YJA Star guerrilla who survived Turkish chemical attack describes her experiences

YJA Star guerrilla Zîlan Avrîn spent 47 days in a tunnel in Southern Kurdistan resisting chemical weapons attacks by the Turkish army. She tells ANF about her experiences.

Zîlan Avrîn is one of the guerrilla fighters who resisted the Turkish invasion forces for 47 days in the Şehîd Berxwedan tunnel in the Zap region. Speaking to ANF, the YJA Star (Free Women’s Troops) fighter told of the war crimes committed by the Turkish army.

"My name is Zîlan Avrîn. I come from Afrin, Rojava. My family is patriotic. I was very moved by the attack on Afrin in 2018. The Turkish state killed indiscriminately, including children, elderly people, women. One day my mother was beaten by members of these gangs. This was very hard for me, and this incident became the reason for me to join the struggle. Later, I joined the guerrillas and came to the Zap region. In the Şehîd Şahin resistance area, there were preparations against the enemy. It was a very intense phase, but all the friends participated in the preparations in a very motivated and strong-willed way. Our aim was to inflict great losses on the enemy. Rêber Apo [Abdullah Öcalan] said, "If you don't sweat in life, you will spill your blood in war". We are working hard for Rêber Apo and our people.

The enemy launched an invasion operation on Zap in April. Our preparations against this operation in Şehîd Şahin were complete. Every time the enemy tried to airdrop troops, they were struck by the guerrillas and failed. Before the invasion began, the area was bombed from the air. Afterwards, the enemy invaded the area. Because he was not capable of close combat, he began to attack with chemical weapons. We took action with the means at our disposal. After taking our positions as four friends, we carried out strong actions against the Turkish troops. The Turkish soldiers used all the technical and chemical weapons from their inventory, but they could not break the will of the guerrillas. Against the enemy's technical and chemical weapons, we had only one Kalashnikov. Nevertheless, the enemy could not approach the tunnel.


Since the enemy could not fight face to face, they bombed constantly. In the last bombardment, the tunnel was damaged and we were hit. At the moment of the explosion, Heval (Comrade) Bager was thrown to one side and I to the other. We were seriously hurt. The dust that formed after the explosion made it even more difficult for us. I went to Heval Bager but he was no longer there. I found him on the other side. He had been hit in the head and, like me, was struggling a lot. As we could not walk, we tried to crawl down to our friends. When Heval Bager reached the manga, he lost consciousness. Our resources were very limited. We did not have enough medicine to save a person's life. It was the companionship that kept us alive. I checked on Heval Bager. His ears were clogged with dust and he was in severe pain from the blow to his head. He could not stand up. I forgot my own pain as I tended to Heval Bager, but I too could not get up. We were injured by the blast.

Even wounded, Heval Bager said: 'No matter what happens, no matter how limited our means, we will fight, we will not allow the enemy to occupy our land comfortably. Their strength lies in their technical means, ours is our belief in Rêber Apo.' We had nothing but our Kalashnikov, but our conviction and will were stronger than the enemy's technology. Rêber Apo always says that the best technique is man.

To penetrate the tunnel, the enemy used an extreme amount of poison gas. In the last chemical attack, they first used tear gas. Of course, the tear gas troubled us until we took our precautions. But then we took action against the enemy.

After the tear gas, the enemy used a burning gas that smelled like rubber. Then they used a gas that was sweet to the taste and odourless. The effect of this chemical weapon was very strong; we had headaches, our pulse rose very quickly, we became unconscious. When we tried to get up again, we felt like we were going to fall. Of course, we took immediate action. Then they used a yellow chemical gas. It was a gas that inflicted wounds on the body, caused headaches and stomachaches, and accelerated the heartbeat. It was a very powerful chemical. We could no longer lift our arms. Although we were wearing clothes, we had skin lesions on our backs, stomachs and fingers.


Three of us were very affected by the chemical weapons. For example, the others talked to me but I could not answer them, nor could I stand up. I could not even lift my arm. The chemical weapons also had this effect on Heval Avzem and Şervan. Because the enemy used chemicals one after another, we could not open the door of our manga for three days and could not get oxygen. This affected us very much. Accordingly, we became tired. This situation lasted for a week.

Meanwhile, the enemy tried to enter the tunnel again. We could hear the conversations between them, they told us that they had entered the tunnel from the north. However, they exaggerated because they were very afraid. Since they could not enter, they told their commander that they would ask us to surrender. At the same time, they knew the will of the PKK members very well.

Because they could not enter the tunnel, they detonated a bomb and thus sealed the tunnel. Then they used chemicals again. They used different chemical weapons 24 times in one day. When they used a yellow chemical, a yellow liquid came out of our nose and mouth. Of course, we didn't know what effect it would have. Yellow liquid came out of the nose in particular.


We planned an action against the enemy who used chemicals so intensively. We couldn't do it without masks anyway. We carried out an action with masks and oxygen bottles against the soldiers who were standing at the entrance of the tunnel. At that moment, Heval Bager and I noticed the stench of a burnt corpse. When we looked outside, we saw with our own eyes that the enemy had thrown the bodies of several soldiers on top of each other. For the Turkish state, its soldiers are of no importance.

After the action, we returned to our place. The others had made something to eat. We had no appetite because of the smell of the corpses and the chemical weapons. Heval Avzem and Bager insisted that we should eat something and fortify ourselves. They also fed us sugary things to give us energy.  Chemical weapons harm all living things. For example, in our camp there were small mice. These mice were bloated after the chemical weapons attack. Normally, mice run away when they sense movement, but they were so under the influence of the chemical weapons that they could not even run. It also bothered us that the chemicals were destroying our things. The water we drank from the glass left a bitter taste. So we tried not to use anything that the chemical had come into contact with. We took precautions to prevent the chemical from coming into contact with our spoons, glasses and supplies.


