Rojda Felat: The feminist taking on Isis

'We are not weak any more. Women are playing a vital role in leading and managing the society'

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The Independent Online

A Kurdish woman who has been fighting extremists for three years is spearheading the assault on Isis’ self-declared Syrian capital, Raqqa.

Rojda Felat is the joint commander of an offensive by Kurdish and Syrian rebels on the city - which has been the de-facto capital of the so-called Islamic State since 2014.

In her thirties, she heads the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) made up of around 15,000 Kurdish and Arab fighters, who receive training and support from the US-led coalition. Their aim is to “liberate Syrians from Isis oppression”.

“The Raqqa Liberation Brigade and Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) forces will accompany SFD during the campaign,” Commander Felat said in a statement.

“The campaign is aimed at repelling terrorist attacks on Shadadi, Tal Abyad and Kobani, ensuring the security of our people.”

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The SDF announced the start of the Northern Raqqa Liberation Campaign at a press conference on 24 May 2016, Rojda Felat can be seen on far-right (SDF)

A radical activist, Commander Felat says she is inspired by Bismarck, Napoleon and Saladin as well as women, such as Arin Markin who blew herself up rather than face capture by Isis during the defence of the Kurdish town Kobanu in 2014.

She told The Times: “My main goal is liberating the Kurdish woman and the Syrian woman in general from the ties and control of traditional society, as well as liberating the entirety of Syria from terrorism and tyranny.”

“My strong beliefs and honest goals help me overcome any obstacles or challenges. The state of weakness that the woman in Rojava [a Kurdish-held territory] and Syria had experienced has gone now. We are not weak any more. Women are playing a vital role in leading and managing the society.”

Previously, Commander Felat has been involved in battles in Hasakah province and for the town of Shadadi in an operation called Wrath of Khabur.

The town took three days to liberate, Salah Jamil, a member of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) told Middle Eastern Eye.

"The Yazidi girls were sold at the Shadadi market, and... we took revenge for them,” Jamil added.

Female fighters are a key part of the offensive against Isis and there are understood to be more than 10,000 women fighting in both all-female and mixed Kurdish battalions.

A 21-year-old commander, from the Women's Protection Units, a faction of the YPG, told CNN: "They believe if someone from [Isis] is killed by a girl, a Kurdish girl, they won't go to heaven. They're afraid of girls."

The offensive against Raqqa began on 24 May and rebels are expected to push south from their frontline in northern Raqqa Governorate. It is still unclear whether they will attempt to take Raqqa city.

The launch of the SDF’s campaign came as activists reported “intensive” reconnaissance flights in the region and coalition air strikes in Raqqa city and the surrounding countryside. 

“Our campaign is moving very well,” Commander Felat told The Times. “The more we advance towards Raqqa the more Isis’s resistance is increased.”

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