23 October 2017. Today we remember the martyr Jac Holmes, also known as Sehid Şoreş Amanos. Jac was 24 years old when he fell martyr shortly after the liberation of Raqqa, in which he was a greatly valued participant.
Jac was born in Poole in Dorset in 1993, to parents Peter Holmes and Angie Blannin. There he worked as a decorator before training in IT and taking a job with Bournemouth council as a desk analyst. In this time the civil war in Syria was already underway, and as he observed the rise of Isis from the relative comfort of his desk in Bournemouth, Jac became “sick of looking at the injustice and the violence and oppression against civilians”.
“It just makes you think: What the f***k am I doing, there are people over there getting blown to pieces everyday, cutting off hands, cutting off heads, forcing people to be sex slaves. I’m just sat here fixing people’s computers or painting people’s walls.”
“I was learning about the civil war in Syria for about 6 months, on the internet. I watched and was very troubled when Kobanê was attacked. When the terrorists attacked Rojava, I knew I had to come and give my support to the people here. The rest of the world, especially the governments, need to send people here and see what it’s like, and see that we need to be helping these people in every way that we can.
“I was fixing computers and I was a painter. Then I decided I wanted to come and join the YPG. I wanted to fight evil in Syria.”
“You can see what is going on over here and you either forget about it or come over and do something.”
Jac discussed his plans at length with his family, and struggled greatly with the idea of leaving them to worry, but in the end the struggle against Isis fascism was, to him “a necessity,” one that his parents reluctantly but wholeheartedly supported. “My parents don’t want me to do anything to put myself in harm’s way but they support me and they know I’ll know what I am doing and getting into.”
“I will just remember him as being my cheeky lad who took this cause and just went with it. He did have a real sense of doing something for the greater good… he was fearless.”
Angie Blannin described her son as a “hero” adding: “He loved what he was doing there, he loved being a fighter. He had the courage of his convictions.
He was just a boy when he left the UK, a little bit lost. He told me he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.But by going out there, he found something that he was good at and that he loved.”
Jac initially flew to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, a city controlled by the KDP, which is a Turkish puppet regime. There he was arrested by KDP forces and eventually sent back to England. This did little to deter the young revolutionary. Just one week after being sent home, Jac flew again to Iraqi Kurdistan, this time to Sulaymaniyah, controlled by the more popular PUK. From there he was able to make his way to the border, where he made the perilous journey into Syria for the first time.
After arriving in Rojava, Jac joined with the YPG (people’s defence forces) and began his training, which he completed with distinction, showing particular skill with marksmanship, despite having no previous military training, a skill that would become a great part of his legacy within the YPG and Syria. His father recounted Jac telling him that, for his 22nd birthday during his training, his comrades let him choose his own AK-47, “best birthday ever!”.
At the end of his training, Jac was given the name Şoreş (shuresh), meaning revolution. After completing his training, Jac joined a mixed battalion of international and local fighters. He was not deployed to the frontline immediately, getting some time to learn and adapt to the local culture and systems, “Everyone you meet is very friendly, even outside of the YPG, they welcome you as if you were part of their family. It’s very refreshing, it’s very different from the rest of the world, where people are very distant, there’s not so much of a community, where everyone knows each other, everyone cares about each other.
I think the rest of the world could definitely learn a lot from this culture and take a lot from it.” Jac had come to fight however, and it would not be long before he got his wish. He was soon deployed onto the front lines in the liberation of Tel Hamis. Jac recounted how, in his first hour in combat, he found himself surrounded by Isis fighters, escaping with 3 broken ribs and a gunshot wound to his arm. He put it down to inexperience and bad luck, however he was undeterred and was soon back on the front with his comrades.
Jac recalled his first operation to liberate a village, “Me and a group of other foreigners came in by armoured vehicle to reinforce a small Kurdish team in a heavy contact with ISIS at close range.
“We held our position and fought for eight hours until airstrikes came in to support us. We were a small unit working well.”
After the liberation of Tel Hamis, Jac returned home to his family, hoping to use his informed voice to bring attention and support to the plight of the Kurdish people and the struggle against fascism. Jac gave several interviews with British media. He campaigned alongside the Kurdish community here and all those who would listen. However, he found it difficult to be back and to constantly be waiting to hear news of which of his friends had fallen martyr. Jac soon returned to stand once more beside his comrades against Isis fascism. “Fighting is the simplest thing you can do. I’ve got no issue with killing these daesh guys who are trying to kill me.”
“The fight against daesh is everyone’s war. It’s a world war.” It was because of high profile volunteers like Jac, who gave so much to the movement, that Isis command began to offer a bounty of $150,000 on the head of any international YPG volunteer. Jac was very much undeterred,
“If you are willing to fight them in close quarters combat, the fact you have a bounty on your head is irrelevant.”
