Female Fighters of Kurdistan (Part 1/3)

Uploaded by vice on Jul 23, 2012


THOMAS MORTON: Hi, it's Thomas.
We're in Kurdistan in northern Iraq near the Iran border.
We are hanging out with the women fighters of PJAK, Free
Life for Kurdistan Party.
THOMAS MORTON: This is northern Iraq, a suburban
paradise of shopping malls, fast food, and the most
advanced movie technology on the planet.
Holy shit.
They are so far ahead of us in dimensional cinema.
It's a pretty far cry from southern Iraq, probably
because it sat out the war that's still ravaging the rest
of the country almost a decade after we started it.
Northern Iraq, also called Iraqi Kurdistan, is a
semi-autonomous state with its own regional government mostly
made up of Iraq's Kurdish ethnic minority.
The Kurds are mountain folk who live in the overlap
between Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran, but don't really
belong to any of them.
The Kurdish goal for the last century or so has been to
carve out a homeland for
themselves, a greater Kurdistan.
Which they've gone about the traditional way by forming
guerrilla armies, blowing up a bunch of crap, and generally
making trouble for the countries whose territory they
consider their own.
So far, the place they've had the most success is Iraq,
though through no small help of the USA.
We're on the corner of Texas Avenue and New Mexico Lane in
the middle of the American village in Kurdistan in
northern Iraq.
Kurdistan is, kind of, a major exception to what's happened
over the last 10 years in Iraq.
It's where the rest of the country has fallen into
bloodshed and divisive fighting, it's blossomed.
They've had a tremendous industry spring up here.
There's developments everywhere.
They're building gated communities that look like
they're somewhere in Southern California, and it's nice.
HIWA OSMAN: We are looking to the West as models for us to
conduct our affairs by.
And what we are seeing from the ruling parties in Baghdad,
they are looking to East and to the immediate
You go to any other nation in the region, you will find that
their anti-Americanism runs rife.
The only nation that accepts America fully, despite the few
occasions of betrayal in history,
is the Kurdish nation.
THOMAS MORTON: Throughout their history, the Kurds have
been particularly adept at playing their enemies against
each other.
In the '80s, this meant joining with Iran against
Saddam Hussein which put them at odds with then Iraqi allies
us, meaning America.
Once Saddam got the upper hand, though, and started his
infamous Anfal genocide campaign against them, marked
by mass civilian killings and the indiscriminate use of
chemical weapons, the Kurdish rebels went from terrorists to
freedom fighters in American eyes.
During the first Gulf War, when George Bush spontaneously
called on the Iraqis to rise up against Saddam, the Kurds
took this as a sign of America's full-fledged support
and launched a massive assault on the retreating Iraqi Army,
which failed miserably.
During the subsequent bloodshed and refugee crisis,
US military was forced, largely through bad press, to
make good on their implicit promise and actually give the
Kurds their support.
To this end, they established a no-fly zone at the 36th
parallel to keep the Iraqi Army at bay.
And the rest has been smooth sailing for Iraqi Kurdistan.
I mean, there was a bloody, fractious civil war for a few
years over which rebel group would lead the new country.
But otherwise, Kurdistan has been doing well for itself and
is generally held up as one of the few success stories of
American interventionism.
ROBERT BAER: They absolutely love us.
They give us the oil, they give us anything.
I mean, we've done more for the Kurds
than anybody in history.
We beat their enemy.
THOMAS MORTON: While Iraq is more or less a lock for the
Kurds, Kurds in Turkey, Syria, and Iran, are still fighting
for independence and even basic civil rights using
guerrilla warfare and suicide bombings to their ends.
The US State Department considers most of these groups
terrorist organizations, which is a bit confusing considering
their support for the old Peshmerga guerrillas, who are
now running the show in the entire Kurdish government.
One of these new groups, PJAK, was formed in 2004 right after
the American invasion to specifically target American
enemy Iran.
PJAK has become notorious for their largely female fighting
force and bears a conveniently vague relationship with the
also gender equal PKK, who fight American ally Turkey.

We're on the road from Erbil to Rania.
Rania is up in the hills.
Today is the eighth or ninth birthday of PJAK, and they're
having a little festival up here that we are going
to take part in.
The PJAK birthday party was being held at a secret
mountain bee farm close to the Iranian border.
It was technically a media event, but since having higher
ups from all the major Kurdish guerrilla groups in one
location made the risk of an Iranian or Turkish rocket
strike especially risky, security precautions were
taken that effectively made us the only media covering it.
So it was kind of like a personal press
conference just for us.
So we're here.
We just, we've been driving in the mountains for a while.
This doesn't look like Iraq.
And I think, actually, we're pretty close to Iran.

PJAK was designated a terrorist organization by the
Obama administration this year, which made me a little
nervous that running the receiving line here might turn
into a personal Hanoi Jane moment, or moments.
Actually, PJAK occupies a sort of political gray zone where
you're not allowed to give them money, but the government
isn't really trying to stop them from doing
their thing in Iran.
Most likely because the thing they do kind of ties in with
the things we want to do, which is,
namely, fuck with Iran.
The Kurdish Independence Movement
is notoriously factional.
It's your basic "Life of Brian" alphabet soup.
There's the KDP, the PUK, the PKK, the KCK, PJAK, All of
whom have the same ultimate goal but just slightly
different ways of trying to accomplish it.
We tried to get a guy from the PKK to explain the whole
spread for us, although he claimed he wasn't
part of PKK but KCK.
We're not exactly sure there's a difference, though.
RAJ VALAT: Today, approximately 50 million Kurds
living in four parts of Kurdistan.
It's the same problem, but this is in Iran, in
Turkey, or in Syria.
We are one people, and basically, the solution that
we want to see is democratic autonomy for Kurds and
democracy for Turkey, for Iran, for Syria,
for Iraq, as well.

THOMAS MORTON: PJAK's emergence from the
anti-Turkish PKK seems like a pretty transparent attempt to
snag American support while still
fighting one of its allies.
PKK's leader, though supposedly not PJAK's, even
told the press in its early days that if the CIA wanted to
use PJAK to destabilize Iran, it would be a great idea.
Who supports the Kurds?
Like who are your allies outside of the area?
RAJ VALAT: Our allies are our people.
And our allies are mountains.
That's all.
THOMAS MORTON: Not entirely sold on this reply, we figured
spending a day in the mountains with some of their
female fighters would help answer the question of who
PJAK's real allies are.