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Remembering Mehmet Aksoy

Today we remember the martyr Mehmet Aksoy, also known as Sehid Firaz Dag. Mehmet was 32 years old when he fell martyr participating in the liberation of Raqqa, the capital city of the fascist Isis caliphate. Mehmet was born in Turkey in Istanbul, but his family came from the Elbistan district of Turkish-occupied northern Kurdistan. He moved to London with his family in 1988 at the age of four, to escape the violence and prejudice they had suffered there.

Mehmet’s family settled in Hackney where he grew up, eventually moving to Luton where his family opened an off license. As a teenager he attended Leyton College, then Barnet College. He also began to visit the Kurdish Community Centre in Harringey, where he developed an acute political awareness, regularly making the journey from Luton to the centre in order to support and study the movement. “Mehmet wasn’t just a guy who read Das Kapital, Volume II somewhere and thought you know what this is a good idea,” said Giran Ozcan, US representative for HDP, labour’s sister party in Turkey, who knew Mehmet as a teenager. “He was a born socialist. We would have fights over this, and I would criticise him for forgiving everyone. But this is the person he was: he gave everyone time; no matter how close to him they were, or how long he knew them for. He would always listen to people’s issues and try his best to offer a solution and give advice. He was a socialist in person and in the way he lived his life. And in 2004, when he first came to the community centre, he began to see that his values that were represented in socialism, were also represented by the Kurdish freedom movement.”

He read and became influenced by the writings of imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan as well as assassinated Black Panther George Jackson amongst other revolutionaries from around the world.

Mehmet worked hard in school, gaining a first class degree in film studies from Queen Mary University of London in 2007.  In 2013, after the YPG had begun to liberate Rojava, Mehmet started the website KurdishQuestion.com as a way to spread the revolution’s reach and message to a digital audience, while also providing material on all aspects of Kurdish culture to an ever-expanding diaspora. He was also founding editor of an internet-based news portal called The Region. Along with his journalistic efforts he maintained his interest in film and in 2014 completed an MA in film-making at Goldsmiths, University of London: his 2014 film, Panfilo, an apocalyptic fairytale about three generations of men coming to terms with loss and death in rural Italy, won prizes at the Italian Short Film festival and the UK Student Film Awards.

 “We have a saying: Berxwedan Jiyane, which means resistance is life. If you are resisting, you are living. If you are in resistance against the system, everything that wants to dehumanize you, then you are alive.” -Mehmet speaking at an anti-imperialist event in 2014. 

Mehmet was eventually made programme director for the London Kurdish Film Festival in its 8th and 9th year, initially having entered his first short film there in 2005. “For Mehmet, making films was a way to express himself,” said Ferhan Sterk, the co-director of the festival, “But Mehmet was our connection between British society and the Kurdish community. We lost the best director of Kurdish cinema’s time, who could change the future of Kurdish cinema. He had the talent, ability to connect with people and creative potential to do a lot of special things. He was our voice within British society. We don’t have that talent, we don’t have that skill. The only person who could do that was Mehmet, and we’ve lost him.” The annual Mehmet Aksoy documentary award was established by the LKFF posthumously in his honour. 

  Zeynep Aksoy knew her son was going to leave her. He was always disappearing. Never just content working in the shop, he was constantly back and forth from London, where he’d be working on one project or another. He even spent  time in Istanbul teaching English, and had moved to Germany for a while, where the Kurdish movement was more openly active, and where more of the seeds for his eventual journey to Rojava had been planted. When Kobane and theYPG forces came under siege from Isis in 2014, Mehmet could be found pounding the streets of London, addressing rallies and demos with megaphone in hand, urging the international community to help the besieged city. 

“The system that oppresses us is global. The system that oppresses us is united and in solidarity with each other. So we need to be in solidarity with each other against the same system that oppresses us”  -Mehmet calling for greater solidarity among oppressed peoples If he wasn’t staying on a friend’s sofa, he would sit and wait for the barriers to go up at Blackfriars station so he could bunk the last train back home to the shop in Luton. Mehmet never had any money, but he was never interested in things anyway. Sometimes Zeynep would plead with Mehmet to not leave, to stay with her at their home, to stop disappearing off to places without telling her where he was going. But he could not sit still, as he was dreaming of Rojava.

