21 December 2016
Today we remember the martyr Ryan Lock, also know as Şehid Berxwedan Givara. Ryan was 20 years old when he fell martyr participating in the liberation of Raqqa, the capital of the fascist Isis state. He was from Chichester, in West Sussex. His father is a caterer, his mother works as a nurse. Ryan attended school from his mother’s in Havant, educated at the Warblington School, where he was a successful pupil. Upon hearing Ryan had fallen, his former headmistress, Julia Vincent felt compelled to make a statement on behalf of the school, “We are very sorry and saddened to hear the news about Ryan Lock. He was a well-liked pupil during his time at Warblington School. Our thoughts go out to his friends and family at this time.”
Tributes poured in from former classmates as well; “Went to Junior School with this guy, hero in my eyes, rest in peace Ryan”-Georgie W
“We will miss you Ryan, one brave lad at school and a braver one as he grew up!”-Tabatha P
After leaving Warblington, Ryan started working for his dad Jon’s catering company. Jon described him as “a caring and loving boy who would do anything to help anyone”.
He added: “He had a heart of gold.” After working with his dad, Ryan took a civilian chef role in the officer’s mess at the naval training base, HMS Collingwood. Ryan knew he was capable of making a difference with his life and wanted to do more. He had always had an interest in the military but had found little to draw him further into British military life. When he learned of the Kurdish resistance in Syria and their call for internationalist support, Ryan knew what he had to do. James Parkin, 20, who studied biology with him at college, said: “He was always training in the gym or running —He wanted to see some form of action. He was like a real-life James Bond. All the girls loved him.
Ryan’s mother, Catherine said he was “quite political”. “A few days before he went we were watching Channel 4 News. There was a piece about Iraq and Syria. He said they were killing women and children and it was a shame that nobody was doing anything about it.”
Ryan had given few clues about his intentions to fight Isil in Syria. “It wasn’t something he would constantly comment on, but he was quite a quiet person. He could be quite shuttered, and he would be quite careful what he said.”
Catherine said her son only revealed a few days beforehand that he was intending to go travelling “He just said that he had planned this for ages and that he had time off work. He said he would be going for a few weeks, maybe a month. And when I found out he was going to Turkey I said, ‘You do realise that’s right next to Syria where there is a war’. I hadn’t twigged that was exactly his plan, to head to Syria.”
He said, “mum I don’t want to be in my fifties and not done anything, I want to do something with my life in my 20s, while I’m able”
Lock told his mother he was going to Turkey backpacking with some friends and would be back within a few weeks. He tidied out his locker at HMS Collingwood and his bedroom at his mother’s house in Havant and flew from Luton to Istanbul and on to Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan
After flying to Iraq on August 24, Ryan contacted his mother and told her he was heading to Syria.
She said: “I remember sending him a message saying that’s not even funny, and he said it was true. I absolutely panicked.” But she knew by this point that Ryan’s mind was made up, and there was nothing she could do to change it now. She replied, “I’m proud of you. Please stay safe and come home.” They remained in contact via Facebook and phone calls until he fell.
In a Facebook message to friends and family, Ryan said, “I am going to Rojava. I lied and said that I am going to Turkey. I am sorry that I could not tell this to anyone. I love you all very much. I will be back in six months.”
After arriving in Iraqi Kurdistan, Ryan made contact with other internationalists and the YPG and was transported across the Syrian border into Rojava. There he began training at the YPG international academy, where a banner of him still hangs over the canteen today. He was given the name Berxwedan, meaning resistance, and Guevara, after the Irish-Argentine revolutionary.
He finished the basic training easily and showed proficiency with Kurdish and ideological education, and was put forward for extended training; he spoke of being trained in the use of night vision goggles and sniper rifles. After his training was completed, Ryan joined a mixed unit of Kurdish, Arab and international fighters.
He participated in the liberation of Manbij, where he acquitted himself with praise and respect from all of his comrades. In November, shortly before he and his unit transferred to the Raqqa front, they came under attack from Turkish jets. Lock was trapped under rubble when his unit was bombed. He posted a photo to Facebook displaying his facial injuries. He wrote: “We were taking a small village when we got hit by Turkish jets in the night…Two of my friends, Anton [Leschek, Germany] and Michael [Israel, USA] were killed, among many others.
Despite almost losing his own life, Ryan vowed: “I’m staying to finish out my six months.”
Ryan was not surprised to be bombed by a NATO member. As a YPG fighter, he had seen firsthand the support Isis had enjoyed from Turkey. From the beginning they had used them as a a proxy to destabilise Syria and attempt to annihilate the Kurdish people there. Now that the Syrian Democratic forces were pushing back, the Turkish regime was desperate to protect its interests, going to the extent of providing air support for their jihadist proxies.
