The Art of War IX: A Woman’s Right to Live, to Kill, to Die.

A beloved villain’s backstory offers a small glimpse into an often overlooked piece of history in America.

One thing that immediately set Hideo Kojima’s masterpiece, Metal Gear Solid apart from other action game contemporaries was his nuanced and complicated antagonists. Each character was molded and shaped by some real life human atrocity. A reminder that war doesn’t just effect those directly on the battlefield. The violence and bloodshed bleeds into entire generations that leaves lifelong scars.

I was born on a battlefield. Raised on a battlefield. Gunfire, sirens, and screams… They were my lullabies…

Sniper Wolf to Solid Snake (MGS)l

One of the most beloved villains of the series is no exception to this rule. Sniper Wolf is known as one of the finest Sharpshooters in the world.

Sniper Wolf artwork from the PlayStation masterpiece, Metal Gear Solid

Finding actual canon back story for Sniper Wolf is difficult but what is official is that Sniper Wolf is Kurdish and spent a tumultuous childhood in Iraqi (Southern) Kurdistan following the second Iraqi-Kurdish war.

To understand how violent the conflict made the area we need to briefly cover the history and it’s geo-political nuances.

Flag of Kurdistan

Kurds or Kurdish people are an Iranian ethnic group native to the mountainous region of Kurdistan in Western Asia, which spans southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria. There is also significant Kurdish diasporacommunities in the cities of western Turkey (in particular Istanbul) and Western Europe (primarily in Germany). The Kurdish population is around 40 million globally.

Essentially, centuries long story short, once the Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I, the Middle East and it’s dozens and dozens of ethnicities were split, divided and combined by hard country borders. All arranged and milked dry by the imperialist superpowers that could give a fuck about the difference between the cultural, political and religious differences each ethnicity held. Thus just beginning the absolute cluster fuck that is the region today.

The Kurdish people have been devastated since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Settling originally in the land locked mountainous regions between, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey they have been subject to near constant war, genocide, deportations, arabization, and betrayal from both neighboring countries as well as western countries utilizing them as belligerents against enemy regimes.

A practice that is still happening right now despite a non-binding independence referendum that was passed in 2017.

(An offensive despite the escalating protests in Tehran over the death of twenty two year old, Mahsa Amini)

Hunted like dogs, day after day… driven from our ragged shelters… That… was my life. Each morning, I’d wake up… and find a few more of my family or friends dead beside me. I’d stare at the morning sun… and pray to make it through the day. The governments of the world turned a blind eye to our misery.

Sniper Wolf on her childhood

Judging by the character’s experiences, her background, age and what year the game takes place (2005) Sniper Wolf was probably detailing her childhood following the second Iraqi-Kurdish War, most notably the Anfal Campaign or Kurdish genocide. Led by the orders of President Saddam Hussein, anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 Kurds were killed from February 1988 to September of that same year. Not unlike the Armenian genocide it is still not widely recognized today.

Members of the YPJ

Although during the Anfal Campaign, Iraq’s goal was to chase out or exterminate all able bodied Kurdish men between the ages of 18-50 beyond its borders, it held captive all captured women using rape as a punishment for the next three years until an agreed upon autonomous zone was established in 1991. A combination of these detention camps, and a Kurdish culture that while not perfect, promotes much more gender equality than many of its fundamentalist neighbors has acted as building blocks leading to a formidable female military presence in the PKK (formed in 1995) and its spiritual successor the YPJ (apart of Syrian Democratic Forces). The YPJ or Women’s Protection Unit at 24,000 strong is mainly made up of Kurdish women, who have seen battle in the War in Iraq and the Syrian Civil War. Doing direct battle with ISIL, ISIS and other terrorists groups.

Yet all is never fair in love and war.

Snake crouches next to Sniper Wolf to listen to her final words

Another universal truth to Kojima’s writing is a subtle nod to how much respect he has for his own creations and his overall perspective of conflict. His work time and time again proves he believes there is no such thing as gender in war. Warriors are not judged by their sex but by their bravery. You are only measured by the lengths of which you will go to complete a mission be it personal or professional. The personal drive of a character is the only accent in the language of violence. Unfortunately, life does not imitate art in this regard.

Baron Kobani

Following a battle between Turkish backed rebel groups and the YPJ in the Afrin region (which the Kurds had captured from ISIS in 2016) – a video was released of a female fighter brutally mutilated. A rebel comments, “Wow, she’s pretty” as the cellphone camera shows Kobani’s half naked and dismembered body. Her breasts missing. Her arms gone. Her lower torso mutilated.

It’s hard to imagine the same treatment would befall a male sniper on the other side of the battlefield. Another example of a male dominated society, baring its teeth, once again warning defiant women that should they fight or challenge they are submitting their right to die the same way a man would. With the same dignity a male next to them will have when killed in battle.

I finally understand. I wasn’t waiting to kill people… I was waiting for someone to kill me.

Editor’s note:

This article started as a small tribute to one of my favorite characters in one of my favorite video games but grew into something more. Something I could never personally articulate myself, having not the experience nor bravery thousands of Iranian women have shown against their oppressive patriarchy. Day by day more women across Iran are leaving their homes and entering the madness of the streets to protest another senseless death at the hands of the country’s, “Morality Police”. While some of these women never return home after leaving to protest they will forever have more dignity and more “balls” than any of the foolish cowards holding them down. This article, while not much, is dedicated to their strength.

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