Long shot : my life as a sniper in the fight against ISIS by Azad Cudi
Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2019. ISBN: 9781474609784.
(Age: Adult) As a Kurd living in Iran, Azad Cudi was acutely aware of being considered a second class citizen. Conscripted into the Iranian army, life became intolerable when he realised that Kurdish soldiers were being deliberately deployed against fellow Kurds. Sickened by the oppressive system and officers who manipulated Kurds to fight against their fellow countrymen and women, Cudi deserted from the army. A long and difficult journey followed and ultimately he was granted asylum in the United Kingdom where he gradually established himself. Sadly however he missed his family desperately and was fully aware that any communication with them would be monitored by the regime.
Eventually Cudi secured a position as a journalist in Stockholm covering Kurdish affairs. When the Syrian war developed in 2011, he felt compelled to join his Kurdish brothers and sisters in resisting ISIS which was intent on complete genocide.
Having skills developed during his Iranian military service, Cudi offered himself to the Kurdish resistance fighters who had almost no armaments or supplies. Selected for training as a sniper, he devoted himself completely to repelling ISIS jihadists from various places in the Kurdish region of Rojava, between Iraq, Syrian and Turkey.
Cudi's principal service took place in the Northern city of Kobani where he protected his comrades as a sharp shooter, covering their advances and endlessly scanning territory for ISIS infiltrators.
It is hard to image the conditions endured by the very few defenders who courageously occupied destroyed buildings and fought house to house against vastly superior numbers of extremely well-armed and supplied jihadists.
The behaviour of the ISIS militants was unnecessarily brutal. Not satisfied with taking territory, the infiltrators were proud of torturing their captives in the most barbaric, degrading and awful manner possible.
This is a grim book. The content is necessarily confronting in order to convey the desperate circumstances these Kurdish men and women endured and it speaks volumes that they were all volunteers, willingly risking their lives to resist maniacally bloodthirsty invaders.
Being unable to wash for months, suffering malnutrition from inadequate food and hiding in destroyed buildings would prompt the most hardened soldiers to retreat, yet these dedicated volunteers stayed. Their desperate resistance and sacrifice of many lives eventually prevailed and the survivors witnessed the Jihadists abandon the siege and flee for their lives.
There can be no avoiding the fact that Cudi's role as a sniper was to shoot human beings and he was extremely effective in that capacity, killing hundreds. In no way was he safe however. Every day and night he was targeted by opposition snipers and artillery. The relentless daily fight for survival had grave impacts on his physical and mental health, to the point where he had to be evacuated from the front lines as a broken man.
What is clear from Cudi's account however, is that he seeks to tell a story beyond his own. He guides the reader to appreciate the amazing Kurdish community which had developed a new way of life, celebrating gender equality and observing higher principles of care and respect for humanity. Cudi gives high praise to the female soldiers, many of them commanders who capably led their limited forces to drive the invaders out of their homeland.
For those who have returned to the region, there is hope that homes and community can be rebuilt.