Joanna Palani was 22 when she left her home in Copenhagen. While many young people leave their home towns in their twenties, most aren’t doing so to go fight in guerrilla resistance force against ISIS. Palani essentially ran away from home and joined up with Kurdish forces in Syria to fight against the Islamic State. [Scroll Down For Video]
According to an interview Palani did with Broadly (part of VICE):
Palani, the daughter and grand-daughter of Peshmerga fighters, is an Iranian Kurd who was born in a UN refugee camp in Ramadi, Iraq in 1993, after the family were forced to flee their home during the Gulf War. They moved to Copenhagen when she was a toddler. She lived a “normal, comfortable life” with her family. Her favourite hobbies growing up were reading and target practice; after firing her first live rifle in Finland aged nine, she got obsessed.
“I love it,” she says, “it is my life. It is very normal for Kurds to learn to use weapons like this.” Palani speaks perfect English with an American accent, laughs frequently during sentences, and endearingly refers to me as ma’am.
In the early autumn of 2014, she left college and headed to fight in Syria for the Kurds. Palani wanted to help defeat ISIS and Assad and, as she puts it, “fight for human rights for all people.”
“On the 14th of November 2014 I went to Iraq, and then I went to Rojova in Syria. I was with the YPG for six months and then I was with the Peshmerga for six months, so I was fighting for a year.”
Palani also recounted some horrific tales. On her first night on the front lines, a Swedish fighter was killed by an ISIS sniper who saw his cigarette at night. She watched him die and realized how serious the situation was.
Palani’s comments about the quality of ISIS’s fighters has many people surprised. She says that compared to Assad’s actual soldiers, ISIS fighters are practically nothing more than easy to kill meat shields. She says, “ISIS fighters are very easy to kill. ISIS fighters are very good at sacrificing their own lives, but Assad’s soldiers are very well trained and they are specialist killing machines.”
Palani is now back home in Copenhagen living a very normal college student life. She is studying politics and philosophy at university. However, her passport has been confiscated by the Dutch government and is prevented from leaving the country right now under foreign fighter laws. Ironically, the laws are designed to prevent Dutch nationals from leaving the country to fight for terrorist groups.