A British film-maker has been killed while working alongside Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State in Syria, his friends and Kurdish activists have said.
Mehmet Aksoy, 32, from London, was not fighting but working as a press officer for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) when the military base in which he was stationed was hit by a surprise attack on Tuesday morning.
Aksoy, a Turkish Kurd who moved to Britain with his family 22 years ago, is believed to be the fifth British citizen killed while volunteering with the US-led militia spearheading the battle against Isis in Syria.
Friends confirmed his death last night as about 300 British Kurds, including his parents, held a twilight vigil at the Kurdish Community Centre in north London.
“Mehmet never fought – that was never his plan,” friend Aladdin Sinayic, 38, from London, told the Guardian. “He told me just before he left that there are better ways he could fight Isis than with a gun. He said there are many great fighters offering their lives to defeat Isis but they are not visible to the world. He wanted to tell their stories and show the world what the Kurds are doing in Syria.”
It is understood that Aksoy travelled to Syria on 22 July without telling his parents, who own an off-licence in Luton. He spent the next three months filming the battle for Raqqa, publishing his material on social media and other websites. His job was also to liaise with journalists in Britain and around the world covering the conflict.
Friends described him as a “passionate” and “loving” man who had devoted his life to supporting the Kurdish struggle for greater rights in the Middle East. “He had wanted to go for a long time but stayed at home for the sake of his mother,” Sinayic said.
“He talked to her a lot about how he dreamed of moving to Kurdistan and I think she was scared for him but understood why he had to go. She told me today that she has lost her best friend.”
Aksoy’s family were too upset to comment.
Mark Campbell, a close friend and member of the Kurdish Solidarity Campaign, said: “Mehmet was the most beautiful of souls who was loved by all who had the fortune to meet him, he enriched all of our lives and was utterly dedicated to telling the story of the Kurdish people’s profound struggle for justice and freedom in Turkey and Syria. He inspired and encouraged others to do the same and was my personal single greatest inspiration.”
It is understood that Aksoy was standing outside the Kurdish militia’s media centre when a small group of jihadis drove up to the base, believed to be some 12 miles (20km) behind the frontline at Raqqa, in pickup trucks and shot five guards at the main gate.
They then drove inside the compound and opened fire, killing Aksoy where he stood as well as a female Kurdish journalist beside him. YPG fighters fought back, killing all the attackers.
The Foreign Office have been contacted for comment.
Aksoy was born in February 1985 in the town of Malatya, southern Turkey, friends said. When he was 10 his parents moved him to London where he went to school.
After completing his A-levels he did a bachelors degree in media studies before taking a masters degree in film-making at Goldsmith’s, University of London. In his 20s he co-founded the London Kurdish film festival while working as editor for the rights website The Kurdish Question.
“The Kurdish movement was everything to him,” said Aksoy’s friend Can Atas, 29, from London. “I spoke to him a few weeks after he arrived in Syria and he told me he didn’t think he had ever felt happier. He was so excited about his idea to make a documentary about democratic confederalism and the socialist-feminist revolution that’s happening there. He said he had so many plans. I’ve lost my best friend, but the Kurds have lost a great brain.”
While in Syria, Aksoy went by the nom de guerre “Firaz Dag”. Friends said he took the name Firaz from his uncle who was killed in Turkey in the 1990s as a guerrilla fighter with the PKK, which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state for decades.
“Mehmet grew up with stories about revolutionary Kurds,” Atas said. “His uncle was a big inspiration to him.”
An FCO spokesperson said: “The UK has advised for some time against all travel to Syria. As all UK consular services are suspended in Syria, it is extremely difficult to confirm the whereabouts and status of British nationals in the country.”
Source: The Guardian