A woman from Blackburn has recently travelled to Syria to fight Islamic State on the ground. Kimberly Taylor (27) calls herself a revolutionary and has joined the Kurdish YPJ (Women’s Protection Unit), an all-female division of the YPG (People’s Protection Units) founded in 2011 and affiliated with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The militia of around 20, 000 members is currently pushing towards Raqqa, the capital of the caliphate where many women have become enslaved in oppressive forced marriages.
Taylor spent the best part of the year before travelling to Syria reading up on regional politics, studying weaponry and investigating military tactics. A former maths student, after her graduation she went solo-travelling around the world in her mid-20s. She began studying politics at Stockholm University and during her studies she took up writing for several left-wing news companies. It was through this that she was sent to cover the emerging feminist revolutionary movement by a Swedish newspaper. She soon became enamoured with the YPJ’s struggle and quit her degree to join up, taking the Kurdish name of Zilan Dilmar.
She has enrolled in a sizable resistance movement that has grown up around the idea of upholding women’s rights, agency and social justice against the Islamic militants’ oppressive worldview. Its ideology is called ‘democratic confederalism’, was developed by Abdullah Öcalan and has socialist utopian goals. Dreaming of a country that does not exist is a painful reality for Kurdish nationalists who have been branded terrorists by the Turkish government. Its feminist component stipulates male/female co-presidency. Taylor describes their vision as “an example for the world to follow”.
Taylor is comparatively old to be joining the unit, whose members are mostly comprised of women in their early twenties or late teens. The YPJ are currently receiving US military air support by virtue of their success, but there are no boots on the ground.
She left in secrecy and did not inform her family of her intentions. Her father was upset when he found out but accepted that it would be futile to try and prevent her from following her stark convictions through to their logical conclusion. Taylor stresses that what she is doing is “not from naivety”.
Some resistance units require former military training in order to join, but the YPJ does not specify professional combat experience. Potential members must spend at least a month training to become soldiers and studying the group’s ideology; in particular, its feminist aspect known as Jineology whose central tenet is that “a country cannot be free unless the women are free.”
Up to 80 UK citizens are estimated to have left to fight against Isis; this compared with around 800 who have successfully joined Isis. 27 of these international volunteers have been killed including the 19-year-old German, Ivana Hoffmann in March 2015. Ryan Lock (20), a former chef from Chichester who fought for the YPG, is also among this number having committed suicide rather than being taken prisoner and used in an Isis propaganda video.
The British government can prosecute anyone travelling to fight in Iraq and Syria, regardless of their affiliation in the civil war.