This guest post comes to us from a YPG cadre who has been fighting on the front lines against ISIS. -Jack
There’s been a great deal of — how to put it — bullshit surrounding the women of the PKK. Here’s a brief rundown of my interaction with one of the real, truly great, female PKK fighters. A truly great person.
Havel Minsky, who stood at five foot six, came from Eastern Kurdistan (Iranian Kurdistan). She was killed in Jaza (near Sinjar Mountain) on the 10th of August, 2014. She carried a short-barrel AK-47 with a foldable stock. She was a terrible chess player. She was one of the greatest people I have known and will ever know.
Havel Minsky was an actual member of the PKK. She trained in the mountains of Iraq for two years. This should be a lesson for everyone who’s read those “female fighters of the PKK”—they’re almost always YPJ, not PKK. Most of them are in local tabors (read my first article to see what they are) and never see “real” combat; very often they’re used to guard positions of very questionable value. They’re not in the mixed or PKK-only tabors.
Conversely, the female fighters of the PKK, like Minsky, are used for special night raids. They’re in charge of ambushes. They’re often the first in. They’re amazing people. They’re treated differently from the female YPJ fighters for good reason. Usually, they’re not allowed to have their pictures taken because if they ever want to return home, and if a picture is found of them in a PKK uniform, they’re often imprisoned.
One person commented, “Minsky, she was never afraid…yoni…I think she wanted to die.” Perhaps that summed up how fearless she was. She, like the other female PKK fighters, was very well trained—to the likely surprise, I suppose, of some readers here. Minsky had attended several schools in the PKK training camp in Northern Iraq, from explosives to intelligence school. Like her, most female fighters are usually in their mid to late 20s.
Minsky was 26 when she was killed. She had a storied life that sadly ended at the Battle of Jaza, which took place from August to September 2014. This was her second war. She was a third-generation PKK member. Her mother and father fought the Turks, the KDP, and Saddam. Her grandfather and mother fought the British and the Turks.
I’ll explain an occasion when she saved my life and the life of one of my friends. During the Battle of Rabia, lasting from March 2014 to October 2014, my friend, a veteran male PKK fighter, and I were trapped in a building behind enemy lines.
You remember that scene from Saving Private Ryan where the Germans were throwing grenades into the building, and before they went off, the Americans were just kind of throwing them back? Well, that’s what we did. Sometimes, since it was getting dark, ISIS fighters were throwing the grenades with these little rubber bands (used to tie the safety clip and clamp together so you couldn’t accidentally pull it) still attached—they must have forgotten to take them off and simply threw them up at us. We took off the bands and threw them back. Yet, even as we threw those grenades back, we knew things were going pear-shaped.
While we were on the sixth floor, we could hear the coming rush of enemies in batches of six or seven yelling out, “Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!” at the top of their lungs. Really, for us, the end was nigh.
We were goners, and as someone who once practiced one of the monotheistic faiths, I looked at the sky. “Oh well,” I thought, “I should really have talked to my rabbi before I got here.” From nowhere (and to this day I’m not sure how we didn’t hear them), three female fighters came rushing into the room. I never asked Minsky, their team leader, why she came for us or how she knew we were in trouble. She didn’t have to come for us. Others just thought we were a lost cause.
Look, the cavalry, I thought. I saw them, and in the lead was Minsky with her scarf (the same one you see in the picture, above) still draped around her tightly bound, shiny hair, grenades around her waist, an RPG tied around her back, and her assault rifle clutched in her slender hands.
“Are you two okay?” she shouted out to us. Pulling my friend’s arm, she yelled at him, “Up! Up!” while grasping firmly under his shoulder with her right arm.
My friend just stared at her. Honestly, I think he thought he was seeing an angel. Havel Minsky was slightly taller than him, and this goofy-looking guy just awkwardly stood up and just continued staring at her — he really couldn’t believe what had just happened! She stared at him for a second, too…until she loosed some bullets from her AK-47 at the ISIS militants who were coming into the building. My friend flinched.
That was the first time I met her. Honestly though, I’m not sure what Havel Minsky would say if she was reading this. She was never one to listen to someone talk a lot about her. I think it was pretty obvious to everyone that I very, very much enjoyed my limited time I spent with her. We often played chess. During a 50-minute chess match (and I enjoyed time-wasting and playing slowly to keep it going), she asked a passerby in Turkish (the language most PKK fighters speak), “Why is he looking at me so much?”
Havel Canan, an ethnic Turk with a background in kebab shops, looked at me and asked in Kebab-shop English, “Hey man, why are you looking at her so much, she’s asking you!”
My response (classic): “Oh no, I’m just looking at the board.” I gently shifted my eyes from Minsky’s face back to the chessboard.
I’ll reiterate once more, the fighters that are used in both Western and PKK propaganda so often are actually YPJ; she was genuine PKK. She had that air of maturity and confidence that YPJ fighters often do not have. She never told anyone about the time she saved our lives. Moreover, she never boasted, never complained. She rather liked reading Abdullah Ocalan’s unending series of books (I think he’s written 20 by now).
Finally, I’ll just say in her memory that she was a wonderful person, incredibly beautiful, and while I hate objectifying her (and I’ll make the point anyway), I’ll never forget her glimmering complexion. Her skin made her look supernatural in the morning Syrian sun that would always shine off of her while she ate across from me. It was magical to wake up and see her lovely dark brown hair, her lovely light brown eyes, that familiar scarf. She was everything that epitomized a great women: fearless, kind, and always smiling.
Minsky faced, however, a truly horrible demise that she didn’t deserve. Her body was found by ISIS in late August. It was paraded on an ISIS propaganda video that was sent to one of our informants. I never watched the video, although I was offered to view it.
She was killed when she entered a school house that was laced with explosives on that fateful August day, and while she and 13 others were killed in an instant, the video purportedly shows their bodies being cut to pieces as the tape rolls. As it goes on, apparently, the ISIS fighters are yelling out various things. It may be on Liveleaks somewhere, if you really wanted to see such a thing.
I’ll end this post with a short video that exemplifies what many male YPG (of which I am one) and male PKK fighters think when they hear that one of their friends, perhaps a female fighter who they might have even loved, dies:
It’s not every day that five men are singing a song about the bravery of particularly great woman. It would be great to make such a song of Havel Minsky someday. Like Beritan, the PKK fighter showcased in the YouTube video above, Minsky was a beautiful woman from Eastern Kurdistan who, like many others, will never return to see her village there in the Kurdish mountains.