Middle East

In pictures: PKK fighters prepare for battle with IS

For the three decades, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has been fighting the Turkish government. The PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by the Turkish authorities and several Western states, but it is now a key player in the battle against the jihadist group Islamic State (IS). BBC Persian's Jiyar Gol was granted rare access to a PKK training camp in northern Iraq.

Image caption Ruken, a 21-year-old ethnic Turkmen, has been in the mountains for eight months and is getting ready to be deployed. "I joined the PKK to defend human values, to fight for women's equality," she says.
Image caption Vian (right) is a 20-year-old member of the Yazidi religious group. She says she was lucky to escape from IS militants when they overran her village of Cherghasem, in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq, last August. "They killed many of us. It wasn't right to remain silent. First I came to fight for Sinjar, but now I want to fight the AKP [ruling Turkish party] and to fight in all parts of Kurdistan. I'll go anywhere the PKK commanders need me."
Image caption Fighting IS has come at a hefty price for the PKK. After burying the bodies of four comrades killed in Syria, these fighters dance defiantly - men and women, hand in hand - in an attempt to boost morale.
Image caption Aveen is a 19-year-old Yazidi from Sinjar. She was captured when IS militants stormed her village and was held for two months before managing to escape. Instead of going to a refugee camp, she joined the PKK. Her commander advised not to ask about what happened to her in captivity, but the scars on her face and hands were a silent testimony to what she went through. She says she is now ready to face her abductors again.
Image caption Instructors teach recruits about the PKK's philosophy and aims, as well as military strategy and tactics. More than 40,000 people have been killed since the PKK began fighting for an independent Kurdish state in 1984. In the 1990s, the organisation rolled back on that demand, calling instead for greater cultural and political autonomy.
Image caption The fighters have to travel for days to reach the frontline in Syria. The same discipline and motivation that makes the PKK so effective against IS also makes them a threat in the Turkish government's eyes. Hundreds of fighters are ready to face IS, but recent Turkish air strikes have made it difficult to move around.
Image caption In 2013, the Turkish government and the PKK agreed a ceasefire. Clashes continued, but last month the truce appeared to disintegrate after the PKK killed two police officers it claimed had collaborated with IS in a bomb attack in the town of Suruc that left 32 pro-Kurdish activists dead. The Turkish military responded to both incidents by launching air strikes on PKK camps in northern Iraq and IS positions near its border with Syria.
Image caption When not practicing their battlefield skills, these female fighters could almost be mistaken for ordinary teenagers. But their stories are far from ordinary.
Image caption Rojhat Karakosh is one the instructors. He was on Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidis took shelter when IS swept across Iraq last year, and was injured twice in battle. He can't fight now, so he's helping teach the new recruits. "There were many other forces in the region. They ran away from IS, but we stayed," he says.
Image caption Narin Jamishd, a Kurd from Turkey, joined the PKK four years ago. "For the IS militants, women should be imprisoned at home and used as sexual objects," she says. "They are afraid of independent women."
Image caption About 40% of PKK fighters are female. All PKK forces have joint female-male leadership and men and women fight IS side by side. However, sexual relationships are strictly prohibited.

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