It was the first bright morning there had been in a while. The air was clean and sharp. Spring had come late this year to Afrin, a district in northern Syria, and the endless rolling fields were still lined with the stubs of last season’s wheat stalks. At night, the cold wind bit and was thick with the smell of burning wood and plastic. Anna Campbell, a 26-year-old woman from Lewes, East Sussex, sat in an abandoned house waiting for the order to fight.
The date was March 15, 2018, and Campbell had been in the house for a week with three other soldiers: Comrade Siyar, Comrade Sara and Comrade Serhilan. They knew Campbell as Comrade Helin Qerecox, the nom de guerre she had picked when she arrived in Syria as a would-be fighter the previous year. The others were Kurdish and, like Campbell, belonged to local militias that were trying to halt the Turkish-backed advance on the Kurdish-majority district of Afrin. The house would be their base during the battle. Outside, mortar fire whistled in the air and erupted on the front line about a mile away.
For Campbell, this deployment was the culmination of a year’s campaigning. Since she had arrived in Syria, she had pleaded with her commanders in the all-female Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) to send her into battle. They hadn’t wanted her to go. Campbell, though deeply committed to the Kurdish cause, was not an experienced soldier. After a year with the YPJ, she had learnt to fire a Kalashnikov and had practised throwing grenades and shooting a machinegun, but had received no heavy weapons training. To dissuade her, her commanders told Campbell her blonde hair made her look “too western”.
For them, her role was obvious: her value as a fighter was negligible, but her value as a propagandist — recruiting others like her to the YPJ cause — was enormous. Much as young idealists from London and New York were drawn to the trenches and mountain hideouts of the Spanish Civil War, hundreds of westerners, including dozens of Britons, have flocked to join the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the YPJ since 2014. They were drawn to an organisation that claimed to stand for anti-imperialism, women’s rights (particularly in the fight against Isis) and a true revolution.
As the Afrin operation intensified, several male British recruits were reported killed. Eventually, Campbell’s commanders relented. On March 8, she was assigned to a position on the outskirts of Afrin’s Mahmoudiyeh district, alongside the three Kurdish fighters.
As she prepared to leave, her hair dyed black, her face covered with a maroon scarf, she spoke in a video of her duty to fight. “If you love your own people enough to fight for them and die for them,” she said, “you also love people far away enough to fight for them and die for them.”
READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE SUNDAY TIMES: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/why-did-anna-campbell-a-young-feminist-from-lewes-die-on-the-battlefields-of-syria-pqsj9rw3f