Derik, Kurdish-controlled northern Syria (CNN) -- Don't be fooled by the pretty songs they sing in their downtime -- these women are among ISIS' most deadly enemies.
Brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles and wearing military fatigues, the women perform military parade drills at a memorial ceremony for slain fighters in a dusty lot in northern Syria.
"Our martyrs do not die. They live on in memory!" their Kurdish commander, dressed in green camouflage and wearing a pistol on her belt, declares as the scores of uniformed female militants stand at attention.
Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG), they have fought the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on the ground for more than a year.
They are fighting and bleeding on the front lines of the battle to keep the terror group out of Kurdish-controlled parts of northern Syria -- and to keep this Kurdish movement's ideology, which was founded partly on a pillar of gender equality, intact.
"We as women defend and protect our people," said Hadiye Yusuf, the female co-president of the largest of the three Kurdish enclaves in northern Syria, in an address at the memorial ceremony.
"We carry weapons to protect our homes and avoid becoming slaves of ISIS," she added.
The fiercely secular YPG stands in sharp contrast to its bitter enemy, which has kidnapped thousands of women and hid them from public life in the areas that they control -- a chilling reminder of what could await Kurdish women if the war against ISIS is lost.
Assistance from the U.S.
It was only recently that the YPG started to receive help from the United States in the form of weapons drops and airstrikes designed to blunt the advance of ISIS, which now controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The much-needed aid was a surprising turn of events for the YPG -- a group that includes many fighters who have long battled Turkey, a key partner in the American-led NATO alliance.
But it wasn't until jihadist militants mounted a relentless siege of Kobani, the Syrian border town within sight of international television cameras, that much of the world realized ethnic Kurds were an effective fighting force within Syria.
'Statelets' within a country
As much of the rest of Syria ripped itself apart in a vicious civil war, Syria's Kurdish minority spent three years quietly building a series of mini-states in the north of the country.
They refer to these three enclaves as Rojava. Until recently, some outside observers saw them as something of a success.
"They tried to run them as pretty autonomous statelets that were actually rather admirable in some ways. They included many different ethnic groups, faith groups, and they tried to be inclusive," said Hugh Pope, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, a conflict mediation organization.
Bulletins pasted on walls on the streets of one Kurdish-controlled town urge business owners to post signs in the three official languages of Rojava: Kurdish, Arabic, and Syriac -- an ancient Christian language spoken in the Middle East for nearly 2,000 years.
"The municipality will help in preparation and translation," said the bulletins, printed by the municipality of Derik. "Our language is our identity, our history, our existence and our dignity."