Anna Campbell, 26, from Lewes in East Sussex, died in Afrin, which has been under attack by Turkish forces
The father of a British woman who died in Syria after joining an all-female Kurdish brigade in their battle against ISIS has paid tribute to his ‘unstoppable’ daughter.
Anna Campbell, from Lewes in East Sussex, died on March 15 in a Turkish missile strike while travelling in a convoy in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.
The 26-year-old is the first British woman known to have died in Syria with the YPG or YPJ groups, which have around 50,000 Kurdish men and women fighting in northern Syria.
The qualified plumber travelled to Syria in May last year to help the Kurds, who were battling ISIS. But she reportedly left the fight against the terror group in Deir ez-Zor, to defend Afrin, which was being bombarded by Turkish forces attacking the Kurds along the northern Syrian border.
Turkey views the Kurdish forces in the enclave as terrorists and launched an offensive in the area on January 20.
Yesterday in an emotional interview with the Mail, Anna’s grieving father Dirk, 67, told how he had been powerless to prevent his daughter leaving the UK.
‘I told her she would be in terrible danger, that she would come under bombardment but she was insistent,’ he said. ‘It was something she desperately wanted to do and there was no stopping her.’
Anna’s campaigning zeal was inherited from her late mother. ‘Anna was carrying on a lot of the kind of work that Adrienne was doing,’ Mr Campbell said. ‘She was a credit to her mum.’
Speaking at his two-bedroom flat in a large Victorian mansion in Lewes, he paid tribute to his ‘brave and beautiful’ daughter. Her two sisters Rose and Sophia were also present and wept as their father spoke about Anna.
‘She had a lot of friends and she was very popular with many people,’ he said.
Mr Campbell said his daughter had dedicated her life to the fight against ‘unjust power and privilege’ and ‘put herself on the line for what she believed in’.
‘Anna was very brave, she was very beautiful and was really idealistic, a dedicated idealist,’ he said.
‘She went there knowing what might happen to her.’
Mr Campbell told the Guardian ‘I didn’t try to stop her because I knew, once she had decided to do something, she was unstoppable. That’s why she went to Rojava: to help build a world of equality and democracy where everyone has a right to representation.
‘When she told me she was going I joked: “It’s been nice knowing you.” I just knew it might be the last time I’d see her.’
The qualified plumber travelled to Syria in May last year to help the Kurds, who were battling the ISIS
Dirk Campbell paid tribute to his ‘brave and beautiful’ daughter today (pictured with her sister Rose Campbell at a vigil in her hometown today)
The 26-year-old (centre) is the first British woman known to have died in Syria with the YPG or YPJ groups, which have around 50,000 Kurdish men and women fighting in northern Syria
Turkish-backed Syrian rebels walk past a burning shop in the city of Afrin in northern Syria
Mr Campbell told the BBC that he believed Kurdish comrades had tried to stop his privately educated daughter from travelling to war-torn Afrin.
He said: ‘With fair hair and blue eyes they knew she would stand out, but she dyed her hair black and persuaded them to let her go.
‘I contacted my MP Maria Caulfield as soon as I knew she was in danger from the Turkish bombardment. I emailed my MP and said my daughter is in danger, you have to get on to the Foreign Office and get them to put pressure on Turkey to stop.’
He added that she had wanted to join the group after learning of the Kurdish aim of creating a democratic society once ISIS had been driven out.
One of three sisters, she grew up with a keen love of nature and the environment and later became interested in radical left-wing politics, Mr Campbell said.
Educated at the independent St Mary’s Hall in Brighton, where fees were around £10,000 a year, she went on to study at Sheffield University before moving to Bristol where she worked as a plumber.
It was during her time there that she became more and more interested in the Kurdish cause.
Although she was ‘bookish’, she began training to get fit and in May last year she announced she was going to fight for the YPJ – part of the YPG force – in Syria.
Anna’s campaigning zeal was inherited from her late mother. ‘Anna was carrying on a lot of the kind of work that Adrienne was doing,’ Mr Campbell said. ‘She was a credit to her mum’ (pictured: Dirk Campbell at the vigil)
The Britons killed in Syria while fighting with Kurdish forces
Anna Campbell is the eighth Briton to have been killed in Syria while working with Kurdish forces. Here are the seven others:
Mr Hall, from the Portsmouth area, joined the Kurdistan People’s Protection Units (YPG) to fight against ISIS.
