Long Shotby Azad
A gripping narrative by an Iran-born Kurdish journalist who joined the ranks of the Kurdish army as a sniper in the fight against ISIS
In 2002, at the age of nineteen, Azad, a young Iranian-Kurdish man, was conscripted into Iran’s army and forced to fight against his own people. Refusing to go to war against his fellow Kurds, Azad deserted and smuggled himself to the United Kingdom, where he was granted asylum, became a citizen, and learned English. But more than a decade later, having returned to the Middle East as a social worker in the wake of the Syrian civil war, Azad found that he would have to pick up a weapon once again. In September 2014, after twenty-four days of intensive training as a sniper, Azad became one of seventeen volunteer marksmen deployed by the Kurdish army when ISIS besieged the city of Kobani in Rojava, the newly autonomous region of the Kurds.
In Long Shot, Azad tells the inside story of how the Kurdish forces fought nine months of bloody street battles against the Islamic State. Vastly outnumbered, the Kurds would have to kill the jihadis one by one, and Azad takes readers on a harrowing journey behind rebel frontlines to reveal the sniper unit’s essential role in fighting, and eventually defeating, ISIS. Weaving the brutal events of war with personal and political reflection, Azad meditates on the incalculable price of victory—the permanent effects of war on the body and mind; the devastating death of two of his closest comrades; the loss of hundreds of volunteers who died in battle. But as Azad explains, these were sacrifices that saved not only a city but a people and their land. Rojava was freed, and ISIS, which once threatened the world, never fully recovered.
At once wrenching and redemptive, Long Shot is a dramatic account of modern war that tells the story of how, against all odds, a few thousand men and women achieved the impossible and kept their dream of freedom alive.
When they attacked Kobani in the autumn of 2014, ISIS sent twelve thousand jihadis against our two and a half thousand men and women. They had artillery, mortars, tanks and heavy machine guns, mobile battle kitchens and surgeries, even social media managers and investment specialists to manage their trade in pillaged oil and artefacts. We lacked the most basic equipment, right down to binoculars and radios, ate whatever we found in the kitchens of abandoned houses and armed ourselves with forty-year-old Kalashnikovs and a few boxes of ammunition. If surviving these odds was already a figurative long shot, our meagre tools ensured it would also require literal ones. Sniping – killing the invaders one by one – was one of the few tactics available to us.
I have often been asked how many we killed. I always refused to answer. Only a weak man would measure himself in kills. Only a fool would try to describe all the hate, loss, sacrifice and love in war with a number. If only to set the matter aside, let me say at the outset that in eight months, our snipers decimated them. Herdem killed 500, Hayri 350 and me 250, making more than a thousand between us. My task in these pages is to explain how we accumulated these terrible numbers in a way that you might understand us.