British Columbia

'I want to make the YPJ a household word,' says B.C. woman in documentary on Kurdish female militia

"I liked the ground shaking and the smell of the ammo," says Vancouverite Hanna Bohman on fighting against ISIS in Syria.

Vancouver woman volunteered to fight against ISIS in Syria

"I was looking for something important to do with my life, to feel like I had contributed," said Hanna Bohman, seen here in Syria, on why she wanted to join the YPJ.

Dressed in camouflage, often with an AK 47 slung over her shoulder, Vancouverite Hanna Bohman's life on the front lines in Syria is showcased in the documentary, "Fear Us Women."

The documentary about the YPJ — the female brigade of the Kurdish People's Protection Units — is told through Bohman's own experiences with the group; many of her personal videos made the final cut. 

The 48-year-old first made contact with YPJ recruiters online and says she spent time in Iraq and Syria over the last three years volunteering with the female fighters battling ISIS, some of which included combat on the front lines. 

"I didn't go there to kill people. I went there to help people but I realized in doing what I was doing, there would be times where I'd have to kill an enemy," said Bohman. 

She had no prior military experience, and only four hours of weapons training the first time she arrived in Syria, after she says she was smuggled into the country.

Bohman admits she's been called crazy, but says she first decided to go because she was looking for something "important" to do with her life. 

Female Fighters 

The nearly 30-minute long documentary by RYOT is directed by Academy Award nominated director David Darg and executive produced by actress Olivia Wilde.

Producer Diego Traverso was first introduced to the female fighters in Syria while working for a humanitarian group.

"Some of the units that were protecting me as a journalist and humanitarian were women, so I was very intrigued," said Traverso. 

That curiosity led to creation of the short documentary, but despite dozens of interviews with Kurdish women, Traverso says both he and Darg wanted someone to bridge the gap between the female fighters' stories and a Western audience. 

"We ended up seeing on Facebook a clip from Hanna and I was like 'oh this is perfect'," said Traverso.  

Bohman has been back in Canada  since the summer, but is still very focused on bringing awareness to the YPJ while promoting the documentary, which was screened at the Whistler Film Festival.

"My hope is that women will look at this and realize that  men aren't going to come and rescue us. We have to take care of ourselves," said Bohman.  "I want to make the YPJ a household word." 

About the Author

Brenna Rose

@BrennaRoseTV

Brenna Rose is a reporter and anchor who reported across western Canada before making her way to CBC Vancouver in 2015.