After the liberation of Manbij and the surrounding area, Ryan and his unit quickly wanted to get back to the front, as the SDF pushed closer to the Isis capital. On December 21st, Ryan was sent with a detachment from his unit and a section of local Arab fighters to clear the historic village of Ja’ber, next to an ancient fortress built during the Roman era and expanded by Saladin.
Ryan and his unit took the village and cleared it with ease, suffering no casualties. However, as night fell and they took their positions to defend the village, they came under heavy fire from the Isis fascists. As they tried to defend the village, Ryan and his comrades came under rocket and grenade fire. As some of the local fighters became injured, some of his comrades drove them out of the village for medical treatment, leaving them further undermanned.
As the fascists continued to pound their lines with grenade and heavy weapons fire from all sides, some of the local fighters began to pull back from the front of the village. As he tried to pull back, Ryan was shot in the thigh and immobilised. One of his internationalist comrades, Nassareno Tassone, of Canada, fell beside him from grenade shrapnel. So intense was the Isis attack, as the SDF forces moved closer to their capital, Ryan was cut off from his comrades; the remaining local fighters and a former British army soldier from his unit. They were forced to retreat to their lines. Ryan was last seen firing on his back, injured.
Ryan knew what he would face if he was taken alive. He would be used as propaganda for the brutal fascist regime. He knew he couldn’t put his family through that. Having exhausted his ammunition, Ryan took the best option he was presented with, and saved his last bullet for himself.
The Isis fascists still tried to use the internationalists for their twisted propaganda, releasing images of their fighters standing over the bodies, calling them crusaders. But their empty victory was short lived, within a few days they were overrun and wiped out, and the bodies of the internationalist fighters were recovered by their local comrades.
At a ceremony in Derikê, Ryan was honoured as a hero. Flanked by hundreds of his comrades in formation, the flags of YPG and his own nation were draped across Ryan’s coffin before it was carried across the border. YPG command member Mihyedin Xirki have a speech,
“Ryan joined actively in our offensive against the terror threat that Isis caused upon Rojava, Kurdistan. Here, on the dark hours of 21 December 2016, we lost our brave companion Ryan and four other fighters in Jaeber village. Ryan was not only a fighter providing additional force to our struggle. In fact, with his experience and knowledge he has been an example for younger fighters.
While he has reached a vast amount of achievement up in our frontlines, Ryan has served the purpose of a very important bridge between us, the Kurds of Rojava. He crossed continents for the destiny of our people and humanity.”
His own commander said, “We bless the resistance of British martyr Berxwedan Givara for the families of all martyrs and the British people. Our martyr fell putting up a brave fight. The courageous and honourable resistance of the YPG has directed conscientious people from all around the world to join the YPG.”
A speaker from the YPJ said, “his memory will forever live on in our struggle for the freedom of Syria and our hope for change in the whole world”.
Ryan’s family was sent a letter from a volunteer, previously in the British army, who said he had fought alongside their son. The letter said Lock would be remembered as a “true hero” in Kurdistan. It said: ‘Mr and Mrs Lock, I am so very sorry your son has died. I want to let you know your son died a true hero.
I met him at a YPG academy and was with him in the action that saw him pass on.
He lived to the truest standards of a soldier and despite being injured in the leg he continued firing bravely.
If he was fighting for the Army, he would be honoured as a true hero and it’s only right he is. He died as he lived true to himself and true to the very highest standards of soldiering.”
When Ryan’s body returned to England it was with a few hours notice, but still the freight airline operators were shocked to see a cortège of Kurdish and anti Isis supporters who had come to great their hero. They sang songs and laid wreaths and roses over the hearse as it passed. Many held banners with his official YPG photo.
When presented with Ryan’s body, the coroner felt unable to record a verdict of suicide. ‘Looking at all the evidence from a simplistic point of view it would be simple to say that Ryan has taken his own life but it doesn’t allow my conclusion to reflect the whole story.
He was an ordinary young man who gave up his safe and comfortable life for a cause he believed in passionately.He died in a battle between Isis and Kurdish forces.
He suffered a serious wound to his leg which would have stopped him from being able to get away.
He would have fallen into the hands of a cruel and ruthless enemy.
He was not prepared to let that happen and used his own weapon to avoid capture.
That was a very brave action. Speaking to Ryan’s family, Mr Horsley added: ‘Ryan was a heroic young man.
I am so sorry he has died but he died doing something that he clearly believed passionately in – that has to be a memorial to Ryan.
I am so sorry you lost him, you have lost him heroically.’
Ryan’s family held a private personal funeral to allow themselves time to mourn, but his father Jon said he was, “grateful to the YPG for bringing him home”.
This piece was written and sent in to 0161 Festival.