An all-female fighting force from the Yazidi community known as the Sinjar Women’s Units (SWU) announced on Monday that it has joined the battle for Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital in Syria.
The Yazidi women made it clear they wished to avenge themselves for the hideous depredations inflicted on them by ISIS.
“The Islamic State has practiced many forms of slavery against the Yazidi women, including murder and rape, as well as selling them in the slave market,” said SWU spokeswoman Privian Sinjari, as quoted by Iraqi News.
“The female Yazidi fighters wants to send a message to the world through their participation in the war against the IS that they are strong women who have the ability to defend herself. The Yazidi woman will not give up despite their suffering,” she declared.
Iraqi News estimates that the SWU currently has about 3,000 fighters, based in their namesake town of Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province. Sinjar was the scene of the infamous massacre of Yazidis by ISIS in 2014, which drove the Yazidis up the slopes of nearby Mount Sinjar in a desperate bid to escape genocide.
ISIS was ultimately driven away by the Kurdish Peshmerga, but Yazidis fear for their lives to this day. The Kurds trained and equipped several Yazidi units for self-defense, including all-female forces modeled on the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ). Islamic State fighters are said to be terrified of defeat by female soldiers, believing death at the hands of a woman will prevent them from entering paradise. For their part, female Kurdish and Yazidi soldiers have no illusions about the fate that awaits them if they are captured by ISIS.
The Yazidi battle against ISIS has a major religious dimension as well. Some Yazidis have expressed fears that global attention turned away from them after the 2014 genocide was averted, and they must take steps to defend themselves in order to avoid being victimized by ISIS or other Muslim sects. Many instances of forced marriage and conversion to Islam have been recorded. In one case, hundreds of Yazidis converted to Islam en masse to avoid execution by the Islamic State.
One of the Yazidi resistance groups was originally called the “King Peacock Militia” or, more formally, the Tawuse Melek Militia, named after the archangel revered by the Yazidi faith and incorrectly associated with Satan by some Muslims. A good deal of Yazidi persecution is driven by the accusation that they are devil worshipers, so naming a militia unit after Tawuse Melek is a notable gesture of both defiance and faith.
Dispatching an all-female combat unit to fight for Raqqa definitely sends a message of defiance to the Islamic State. Unfortunately, it will also send a message to Turkey, which is extremely nervous about Kurdish strength gathering around Raqqa.
Kurdish-trained Yazidi units are often linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Marxist party of violent separatists regarded as terrorists by the Turkish government. Turkey has bombed and shelled Kurdish units in Iraq and Syria it believed were associated with the PKK, and some Kurds believe a full-blown ground war with Turkey in northern Syria is possible.