After the air attacks on the mountain of Qereçox in Rojava on April 25, 2017, in which Turkish warplanes bombed a radio station and internationalist compound, Mehmet became certain in his goals and made the decision to travel to Rojava, Syria to work as a press officer in the YPG. YPG press members had been martyred in the Qereçox attack, friends he had known and worked with in his efforts to bring light to the Kurdish struggle. Mehmet felt compelled and immediately enlisted in the YPG press centre in order to take on the role of his friends.

He travelled to Syria without telling his parents. His mother recalled one instance where she caught him packing and became suspicious, questioning him. Mehmet told her to trust him. Shortly afterwards, he was gone. Mehmet travelled from London to Basur (Iraqi Kurdistan), where he prepared to make the perilous border crossing into Syria. While waiting to cross there, he penned what was to become his final letter home to his family,

“I am writing this letter to you from South Kurdistan. When you read this letter, I will have crossed to West Kurdistan, to Rojava. Don’t be upset with me for not having let you know beforehand; I did not want you to be worried.

In fact, I should have written this letter to you years ago. For years, I kept writing and re-writing this letter over and over again in my head, but I did not want to sadden you. Even at the cost of living in a system that I reject, of being unhappy, I tried to live this life, but I did not succeed. Time is passing now. Now is the time to take more courageous and more determined steps, and I am trying to take those steps.

In this sense, I am taking these steps and writing this letter not with my own pen, but with the pens of all the Deniz, Mahir, Ibrahim, Mazlum, Berîtan, Fîraz and Leaders and the faith and courage that I have gained from them. I want you to understand this.

Do you know that my return to the homeland is above all for the liberation of women? I have come here to support, live with, and be in common struggle with the women who resist, fight and create a new, free life with their own hands.

Lastly, I can say this: from now on, I want to live my future life in my own country, up close with my own people. An infinite amount of labor, events, love, pain, happiness, thought, people and hope that have all made me who I am pushed me towards this decision. It could not have happened otherwise. I have never lived for individual things, for money, for power, for force or material things. Since my childhood, I have always sought, created and tried to increase love, friendship and sharing. And I am lucky, I have had very beautiful friends. I am sending them my greetings and love from here. Each one of them is invaluable to me. However, I have found the most beautiful friendship in this movement, in this party. I am above all here for that comradeship. And of course, connected to that, for all our martyrs and our leader, who have created this comradeship.

It is serving this movement and people, which provides me with the most valuable and meaningful form of happiness. I hope I can live up to it. Don’t worry about me.

In the wish to meet again in a free country, with a free leader…

Your son, your big brother, who loves you to eternity,

Mehmet”

By June 2017, Mehmet  was in Rojava. He took the name Firaz Dag, after his uncle Fîraz who was killed fighting the Turkish state in the 1990s, and after Halil Dag, a Turkish journalist who devoted most of his life to Kurdish cinema and bringing light to their struggle through media, killed my the Turkish state in 2006. 

Mehmet recorded most of his work in English; he wanted to show to the world the struggle of his people. Mehmet worked tirelessly, day and night to display the lives of the YPG/J fighters, from a social, political, moral and cultural perspective, as well as a military one. Mehmet published his material all over social media and news websites. His job was also to liaise with journalists in Britain and around the world covering the conflict. In order to learn from and record his comrades firsthand, Mehmet participated in the operations to liberate Raqqa and Deir Ez-Zor, shouldering a rifle with a camera in his hand, he recorded the struggle moment by moment.

“In a short time he made places in the hearts of his comrades and became loved by everyone. Under all kinds of harsh conditions, for months he witnessed the emotions, excitement and joys of the fighters in the battle fronts. He was one of those who reflected the new era of the Kurdistan Freedom Movement to the world.” -statement from internationalist commune of Rojava after his death. Mehmet’s death came just days before the fall of Raqqa. In late September, Isis’ leader spoke in an audio message ordering his forces to attack YPG press centres. Mehmet was working at the Raqqa media centre, behind the front lines, when a convoy of 3 pickups filled with Isis fascists attacked the compound. They had disguised themselves in SDF uniforms likely taken from dead fighters. They opened fire upon arrival at the checkpoint, killing the 5 YPG fighters there. They proceeded to the compound. Mehmet had been outside talking with fellow YPG journalists, a man and a woman. Mehmet was shot 6 times and fell alongside his comrades, in what can only be called an assassination ordered by the leadership of a fascist organisation that saw the threat to them posed by this man and his camera, and all those like him. The attackers themselves were killed immediately after by the remaining YPG fighters at the position.

