On Monday, the unofficial Kurdish capital of al-Qamishli in northeast Syria woke up to the sounds of women ululating in the streets, echoes of revolutionary music coming from trucks loaded with loud speakers and activists calling on locals to attend the public funeral of 28 Kurdish fighters of the People’s Defense (Protection) Units (YPG).
The fighters were killed early January in the battle for Tal Hamis, where the YPG had engaged in heavy clashes with al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
ISIS had kept bodies of the killed YPG fighters for 44 days and last week finally agreed to exchange them for their prisoners arrested by and after the YPG recaptured Tal Hamis, Tal Barak and surrounding villages.
Around noontime almost all of the shops in central al-Qamishli were closed in respect of the funeral.
Women, men, young and old poured into the streets quietly, then all headed toward the “Martyrs’ Cemetery”.
ISIS had kept bodies of the killed YPG fighters for 44 daysEach one carried a Kurdish flag, YPG symbols or posters of their relatives killed in recent clashes with Islamist armed rebels.
Nearly 2,000 people gathered at the cemetery and waited to welcome remains of the YPG fighters while listening only to Kurdish revolutionary songs. No religious symbols or rituals were in sight.
“My son, Ciwan, is among the martyrs,” said one of the mothers of the killed.
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She wanted to be identified only as, “Ciwan’s Mother”, and while among the crowd, she rolled her tongue and every now and then ululated with the women beside her.
After making one of the longest ululation among the women present, she said: “I toast martyrdom of my son and I think of today as his wedding. He died to defend vulnerable people and that makes me very proud as a mother. He left me a honourable history to always remember and praise.”
Women in the Middle East use ululation at joyous occasions to show strong ecstatic emotions. In Kurdish culture women only use it at family celebrations, often at weddings. But now at war in Syria, Kurdish mothers use it at funerals to keep up the morale of the people in their fight against jihadist rebels.
“Mothers of martyrs practice ululation to keep up morale and consider funeral of their children as a wedding to show that they are happy their sons and daughters fought and died to defend the people. We all owe these martyrs as well as their brave mothers,” said Rezan Gulo, Director of Martyrs’ Families Organization in the Kurdish autonomous Cizire Canton.
As well as ululation, some mothers of the killed had their hands dyed with henna to further demonstrate that they attended the funeral as if it was a wedding. Others carried mud-made water bottles filled with flowers, also used at Kurdish weddings in Syria to be broken when the bride enters the family home of the groom.
“I am happier than ever and proud of my martyred son"After a long ululation, another mother of the killed said in a speech to the mourners, “I am happier than ever and proud of my martyred son. Today is not the funeral of my son but his wedding and that is why I am happy. I welcome you all to this wedding. My son fought and died to defend us from dark forces, so break your bottles when he is buried because he is then married to Kurdistan, our beloved country.”
She added: “I do not cry because I do not want the enemy to see that I am sad. The enemy will be happy to see us tearful, we should therefore stop crying. Our happiness should instead make the enemy aware that we are all ready to continue the fight until they stop killing our children.”
At the cemetery in al-Qamishli not all were so ecstatic. Some mothers were tearful and cried as they stood over the boxes that contained dead bodies of their sons and daughters. But whenever someone they considered a stranger approached, they tried to immediately stop. Others held back a lungful, wiped their tears and ululated, relentlessly.