Mirza, 29, had sad, drowsy eyes and wore thick spectacles perched low on his nose. He hadn’t noticed the commotion. ‘‘I’m used to the sound,’’ he said. Unlike other students at the academy, Mirza grew up outside Syria in a small village in western Iraq. He is not a Muslim or an atheist but a Yazidi, part of an ethnic and religious minority that practices a modern form of Zoroastrianism. He hadn’t heard of Abdullah Ocalan until recently. In August 2014, ISIS extremists attacked his village, near the city of Sinjar, and butchered as many as 5,000 of his neighbors. While Mirza and his family were trapped on a mountain for four days, waiting to die, a battalion of women — Y.P.J. soldiers — fought through the ISIS lines and created a path for them to escape. Mirza, severely dehydrated and on the verge of collapse, fled.
‘‘The battle made me think of women differently,’’ he told me. ‘‘Women fighters — they saved us. My society, Yazidi society, is more, let’s say, traditional. I’d never thought of women as leaders, as heroes, before.’’
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