Who are the Women’s Protection Units?
Following the uprising of the so-called Arab Spring, the people of Rojava (Western Kurdistan, Northern Syria) took over the administration from the hands of the Syrian Regime and established a confederal, democratic self-administration. The Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) is an all-female military self-defense force that was founded in 2013, with the aim of protecting the people and women of Rojava and their right to self-administration.
Since then, YPJ has participated in all military operations, fighting different Islamist groups such as Al-Nusra and ISIS. In 2014, when the city of Kobane was besieged and attacked by ISIS, the fighters of YPJ – alongside our all-gendered People’s Protection Units (YPG) – played an active role in liberating the city. During this time, YPJ fighters gained international attention for their courage and resistance, becoming a role model for women around the world fighting for freedom, self-determination and gender equality.
Following the Battle of Kobane, YPJ became a founding part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) military alliance that was founded in 2015, subsequently bringing together different groups fighting ISIS in North and East Syria. With the support of the International Coalition Against ISIS, the SDF led the fight on the ground against ISIS terrorism, liberating the women and people of areas such as Minbij, Raqqa, Deir az Zor and many more.
The YPJ soon became an ethnically diverse force, as women from Arab, Assyrian, Armenian and other origins joined our ranks. The civil self-administration of Rojava changed its name to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) to indicate the multi-ethnic character of the self-administration’s areas.
In 2018, when the so-called caliphate of ISIS was still in existence, the Turkish state started a brutal invasive war against our western canton of Afrin, using Islamist mercenaries as ground forces. Our fighters carried out a heroic resistance and hundreds of our fighters gave their lives to protect the people of Afrin. Nevertheless, the Turkish state occupied Afrin, creating a system based on torture, kidnapping, rape and murder. Assimilation politics and demographic change are continually used against the population, and human rights violations there are well-documented.
After the resistance of Afrin, our forces participated in the battle against the last territory of the so-called ISIS caliphate: the Battle of Baghoz. In March 2019, ISIS’ defeat was declared and thousands of their fighters and affiliates surrendered themselves to the SDF – among them, citizens from around the world that had come to Iraq and Syria to join the caliphate. The forces of YPG and YPJ paid for the defeat of ISIS with the lives of 11,000 martyrs. We paid this price knowing that we are not just protecting Syria and the Middle East, but the whole of humanity against the risks posed by ISIS’ ideology and organization.
In the same year of ISIS’ defeat, the Turkish state (together with its allied Islamist groups) launched another military operation against our territories, which lead to the occupation of two of our cities: Serekaniye and Gire Spi. Thousands of civilians became refugees, and like in Afrin, many human rights are routinely violated. Furthermore, the Turkish State is using these occupied regions to give safe passage to ISIS members heading into the areas of the AANES.
The pledge we made as the Women’s Protection Units is to guard all the different peoples, and especially women, of North and East Syria against all forms of terrorism, occupation, and attacks on the people’s right to self-determination. We are willing to continue to protect our people and humanity against ISIS and all those supporting them. We are fighting for a peaceful and democratic future for the Middle East.