within days of her arrival, the 28-year-old former maths student from Blackburn joined the Women's Protection Units (YPJ) —the all-female affiliate army of the People's Protection Units (YPG) of Syrian Kurdistan—and has been fighting alongside them ever since. For the past three months, Kimberley —known to friends as Kimmie, but to comrades as Zilan Dilmar—has been part of the offensive to liberate Raqqa, ISIS' de-facto capital. At the end of March, I spoke to Kimberley, over a series of Skype conversations, to find out what life is like for a woman on the frontline against ISIS. Two days later, she deployed to Raqqa to fight in what will likely be ISIS's bitter last stand. These are her words, but they have been edited and condensed for clarity. Read part one and part two.

FRIDAY

Our unit's rotation on the moving front finished yesterday, so they've given us a few days off. So I hitched a lift with the logistics van to Qamishlo [a city in northeastern Syria] to meet some old friends and do some shopping. I need T-shirts and socks. There's something weird going on with Syrian socks—they always make my feet smell, no matter how much I wash them. Sorxwin won't stop taking the piss out of my stinky feet.

I got the socks and went for lunch with the three other Western women in the YPJ—two Swedes and a Canadian. I had two hamburgers and a beer. I can't tell you what a treat that was after a month of chicken spam and Dairylea. And it was only the third beer I've drunk in a year. Kurdish girls aren't allowed to drink for religious reasons, and you can't drink in front of them. It tasted like heaven. I think I was a little tipsy.

I miss my family terribly, especially at night.

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.

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.

Read the full story on Broadly.