Meet Hanna Bohman, the Canadian G.I. Jane who's fighting ISIS after joining the YPJ's revolution
Canada’s G.I. Jane found worth and meaning inside one of the most dangerous areas on the planet.
Hanna Bohman’s location – “somewhere in Iraq or Syria,” she told the Toronto Sun earlier this month – remains a secret due to safety concerns.
The 48-year-old self-described “badass” is back in the Middle East for the third time since 2014 and volunteering with the YPJ, an all-female military unit in northern Syria that’s taking a two-pronged fight to ISIS while waging war in the name of feminism.
“The revolution is about creating an egalitarian society, with complete gender equality,” Bohman says. “The west should support (the YPJ).”
Female enslavement and arranged marriages in parts of the Middle East were enough to motivate the unemployed, former salesperson from Vancouver to uproot three years ago and support “the revolution.”
“I try not to think too much about my friends who have died,” Bohman says from her undisclosed location in the war-torn region.
“I don’t have any issues with the bodies or parts of bodies I’ve seen though — the bodies of ISIS, I mean. I feel no sympathy for them anymore.”
She recounts a recent story of being a few metres away from an ISIS spy who’d parked his motorbike in front of her truck.
“I was going to get out and knock him out but my commander wasn’t convinced he was (ISIS),” said Bohman, adding her “instincts” sniffed out the enemy.
“No one looks that pissed off. He was arrested later at a checkpoint. My commander said we should have run him over. I was pissed we didn’t.”
While the Canadian government doesn’t condone its citizens joining overseas militias, Bohman reiterates it hasn’t done anything to stop her.
Bohman says she’s become friends with Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents, who are more interested in obtaining information on Canadians potentially joining ISIS, the death cult bent on destroying Western values.
But that still doesn’t explain why the ex-model swapped her designer wardrobe for army fatigues and military-grade weapons. She spends most of her days looking out for suicide trucks.
“I didn’t feel like I’d done anything worthwhile,” Bohman says. “I was interested in combat photography. I wasn’t working.
“I’d been hit by a car during the summer and was laid off work. I had the time and the money to do what I had been thinking about doing.”
Bohman stumbled upon a Facebook posting in 2014 called Lions of Rojava, a group named after an area in Syria’s Kurdish north where the YPJ operates.
The now defunct social media page was constructed to provide information for western volunteers who were looking join the fight for equality. It would end with Bohman, one of nine foreign female fighters, being smuggled into the region.
She’s also aware of an Italian, a Brit, one Pole, two Swedes and four Canadians linking arms with the volunteer army.
Each or them surrendered more comfortable lifestyles and family ties to take the fight to ISIS.
But Canada’s G.I. Jane says family members’ concerns are of no matter. Her mother once said she’d join the cause if she was younger.
To those questioning her sanity, Bohman has clear and concise response: “They can suck on their privilege.
“It’s easy to judge from the safety of their sofa, wallowing in their gluttony,” Bohman adds. “Those same s---s will be the first ones to b---- when the war gets bigger.
“People in the west don’t understand the truth here because western media doesn’t report it: ISIS is supported by Turkey.”
Bohman’s claims against Turkey are contentious and disputed. She also claims Turkish authorities have labelled her a terrorist and are hunting her for what she supports.
“The leader of (our) revolution said, ‘No society can be free unless it’s women are free,’” Bohman adds. “This is what the YPG and the YPJ are fighting for. They want to be part of the modern world...They are fighting for a truly democratic society – a bottom-up democracy.”
They’re battling for everything Bohman left behind in British Columbia.
“This isn’t one ethnic group fighting for control over another,” Bohman says. “This is a revolution – a real revolution.”
It’s a fight some believe is worth dying for.
Having drinks in the garden when Ospreys running dark do a low pass fly by. Brutal reminders I'm still in a war zone.— Hanna Böhman YPJ (@HannaBohmanYPJ) July 14, 2017
I'm torn between leaving and staying to fight another day?— Hanna Böhman YPJ (@HannaBohmanYPJ) July 12, 2017
THE CANADIAN MODEL-TURNED-WARRIOR
Hanna Bohman refers to mentions of her brief modelling career as little more than a ploy for online page views.
Profiles worldwide have described Bohman as the glamorous model who exchanged sexy photo shoots for RPGs.
Not so, she told the Toronto Sun.
“That’s been used as clickbait,” Bohman said of the stories linking the 48-year-old to a budding modelling career.
“I dabbled in modelling about 15 years ago but didn’t like the kind of photos I was being asked to do.”
However, Bohman’s passion for photography ultimately is what helped spark her desire to travel to the Middle East.
“I had wanted to travel but hadn’t,” she said. “I was interested in combat photography, also. My plan was to embed and document life within the YPJ (Women’s Protection Unites).”
Bohman said if the YPJ and the women’s revolution is to succeed, it will need international support.
Bohman’s original plan was to use photography to help humanize the Kurdish struggle for gender equality.
“Everyone thinks this is a war against ISIS but in reality, it’s much bigger.”