Kurdish 'Angelina Jolie' devalued by media hype

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Asia Ramazan AntarImage source, @albertohrojas
Image caption,
Asia Ramazan Antar was killed fighting IS militants

She was, according to Western media, a poster-girl for her people, admired as much for her striking good looks as her military prowess.

But for her fellow fighters, Asia Ramazan Antar's portrayal in the press and social media came as both a surprise and disappointment.

The 19-year-old, from the Syrian Kurdish city of Qamishli, was killed by Islamic State (IS) militants in northern Syria last month.

Focusing their stories on her looks, some Western media said she was known as the "Angelina Jolie of Kurdistan" after the glamorous Hollywood actress.

Some compatriots have decried these comparisons as sexism and objectification.

The Kurdish Women's Protection Units (YPJ), to which Asia Ramazan Antar belonged, say their philosophy is simplicity and modesty.

No-one is judged based on his or her appearance, shape or size. Individuals, they say, make personal sacrifices for the collective good.

Last year, despite resistance from conservative religious groups, female fighters pushed Syrian Kurdistan to pass progressive laws that make violence against women, forced marriage and polygamy illegal. An all-women police unit was created to implement the law.

One of many

For the Kurdish media in Syrian Kurdistan (know to Kurds as Rojava) where she fought and died, Asia Ramazan Antar was simply another fighter who lost her life battling IS.

Asia Ramazan Antar joined the YPG in 2015, adopting the nom de guerre Viyan Antar.

Image source, @albertohrojas
Image caption,
Fellow fighters say Asia Ramazan Antar's portrayal has been demeaning

After completing her military training, she went to the frontline to fight IS militants.

Asia Ramazan Antar took part in five battles before she was killed around Manbij near the Turkish border on 30 August.

She was a team leader and machine-gunner. Over the past two years, six of her cousins and uncles were also killed in the fight against IS.

Just like Asia Ramazan Antar, hundreds of other Kurdish fighters have been killed. Most of them were young, in their late teens and early 20s - but none garnered the kind of publicity showered on Viyan.

'Sexist portrayal'

Choman Kanaani is one of the Kurdish fighters dismayed by Asia Ramazan Antar's treatment by the Western media.

He is in charge of rebuilding Kobane, the Kurdish city occupied by IS and extensively destroyed in 2014-2015 before Kurdish forces drove the jihadists out.

Mr Kanaani lost many of his fellow fighters, both men and women.

Image source, YPG
Image caption,
Asia Ramazan Antar was buried alongside other female fighters who received no publicity

"The entire philosophy of YPJ is to fight sexism and prevent using women as a sexual object," he said.

"We want to give women their rightful place in society and for them to own their own destinies. Viyan died for these ideals. In the media, no-one talked about the ideals for which she gave her life, nor what Viyan achieved for women in Rojava in the past four years."

Agrin Senna is a YPJ commander who lost one of her legs in the battle to liberate Manbij. She also lost many of her friends.

She urged people to look at images of her fellow fighters who had died and had refused to live under IS's particular form of Sharia, or Islamic law.

"Look at their pictures, they are all angels, all beautiful, you can't pick one just because she looks like a Hollywood actress, Angelina Jolie or Julia Roberts.

"They have nothing in common with them. They prefer to die rather than live under one of the most anti-women groups in the world."

The BBC's Guney Yildiz contributed to this report.