Just days before he fell, in his penultimate social media post, Mehmet sent a message via his Facebook page to the Kurdish diaspora here in Europe. 

“It’s interesting that Kurdish university students and graduates who have become academics or professionals in other occupations, rarely, if ever, question the class foundations that their ideas and perceptions are based on.

Due to their economical and educational backgrounds they are middle class or petit-bourgeois, hence their consciousnesses and perceptions are formed entirely by the traits of these class formations and liberalism. Yet when they analyse, criticise or comment on Kurdish issues they are completely oblivious of this and never self reflect on the position from which they are thinking.

Questions surrounding a Kurdish intelligentsia or educated class go as far back as the creation of the ‘Kurdish question’ itself and what history tells us is that this Kurdish intelligentsia, whether in Kurdistan or the diaspora, if it isn’t self-reflective and self-critical, always ends up being on the wrong side of history and an enemy of the revolution; even when it purports to support the Kurdish cause. 

I look at the social media posts, analysis and lifestyles of many of these friends and acquaintances who fall into this category and it pains me to see that they are completely oblivious to their reality and are looking down at the phenomena they are supposedly supporting or trying to comprehend, analyse and shape.

They think and believe that they are approaching the matter from an objective and a-ideological standpoint when of course this is not possible. The greatest sleight of hand of liberal ideology is that it presents itself as not being an ideology or ideological. Of course this isn’t so. So when one of these people says ‘I’m above politics’ or ‘I’m not a partisan to this or that’, I feel my heart sinking or want to punch them in the face. 

Class suicide is in order friends.

Mehmet was given a full military funeral in Rojava alongside his comrades who fell in the media centre attack. Held aloft on the shoulders of his surviving comrades, his coffin was paraded through the streets of Derike, draped in Kurdish flags, colours and flowers. His former commander said briefly to reporters, “This was a big sacrifice. His camera will never be set down.”

Several thousand mourners gathered at the KCC in London to view the ceremony and were addressed live from Rojava over Skype by YPG representative Nuri Mahmoud, who said: “We give our condolences to his mother, his friends and family, and to the people of Britain. We are digging the graves of Daesh in the ground where they declared their caliphate. We owe this resistance to our martyrs, we will fight for victory until the last drop of our blood.”

Mehmet’s mother Zeynep also felt compelled to speak to the crowd that had gathered to celebrate her son, “I did not realize just what kind of son I had raised. I truly got to know my son in these past five days. I will always be on my feet from now on. I will not cry. Always, always, always. I will always stand behind you, my son. I love you all so much for making me get to know my son. I did not realize just what kind of a beautiful son I had until these past five days.”

Mehmet’s body was brought back to the KCC where he had spent so much of his youth. Green Lanes High street was closed to vehicles as thousands of mourners processed with his coffin to Highgate. Mehmet’s body was laid to rest in Highgate Cemetery, just metres away from the grave of Karl Marx. Mehmet’s father spoke at the funeral, “It is very difficult to describe Mehmet. You have to live Mehmet.

Until today, Mehmet was in my and my family’s hearts. And from today on, he dropped into the hearts of the oppressed and exploited.

My son was a drop. He became a river. He became the sea.

My son became Yusuf, became Hüseyin.

My son became Mahir, became Ibrahim.

My son became the Kurdish people.

Ah, my son, ah…

My son was a hill, he became a mountain.

My son was a worker, he became labor.

My son was the day, he became the sun.

My son became people, the people.

Long live the solidarity of the peoples, long live freedom.

Goodbye my son, goodbye.

Goodbye, my comrade, goodbye.

Farewell, my comrade, farewell.

My blood shall freeze, if I forget you, my blood.

Farewell.”

Shortly before he left for Rojava, Mehmet wrote the following poem to give strength to his comrades missing his company 

“Just look at the stars

You will see me there

At the bend of the Milky Way

Where galaxies meet each other.”

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