Editor’s note: NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel first told the story of Viyan Peyman and her heroism during a November assignment in the besieged city of Kobani, Syria. NBC News confirmed Friday Peyman was killed this week in a battle with ISIS.
ISTANBUL — When I saw her lying on her stomach firing through a small hole in a wall in a snipers nest in the town of Kobani in northern Syria, I remember thinking she was one of the strongest and most dynamic women I’d ever met in the Middle East. Sitting among sandbags, the smell of spent rounds hanging in the room, Viyan Peyman told us she was fighting ISIS, but also for women’s rights in the Middle East.
"We stand and fight, especially here in the Middle East where women are treated as inferiors," Peyman told us. "We stand here as symbols of strength for all the women of the region."
Peyman wasn’t just a fighter. She was a poet and a singer, a voice of her movement. She sang a song for us about her fallen comrades from the YPG/YPJ, secular Kurdish groups battling ISIS in Syria and demanding greater rights for the Kurdish people.
The YPG confirmed to NBC NEWS that Peyman was killed in a battle with ISIS earlier this week. She joined the fallen she’d immortalized in song.
A YPG official said Peyman was killed on April 6th near Serekaniye, a town also known as Ras al-Ayn in northern Syria. The group said her funeral was held along with those of several other fighters the next day in southern Turkey.
Idriss Nassan, deputy foreign minister of the Kobani regional government, told NBC NEWS Peyman was killed by small arms fire while fighting from trenches in fields west of Serekaniye, where Kurdish forces are fighting to push ISIS west toward the Syrian city of Tal Abyad where the militants have a stronghold.
"These fighters, they are brave. They don’t want to wait for their friends to fight. They go to the front lines. When (Peyman) was attacked by ISIS, she fought bravely until she lost her life," Nassan said. "She didn’t hesitate to fight for herself and for her friends."
Peyman was one of the women we profiled in Kobani late last year for both MSNBC and NBCNEWS. Kobani at the time was surrounded by ISIS militants on three sides, but Peyman and the other Kurdish fighters refused to give in.
"Kobani is under attack by the bloody ISIS terrorists," Peyman said. "I had to take a stand and say, I am here, I am a human being and I will fight you."
I received many emails after our stories were broadcast from colleagues and viewers who said they were struck that Peyman and other women like her were standing up to ISIS, one the world’s most brutal terrorist groups.
Peyman had already bled for her town when we met her. She’d been shot twice — once in the leg, a second bullet in the stomach, but then returned to her post after two weeks, her colleagues told us.
At her funeral, mourners reportedly played a song Peyman wrote about Kobani’s resistance. It's become something of an unofficial anthem. Nassan described the song's main message. "Even though we’ve lost our property — we’ve gained something more valuable, which is victory against terrorism," he said.