After the liberation of Manbij in 2016, Jac would again return home to visit his family once more and to raise more money and awareness for the movement. “I’m ashamed and angered that our country has not done more. Our Government is a joke.” While attempting to leave via Iraqi Kurdistan, Jac was again detained by the KDP puppet state, captured at the border alongside another English and an Irish volunteer “I spent 10 days in a KDP Jail in Hawler the last time I went to go home.”
When Jac returned to Rojava for the third time he knew it would be for a longer stay. “Over the years I’ve observed and learned a lot from living amongst the Kurds and fighting with them. Not everyone has it in them to do what the Kurds are doing out here, but I know that I do and I am good at it. So, it’s hard for me to leave it behind and forget about the people and the situation here, knowing I can be helping.”
Jac’s mother described his commitment, “let’s be honest, most people would find living in Syria for three years, tough – no electricity, living in burnt-out villages, not being able to wash and shower every day. This was the boy who liked a nice bed, and a nice pillow,” she said. “When he first went there I thought he would probably last about six weeks … and he will want to come home. But he stuck it, and he loved it.
“I think it made him. He learnt the language – he spoke fluent Kurdish – he integrated very well and had so much respect from the commanders and his peers”
Jac used his experience and the support of his YPG commanders to establish his own elite unit, the .223 sniper team. Named for the calibre used in the suppressed M16A4 that was his weapon of choice for the mid range penetrative city combat that they engaged in, this unit comprised of experienced military veterans under Jac’s command became renowned for their abilities, providing overwatch for many crucial operations during the liberation of Raqqa, working alongside units like the IFB as they fought to retake the city.
After the surrender of Isis and the liberation of Raqqa, Jac’s work did not stop. He began broadcasting from the liberated city, exposing the insidious infrastructure of the former caliphate to the world. Jac also worked tirelessly to clear mines each day. The fascist Isis gangs, knowing that their defeat was inevitable, had peppered the entire city with thousands upon thousands of mines and IEDs, intent on wreaking damage not only on the YPG liberators, but also on the returning civilian population for months after they had been ejected from the city.
With all their wealthy donors as well as support from Turkey and the gulf states, Isis had no shortage of explosives, and it was a heavy task for the YPG volunteers to clear, one that is still ongoing even today. It was on one such clearing operation that Jac fell martyr. While working to clear mines from a civilian building, Jac detonated a hidden suicide vest. He was killed instantly. After surviving so much for so long, what martyred Jac in the end was a simple device, one that required little skill to assemble, one that Jac had encountered and defused countless times before, but one that physically embodied so much of the senseless fascist evil that Jac had given everything against.
The day Jac fell martyr, the entire city of Raqqa mourned. Memorials were marked onto the walls of a city that Jac did so much for. “Şoreş watches over us” can still be seen on the Raqqa skyline. Jac took part in eight military operations with the YPG, including the liberation of Tel Hamis, Manbij, Tabqa and Raqqa. He also participated in the defence of Kirkuk in Iraqi Kurdistan. His legacy will continue all over these places, as well as throughout England.
Jac’s funeral was held in Dorset and attended by thousands; members of the Kurdish community and their supporters from all over Britain came to pay their respect to their martyr, as well as over 30 of his internationalist comrades from Europe, the Americas, and as far as Australia. One of his closest comrades, Argeş Artiaga, from his .223 unit, recounted one of the many times Jac had saved his life, the morning a building he and Jac were guarding was set alight. “I was sleeping downstairs while he kept look out on the roof,” he said. “Suddenly Jac woke me up saying he could smell smoke. Daesh had set fire to the building and were trying to smoke us out. We could hear them outside. We knew they had the front door covered so we had to shoot a hole in the back wall to escape over the buildings. If he hadn’t smelt that smoke, I wouldn’t be here now.”
Jac’s body was cremated in a ceremony to give closure to his family, his ashes will be scattered by his comrades in Rojava in accordance with his wishes.
His mother spoke of her loss, “We thought with any luck he’d be home for Christmas. It had been so tough since he had been away but I was always 100 per cent behind him.”
She added: “He stood up for what he believed in and he had the courage of his convictions to go out and do something where he thought that the West were not doing enough. He wanted to go and do something about that and not just be a keyboard warrior. He was a boy when he went, but my God, he definitely died a man and I am extremely proud of him. All my family are incredibly proud.”
His father was interviewed in a Bournemouth paper. Peter Holmes said his “warrior” son had been inspired by the growth of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria and its liberal aspirations for the Kurdish region, and might well have remained in the country anyway to fight against “Turkish invasion”.
He also compared British volunteers fighting with the Kurds to the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War. “I hope in time the Government comes to recognise what these volunteers have done, instead of trying to prosecute them to appease Turkey,” he said.
“Please, please if anything happens to me, just live on and push my values to make the world better for everyone.” – Jac Holmes