The 24-year-old was said to have been killed on November 25 last year while clearing mines in Raqqa.
Olive Hall, from the Portsmouth area, joined the Kurdistan People’s Protection Units (YPG) to fight against ISIS
The sniper, from Bournemouth, had been fighting with YPG since January 2015.
His mother, Angie Blannin, said the 24-year-old was killed while clearing mines in the newly-liberated city of Raqqa in October last year.
Jac Holmes, from Bournemouth, had been fighting with YPG since January 2015
The 32-year-old, who grew up in England, is believed to have joined the YPG to work as a press officer.
He was killed in October last year during an ISIS attack while he was on duty in the Syrian city Raqqa, according to the Kurdish military force.
Mehmet Aksoy. who grew up in England, is believed to have joined the YPG to work as a press officer
Aladdin Sinayic, a friend of the film-maker, told the BBC in the wake of his death that ‘Mehmet never fought, the plan was never to fight’, and wanted to tell the stories of the fighters instead.
The 22-year-old, from Birkenhead, was killed in Raqqa on July 5 2017 and had also joined the YPG.
A video of a ‘final message’ from Mr Rutter, also known as Soro Zinar, was posted on the force’s Facebook page, in which he apologised for lying to loved ones about going to fight.
He said: ‘I lied to people I care about to come here. I said that I was going somewhere else. I didn’t. I apologise massively for that.
‘Apart from that I don’t regret my decision and I hope that you respect it.’
The 20-year-old former chef, from Chichester, West Sussex, shot himself to avoid falling hostage to ISIS on December 21 2016.
With no previous military experience, he was fighting with the YPG in Raqqa and had told his family he was going backpacking to Turkey when he left the UK.
An inquest into his death, held in Portsmouth, Hampshire, heard that, after being surrounded by ISIS fighters, he turned the gun on himself to avoid capture and a ‘frightening and painful death’.
Ryan Lock, a 20-year-old former chef, from Chichester, West Sussex, shot himself to avoid falling hostage to ISIS on December 21, 2016
The 22-year-old dairy farmer, from Reading, Berkshire, died in the Syrian city of Manbij in July 2016.
Following his death, which happened during an offensive to take back the north-western city, his stepfather, John Evans, described him to the BBC as a ‘martyr’, who was ‘courageous, not stupid’.
Having always wanted to be a soldier he was rejected by the British Army because he had asthma, his stepfather told the broadcaster. Mr Evans arrived in Syria in March 2015.
Konstandinos Erik Scurfield
The 25-year-old former Royal Marine, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, died fighting alongside Kurdish forces in the northern village of Tel Khuzela, Syria.
He was fatally wounded by shrapnel from a rocket propelled grenade on March 2 2015 after flying out to the war zone in secret, his mother said.
Nicknamed Kosta, he was said to have been ‘horrified by the atrocities being carried out’ by the extremist group and became the first volunteer Briton to die in the conflict.
Mr Campbell, a folk musician and composer, said: ‘Obviously I was worried for her, we all were. I told her she would be in terrible danger, that she could come under bombardment but she was insistent. It was something she desperately wanted to do and there was no stopping her.’
‘I heard yesterday at mid-afternoon. A friend of Anna’s came to the door and rang the bell and said she was here to talk about Anna and I knew right away.
‘She was in Afrin which was under bombardment from the Turks and contingents of the Syrian government army. She moved to Afrin a couple of weeks ago when the war was escalating then. The Turks are trying to demonise the YPG, to turn them into terrorists.
‘Anna was part of the Rojava movement. What is going on in Rojava is a social experiment, it’s Utopian. It isn’t just a Kurdish initiative, it’s mixed.’
Mr Campbell said the family had known Kurds for a long time.
‘We were fully supportive of their aims and their hopes for self-determination. The Turks want to stamp out any move by the Kurds towards self-determination. They are fighting separatism.
One of three sisters, Ms Campbell grew up with a keen love of nature and the environment and later became interested in radical left-wing politics, her father said
Dirk Campbell told the BBC that he believed Kurdish comrades had tried to stop his privately educated daughter from travelling to war-torn Afrin
Mr Campbell said his daughter (pictured) was ‘very brave, very beautiful and was really idealistic’
Mr Campbell said his daughter was working as a freelance plumber and had a partner but they split up before she went to Syria
‘Anna was very brave, she was very beautiful and was really idealistic, a dedicated idealist. She was very intelligent and creative. She was a leading light in many areas and was very popular.
