Along with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the female fighters of the Women’s Protection Units have joined the Raqqa operation and are fighting on the front-line in order to rescue the women taken by ISIS. Pointing out that ISIS are still selling women like goods on the market, Engizek Khalil, one of the Women’s Protection Units’ commanders, said,
‘It’s not only Kurdish and Ezidi women they are fighting for, but for the honour of all the women of the world.’
Responding to claims that civilians have been wounded in the operation, Khalil replied,
‘We are not going into Raqqa to hurt civilians. We are there to save them from persecution’
Mutlu Civiroglu @mutludc
First of all I want to say thanks to you, Khalil, for making time for us in the middle of the battle in Raqqa. The operation inside the city of Raqqa has been going on for about a month now – what’s the situation on the front right now?
Engizek Khalil: The People’s Protection Units (YPG), Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and some groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have been engaged in the joint Raqqa operation for a month now. The liberation of Raqqa has a very special meaning for women, because it’s in this city, which ISIS have declared as their capital, that they are trading women and selling them like goods. I can say that at the moment almost half of Raqqa has been liberated as a result of our operation. Our morale is really high, despite the fact that our progress has been equalled by difficulties.
What kind of difficulties?
Engizek Khalil: One of the difficulties is that ISIS have left bombs with drones. Inside the city, there are a lot of vehicles packed with bombs and ready to be exploded. The streets are full of tunnels so that they can come up from behind and attack. As well as that, mines have been laid at nearly every house in Raqqa. It takes times to deal with these things and advance. Whenever ISIS are forced to leave a city, they decimate it. That’s pretty much the situation here.
Human rights groups say that large numbers of civilians are being killed during the operations. General Stephan Townsend, one of the commanders of the coalition against ISIS, said that every care is being taken to protect civilians during the operations. How do you try to protect civilians?
Engizek Khalil: In a war environment, unfortunately there is a possibility that civilians will be killed. But we do everything we can to protect them. When we reach civilians inside Raqqa, we immediately remove them to safe areas. ISIS are using civilians as a human shield in order to prevent our advance. A lot of our colleagues have been wounded when trying to protect civilians. If you can’t protect civilians, there’s no point in going into the city. We are not going into Raqqa to hurt civilians. We are going to save them from persecution. It’s not true that large numbers of civilians have been killed during the operations. The coalition is making a huge effort to protect civilians from harm.
You said that the liberation of Raqqa has a special meaning for women. The women fighting in Raqqa are much talked about around the world. As a female commander, how do you feel to be fighting against ISIS in a city where women have been subjected to such horrific abuse?
Engizek Khalil: The women taken from Shingal as slaves were sold in Raqqa like goods. During the operations, we’ve rescued a lot of Ezidi women from ISIS and reunited them with their families. This gives a very special feeling of vengeance. This vengeance is for all the women of the world, not just Kurdish and Ezidi women; because all over the world women are victims of slavery. In the Women’s Protection Units, we are women from different ethnicities, including Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians, and we want to show that women can fight for freedom everywhere and in every way. When we’re fighting against ISIS, we always advance to the sound of our ululations and it terrifies the ISIS fighters.
According to the media, a group of Ezidi women came to Raqqa from Shingal [Sinjar] to fight against ISIS. Can you say something about them?
Engizek Khalil: The support of our female comrades from Shingal has been a great morale booster. These women have taken up positions in the front-line against ISIS. They say they will stay fighting in Raqqa until they have achieved retribution for all the Ezidi women. As members of the Women’s Protection Units, we all stand together in the fight against ISIS.
When ISIS surrounded Kobane, it terrified the whole world. But they were defeated in Kobane and from then on they lost their momentum. Now you are advancing right in the heart of ISIS and have rescued half the city. So what will bring the end of ISIS and what shape will the struggle of the YPJ take after this?
Engizek Khalil: Along with some of the countries that are working with them, ISIS surrounded Kobane with the aim of finishing off the Kurds. It’s not wrong to say that Kobane had a braking effect on ISIS. There were only two streets in Kobane that didn’t fall. Through the struggle of our comrades like Arin Mirxan, who we will never forget, a brake was put on ISIS. We’ll fight against ISIS anywhere in the world we need to, not just in Kobane. Two years ago, the Women’s Protection Units were fighting against ISIS in Kobane and today we are fighting in Raqqa. The wave of fear that ISIS spread has been halted and now everyone can see that.
*Translated into English by Paula Darwish http://countryandeastern.net/