The facilities in Şehîd Şahin were limited. There was no water to wash our hands and face. For three months we had to wear the same clothes. Both the chemicals and the dust caused by the attack stuck to our clothes. That is why we always had a very bitter taste when our hands touched the clothes and we touched our faces afterwards.

Because of the chemical weapons and explosions, our hair also fell out. One day we had the opportunity to collect our clothes and wash them. It was around six o'clock. The enemy's air movements had begun. Two by two, we went to wash clothes. I kept watch and Heval Bêrîvan did the laundry. Despite wearing a mask, she could no longer stand the strong smell of chemicals in the tunnel and left. Heval Arjîn came in her place.

Since our clothes could not dry, they immediately became contaminated with the chemicals and we had it on our skin again. We changed our clothes as often as possible once a week, but some of us had no spare clothes. Our hair kept falling out because of the chemical weapons. We wanted to cut it off. When Heval Arjîn told Heval Bager, he was very impressed and said: 'It's too early, wait for that.' When the enemy carried out an air raid or used chemical weapons, our hair would get so tangled that we couldn't comb it. Our options were very limited, so we cut them off.

We risked everything to defeat the enemy. That was the attitude of my friends. It is not easy to describe the attitude, the struggle and the resistance. Heval Avzem had not known Heval Bager for long, but she was very impressed by his attitude. She said: 'I want to be like Heval Bager and Viyan, to reach their level." All our friends are trying to be worthy of this people. Heval Bager led a selfless struggle on the model of Rêber Apo. He said that no matter how limited our resources were, he felt the Chairman in the most difficult moments and gained strength from him.

All the friends fought a great battle for 47 days. The companionship between each other was very impressive. When we looked outside one day, we saw two Turkish soldiers fighting. They were clinging to each other, insulting each other. When we killed soldiers, we said to the enemy, 'Come and get your corpses', but they did not even care about burying their own soldiers. They just burnt the bodies of the soldiers who were with them a few minutes ago.


I have been in the Kurdish freedom movement for years and have met many valuable friends, but the companionship of Heval Bager and Şerzan was different. For example, if a friend was not motivated, they always supported him. Heval Bager used to say: 'I am very touched when a friend of mine is not doing well'. We were together many days, but never once did anyone hurt anyone. Everyone always said: 'We will be successful no matter what.' We fought with this conviction and determination. All the friends gave each other motivation and strength.

The enemy had intensified their chemical weapons attacks in the last few days. Some of our supplies were destroyed in the chemical attack and we could not use them, our drinking water was poisoned. We could not wash or drink.

Three soldiers had entered the tunnel. One was called Aslan, one was called Bora and the other was called Melih. Two of them died, while Melih was injured. Later, he also died. The enemy then intensified their attacks even more. They wanted to get their dead, so we let them have them, but then they burned those bodies.

When the Turkish state detonated its soldiers, everything around us was also destroyed. We wanted to sit down together and discuss how to get out of the tunnel. Heval Bager said very clearly: 'I will not leave Şehîd Şahin under any circumstances.' We said that we would not leave the area either, we would only go out of the cave. Then we could attack the enemy. Because Heval Bager did not want to go out, Heval Avzem and Arîn did not want to go either. Based on a joint decision, four friends stayed there. We knew that they would carry out a self-sacrificing action. We said goodbye to them. It was very difficult for us to say goodbye to our comrades, with whom we had fought for days in the same place. When we came out, the distance between us and the enemy was not great; it was about 25 metres. A few hours after we left the cave, there was an explosion sound. We knew that the others had carried out an action. When we heard the explosion, we felt as if a piece of our soul was being torn out. We know that these brutal attacks by the enemy will not go unanswered and that the friends will be avenged.


In any case, we knew that we had to pass on the perspectives that our friends had given us. We had a long way to go. For our people to know the truth, we had to deliver the documents we had intact. Our people needed to see what happened. On the way, we were both hungry and thirsty. Some of us ate vine leaves. We thought, never mind, as long as we get there. We had a big responsibility. Whatever was going to happen, we had to pass on the photos and recordings to our friends. On the way, there were plenty of air operations by the enemy. The enemy relied heavily on their technology, but still could not stop us. We also had photos and videos of soldiers with us.

Our people should see this truth. Heval Avzem and Heval Bager are not only the daughters or sons of one family, as the martyrs are the children of all the people of Kurdistan. Everyone must stand behind them. Now is the time of the people's revolutionary war and the liberation of Rêber Apo. What we want from our people is that they know their enemy better and know how the guerrillas fight in the mountains. Because there are thousands of Avzem and Bager in this party. Those who are against the enemy should do what they can. The guerrillas are the people and the people are the guerrillas. Our people should not be silent about these brutal attacks of the enemy. The people of Kurdistan should be proud of the guerrillas and claim their martyrs. This is what we expect from our people.

The enemy called the invasion operation 'Claw Lock’. He wanted to destroy us in the Zap and was trapped there himself. In Avaşîn he experienced the same defeat as in the areas of Metîna and Bakur. No matter what weapons the enemy attacks with, they will not be able to break our will. They will not be able to invade our land so easily. The enemy also knows that they have been defeated since the launch of invasion operations, but they cannot admit it. I repeat again the promise that I will fight this enemy on the line of Heval Bager, Avzem, Zîlan. We will definitely avenge our fallen friends. The price we pay does not weaken us; on the contrary, it intensifies our anger and hatred towards the enemy. We will take revenge for every loss. As Heval Bager said, we will give any price we have to pay for our people and our chairman. We will never kneel or bow before the enemy. No matter how difficult our circumstances, we will not desist from our struggle."