Syriac Christian women take up Kalashnikovs to fight Islamic State

Qahtaniya - Babylonia has no regrets about leaving behind her two children and her job as a hairdresser to join a Christian female militia battling against Islamic State in Syria.

The 36-year-old, dressed in fatigues, believes she is making the future safe for her children. “I miss Limar and Gabriella and worry that they must be hungry, thirsty and cold. But I try to tell them I’m fighting to protect their future,” she told AFP.

Babylonia belongs to a small, recently created battalion of Syriac Christian women in Hasakah province in north-east Syria who are fighting Isis.

They are following in the footsteps of Syria’s other main female force battling the jihadists – the women of the YPJ, the female counterpart to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

So far the new force is small, with around 50 graduates from its training camp in the town of Qahtaniya.

But the Female Protection Forces of the Land Between the Two Rivers – the area between the Tigris and Euphrates waterways historically inhabited by Syriacs – is teeming with women eager to prove their worth against Isis.

It was Babylonia’s husband who encouraged her to leave Limar, nine, and six-year-old Gabriella and join the unit whose first recruits graduated in August.

A fighter himself, he urged her to take up arms to “fight against the idea that the Syriac woman is good for nothing except housekeeping and make-up”, she said.

“I’m a practising Christian and thinking about my children makes me stronger and more determined in my fight against Daesh,” added Babylonia, using the Arabic acronym for Isis.

Syriac Christians belong to the eastern Christian tradition and pray in Aramaic. They include both Orthodox and Catholic branches, and constitute around 15% of Syria’s 1.2 million Christians.

The unit’s first major action was alongside the newly created Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish, Arab and Christian fighters, which recently recaptured the strategic town of Hol.

“I took part in a battle for the first time in the Hol area, but my team wasn’t attacked by [Isis],” said 18-year-old Lucia, who gave up her studies to join the militia.

Her sister also joined up, against the wishes of their reluctant mother.

“I fight with a Kalashnikov, but I’m not ready to become an elite sniper yet,” the shy teenager said, a wooden crucifix around her neck and a camouflage bandana tied round her head.

The battalion’s fighters train in an old mill in a programme that includes military, fitness and academic elements.

With its limited combat experience, the unit for now focuses mainly on protecting majority Christian parts of Hasakah province.

Thabirta Samir, 24, who helps to oversee the training, estimates that around 50 fighters have graduated so far.

“I used to work for a Syriac cultural association, but now I take pleasure in working in the military field,” she said.

“I’m not afraid of Daesh, and we will be present in the coming battles against the terrorists.”