Long before Khatoon Khider took up a gun, she became famous for singing about another woman who went to war, a tragic heroine who followed her lover into battle in disguise. And she wondered even then, years before the Islamic State had been created and nearly a decade before its fighters’ murderous rampage across her homeland, if she might one day have to go to war herself.
Khider, whose chin and cheeks are marked with the tiny dark-blue tattoos distinctive to the region, was born into Iraq’s Yazidi minority. Their small numbers and ancient, unusual religion with a peacock angel and taboo around the colour blue, have brought centuries of persecution, so the musical tradition she inherited is heavy with stories of war, massacres and loss. Her own life, too, has been marked out by conflict, near and distant.
“We have spent all our lives in wars, for no reason,” she says, sitting in the barracks to the north of Mount Sinjar where she now lives, after a dawn drill with her fighters. Her father was conscripted to fight in the Iran-Iraq war months after she was born, and taken prisoner soon after. She would not see him for a decade, and believes his absence shaped the singer she became.