‘She went there knowing what might happen to her. When she told me I was alarmed because I knew she was likely to face lethal fire there, if not from Islamic State then from the Turks and Syrian Army. I told her that. I said: “You could be killed” and she said: “I know. There’s nothing I can do to reassure you about that”.’
He said: ‘I had to let her do what she wanted to. I couldn’t force her not to go. She was a grown woman, she could make her own decisions in life.’
Mr Campbell said his daughter was educated at Lewes New School – a school set up by her mother Adrienne before moving to St Mary’s Hall.
Mr Campbell added: ‘Anna was very interested in learning about political history and that interest grew as she got older.
‘She was good at art, languages and literature and had a broad circle of friends in the area. She was radical left, a idealistic purist. She had studied the Spanish Civil War and the aftermath of that and the syndicalist experiment that happened in Barcelona. It was an ideal she held.’
He said his wife and Anna’s mother, Adrienne, had lots of conversations about politics and they both went on a demonstration in London around eight years ago when women stormed the Houses of Parliament.
He said his daughter was working as a freelance plumber and had a partner but they split up before she went to Syria.
Turkish-backed Syrian rebels walk past a burning shop in the city of Afrin in northern Syria on March 18, 2018. Ms Campbell had apparently ‘insisted’ on leaving the fight against ISIS to help defend the Kurdish enclave
A Turkish-backed Syrian rebel raises a dagger in Afrin. Turkish forces and their rebel allies are now said to be in control of the Kurdish-majority city
Her sister said: ‘Anna was exercising an hour a day, every day before she went to Syria to get fit.’
‘Her friends, sister and myself were all concerned about her going but it was the most important thing in her life for her to do.’
As news of her death emerged, YPJ commander and spokesperson Nesrin Abdullah said Ms Campbell had ‘insisted’ on leaving for Afrin.
He said: ‘Although we tried to keep her far from the frontlines, the attacks from the Turkish state were very heavy.’
In a statement to The Guardian, he added: ‘(Campbell’s) martyrdom is a great loss to us because with her international soul, her revolutionary spirit, which demonstrated the power of women, she expressed her will in all her actions.
‘On behalf of the Women’s Defence Units YPJ, we express our deepest condolences to (her) family and we promise to follow the path she took up. We will represent her in the entirety of our struggles.’
Mark Campbell, co-chairman of the Kurdistan solidarity campaign, said Ms Campbell, who is no relation to him, was killed alongside two Kurdish women amid the air strikes.
Speaking to the Press Association, he said: ‘Anna is a woman who seemed to have more humanity in her little finger than the whole of the international community.’
He described Ms Campbell as an ‘inspiration’ and a ‘hero’.
He added: ‘I did not know her but I met with her father this morning. I have the utmost respect and condolences for her family.’
The Turkish military and allied Syrian forces have taken ‘total’ control of the town centre of Afrin in their offensive against the Kurdish militia.
Turkey views the Kurdish forces in the Afrin enclave along the border as terrorists linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency within Turkey’s borders
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish flag and the flag of the Syrian opposition fighters have been raised in the town, previously controlled by the YPG.
‘Many of the terrorists had turned tail and run away already,’ Mr Erdogan said in a speech in western Turkey.
Turkey views the Kurdish forces in the Afrin enclave along the border as terrorists linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency within Turkey’s borders.
Ankara launched the operation, codenamed Olive Branch, against the town and surrounding areas on January 20, slowly squeezing the militia and hundreds of thousands of civilians into the town centre.
A Kurdish official, Hadia Yousef, said the YPG was still fighting inside the town, but had evacuated the remaining civilians because of ‘massacres’.
But Salih Muslim, a senior Kurdish official living in exile in Europe, tweeted that Kurdish fighters had withdrawn, saying ‘the struggle will continue and the Kurdish people will keep defending themselves’.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nearly 200,000 people have fled the Afrin region in recent days amid heavy airstrikes, entering Syrian government-held territory nearby.
Syrian State TV on Sunday broadcast footage of a long line of vehicles and civilians on foot leaving Afrin.