SURUC, Turkey: It was an easy decision to make. Barely out of school, Perwin Mustafa Dihap wanted to follow in the footsteps of three of her older siblings and go to war. Before long, she was on the front line in the Kurdish Syrian city of Kobani, her hometown on the Turkish border besieged on three sides by extremists from the Islamic State group.
Just two months later, the 19-year-old lay dying in a hospital across the border in Turkey, wounded in an Oct. 6 mortar attack on her position in the city.
The doctor told her family the young woman’s chances were slim, despite her surviving a five-hour operation. Yet Dihap still held out hope.
“We went to the hospital … and I asked her how she was doing, and she said: ‘Don’t worry about me. If I get better, I will go back to fight again,'” said her 34-year-old brother, Kemal Mustafa Dihap.
But she didn’t get better. As her condition deteriorated, doctors transferred her to two other hospitals in larger Turkish towns in an effort to save her. In the last two days, she was too weak to speak. Dihap died in the early hours of Nov. 5.
“Even though she was really young, she was really brave and strong,” her brother said, swallowing hard to keep his emotions in check as he stood outside the morgue in the Turkish border town of Suruc.
He, his mother and his siblings waited to accompany his little sister’s coffin to the nearby cemetery where many of the Kurds who die fighting in Kobani are being buried. The framed photographs they carried showed a fresh-faced young woman in uniform, a wisp of her brown hair crossing her forehead, the ghost of a smile on her lips.
Dihap, the youngest of originally 12 children, was buried alongside Emina Mahmoud, believed to be 22, during a joint funeral. Like many Kurds killed in Kobani, Mahmoud’s family had not been traced in time for the ceremony.
The two were among hundreds of women fighting in the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ. Kurdish women have fought alongside men for decades in a guerrilla war seeking an independent Kurdistan that would encompass parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
After six months of basic training, Dihap was initially assigned to the police force, said her mother, Fatma Isa Dihap. But the girl insisted she wanted to be in the thick of battle. Their town had come under an intense assault by IS fighters in mid-September, with the extremists taking over parts of the city in fierce battles with Kurdish fighters. A U.S.-led coalition is now carrying out airstrikes against IS positions in and around Kobani.
About 200,000 people have fled into neighboring Turkey, which borders the north side of Kobani.
It was Dihap’s mother who took her to join up. Two of her other children were already fighters: a son in the battle for Kobani and a daughter fighting in the Syrian region of Afrin, near Aleppo.
“I took her to the comrades and told them: ‘I present my daughter to Kurdistan,'” she said.
It was a sacrifice she was prepared to bear despite already having buried three of her children, explained her son Kemal. One of her sons was killed in 1996 fighting in the Kurdish guerrilla war, another was killed in a car crash and a third accidentally drowned.
“I am happy and I am proud of my daughter; she is the martyr of Kurdistan and Kobani,” said Dihap as she prepared to bury her youngest child.
Cheering defiantly and ululating for her daughter outside the morgue and at the cemetery, the mother finally broke down when the coffin arrived at the gravesite.
“Perwin!” she cried, as her daughter’s shrouded body was lifted out of her wooden coffin and placed in her grave.