Nurman Ibrahim Khalifa, born on January 1, 2001 in al-Hasakah, was a ninth grader when she was kidnapped by the PYD.
Her director invited her to take part in a child conference organized by the PYD, and Nurman decided to participate, also because lots of her friends and teachers were sympathizing with the party. But instead of being driven to the conference, the then thirteen-year-old girl was taken away against her will on November 5, 2014. She told KurdWatch:
»At some point I realized that I’m going to the camp. I suddenly saw my brother while driving in the car. I called him and hit against the windows of the car. A cadre, a woman, told [the driver]: ›Drive faster, her brother is coming‹. When I continued hitting against the glass, they beat me up with a rifle. I was unconscious and I only woke up in the military camp.«
The first stop was a military training camp managed by the PYD in the Syrian village of Mela Merzê. Nurman spent her first five days here, in a group of about fifty persons, with about ten who were as old as her.
»When I arrived I was told: ›Forget about your family!‹ If they say something like that, it means that they are not a good party. […] I just wanted to talk to my family. I wanted to know how they were doing. They didn’t allow it.«
The daily routine in the camp was strictly regulated: They woke up at 3:30 am and started morning exercises until 7:00 am. Breakfast is at 7:00 am—olives were served and the kids had only a few minutes to eat them. Breakfast was followed by classes, a lunch consisting of wheat porridge, and »political training courses« until 9:00 pm. For dinner they got spaghetti, and again there were only a few minutes to eat. Every day, an oath for the freedom of Abdullah Öcalan, and for the freedom of Kurdistan had to be pledged.
After five days, Nurman crossed the river Chabur, together with a group of other fighters, and entered illegally the neighbouring country Iraq—in circumventing official border controls. About sixty people, who were brought together with Nurman to Iraqi-Kurdistan, were at the same age; another forty were even younger. Private talks in the camp were prohibited, but some of the kids told Nurman that they had been forced to join the YPG and that they wanted to return to their parents.
In Iraqi-Kurdistan, the military training started. Nurman told the magazine Focus:
»We learned how to deal with all sorts of weapons: with the Kalashnikov, handguns, grenades and even with bazookas.« Their trainers drummed into them that they were supposed to defend their homeland against the terrorists of the IS. They told the girls: »You are Kurds and strong women. You will not tolerate oppression. You defend your freedom with weapons in your hand.«
Escape attempts were punished severely. When Nurman came to the mountains, a girl of about eighteen-years old whose warrior name was Beritan Tolhidan was caught during her eighth attempt to escape. Thereupon, a meeting was convened where Beritan was placed on a stage and a PKK-commander was holding a gun against her head, saying: »This PKK bullet is too good for you.« Then Beritan was shot and thrown into the river. The entire group, about one hundred and forty people, were forced to watch this.
»No one dared to say anything. Only one man grumbled silently. As a reaction to that, ›Friend Berfin‹ held the rifle to his head as well and said that she would do the same to him.«
In the beginning, Nurman lacked the courage to escape, and her first attempt to flee with a friend was unsuccessful: The two girls were captured and put into prison. Nurman’s thirteen-year-old friend was tortured with a belt and cable loop. Their second attempt was more successful. At night, they managed to reach a small village, around ten kilometers away, where they stayed over night. The next morning, they were handed over to the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (Iraq).
»We collected dozens of minors, the PYD had kidnapped for the purpose of military training«, a staff member of the Peshmerga secret service in Erbil confirmed to the magazine Focus. »The recruitment of students is very common. The parents are unable to do anything against it. They fear the omnipotence of the party«.
Currently, Nurman is hiding somewhere in Europe. Going back to Syria is not an option due to the fact that former child soldiers live in constant fear and are in danger of being kidnapped again. Thus, any attempts to report about their experiences and make public the recruitment practices of the PYD is prevented.