Ivana Hoffman is the first Western woman to be killed fighting with the YPG in Syria
A young German woman has been killed while fighting alongside Kurdish forces against Islamic State militants in northeastern Syria, according to a monitoring group.
The woman, named by some sources as Ivana Hoffman, was killed on Sunday near the town of Tal Tamer where she was assisting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in their struggle against the IS fighters.
She is the third Westerner killed among Kurdish ranks in Syria.
Hoffman, who reportedly went by the Turkish nom de guerre Avasin Tekosin Gunes, identified herself as a member of the Marxist–Leninist Communist Party (MLKP), a Hoxhaist party based in Turkey where it is listed by the government as a terrorist organisation.
Ivana Hoffman " Mardinli " yoldaş, birlikte halay çektiğimiz yoldaş.. Umudu MLKP saflarında büyütürken şehit oldu... pic.twitter.com/FD95CDYUJ1
— Bomee (@specialman00) March 8, 2015
A photo circulated by MLKP supporters, showing Hoffman holding the MLKP newpaper 'Atilim' ('The Leap'), location uknown.
A statement on the MLKP's website lauding Hoffman’s final hours in Syria reads: “Her dreams are our dreams, her path is our path and her memory is our honour. Comrade Avasin Tekosin Günes is immortal."
— ETHA (@etkinhaberajans) March 7, 2015
A photo, purportedly of Hoffman, taken in Syria.
A video released by the MLKP in January purported to show Hoffman (whose faced is obscured) in the Kurdish region of Syria, also called Rojava, describing her reasons for fighting:
"We are here on the front – IS territory is right behind us," she tells the camera.
"We’ve been here for a week protecting our stronghold in order to defend the Rojava revolution. My reason for coming to Rojava is to fight for humanity, and for rights. It represents our internationalism. We are here to fight for freedom; Rojava is the beginning. Rojava is our hope."
The MLKP was born in 1994 out of a merger of two former Marxist-Leninist parties. Their armed wing has been responsible for a number of bombings in Turkey, which they repeatedly refer to as a "fascist state", including a bomb attack at the Hilton Istanbul Bosphorous in 2004 in which four people were killed.
On its website, the MLKP alleges it has so far lost five fighters battling IS in Syria and Iraq. They have publicly called for the creation of an “international battalion” to aid the fight against IS.
"The imperialists claim that there are neither revolution nor class struggle in the 21th century,” one member, named Thalmann Demircioglu, is quoted as saying.
“But here in Rojava there is an actual revolution. For this reason all communists and internationalists should come here to defend the revolution with weapons in their hands. The experiences gathered here have to be carried back to the countries to start the revolution their [sic] as well.”
Marines and fundamentalists
Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, from Britain, and Ashley Johnston from Australia have also been killed while fighting with the YPG.
Scurfield, a former marine from Yorkshire in the UK, was a member of the Lions of Rojava, a group of European and American volunteers, established in October 2014.
He was reportedly killed fighting with the YPG in the al-Hasakah province.
While many of the international YPG volunteers have been former marines and Christian fundamentalists, a number of volunteers have also been attracted to the YPG’s progressive political approach.
The YPG’s female-only battalion the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) has, in particular, made headlines in international media due to the perceived symbolism of women fighters defeating IS who have been condemned as misogynists.
“Women write history here, they show their longing for change and struggle in a very strong way,” the MLKP quote one female member, named as Arya Yeter, as saying.
“This revolutions has shown us one more time that it's most important for women to defend the revolution. The strangulation of this revolution and the occupation of this land means also the occupation of the women's body. Therefore, my call is primarily upon humaneness, upon youth and most important upon young women.
“This is our revolution. We are its subjects. This requires our participation in the revolution.”
The YPG’s self-proclaimed libertarian socialist leanings - an ideology they term “democratic confederalism” - has led to some to compare the volunteer movement to that of the international brigades in the Spanish Civil War.
“If there is a parallel today to Franco’s superficially devout, murderous Falangists, who would it be but Isis?” wrote anarchist academic David Graeber in the Guardian.
“If there is a parallel to the Mujeres Libres of Spain, who could it be but the courageous women defending the barricades in Kobane? Is the world – and this time most scandalously of all, the international left – really going to be complicit in letting history repeat itself?”
A number of volunteers from Europe and America have reportedly left the YPG to fight with other militias after discovering the group’s left-wing leanings.
Though numerous countries have passed laws to prevent their citizens travelling to fight with IS in Syria and Iraq, the same scrutiny has not been applied to volunteers in other militias.
The UK Home Office, in particular, has specified that there would be different approaches to dealing with volunteers for non-IS groups.
“UK law makes provisions to deal with different conflicts in different ways – fighting in a foreign war is not automatically an offence but will depend on the nature of the conflict and the individual’s own activities,” it said.