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The martyrs open the path – From Bristol to Rojava, Anna lives

If it were not for Anna Campbell, I would not be writing this article. I moved to Bristol – the city where Anna lived, struggled, and departed from on her journey to Rojava – about a year and a half after she had been martyred. When I moved here, I was not only unfamiliar with the ideas and goals of the Kurdistan Freedom Movement, but I had never heard Anna’s name. In learning about her life, I have learnt that the words Şehîd Namarin (martyrs never die) form the bedrock through which memories of struggle are kept alive. These words shape the way we relate to each other and act as revolutionaries, as internationalists, and as youth struggling for a democratic future.

Anna left Bristol for Rojava in the summer of 2017 to join the YPJ and defend the women’s revolution against the fascist Islamic State. There, she took the battle name Hêlîn Qereçox. She was in Rojava when the Turkish occupation of Afrin began and she asked her commanders to let her fight there, seeing this task as part of the same fight against fascism. It was here that she was martyred by a Turkish air strike on the 16th March 2018 (1). Before she left, she had been deeply involved in antifascist and refugee solidarity work, had worked with Bristol Hunt Sabetours to take direct action against illegal animal hunting, and was organizing with Bristol Anarchist Black Cross to support political prisoners. Each of these struggles, and the joy with which she engaged with them, represented her love and desire for a truly free society. As a committed internationalist, her decision to leave was not an abandonment of these struggles, but rather a deepening of her commitment to a politics of liberation and an expansion of her revolutionary personality.

Everyone’s journey into struggle is simultaneously personal and collective. 

A journey is personal since the circumstances that affect your decisions are unique, and collective since these circumstances are created by the decisions and sacrifices of many people that interlink in ways beyond our ability to understand. As Rêber Apo argues that ‘those who cannot correctly write their own history of freedom cannot live freely either’, tracing how martyrs have shaped our own journeys into a collective struggle is a vital step for developing a revolutionary and internationalist consciousness. 

My first encounter with Anna was in the anarchist social centre in Bristol, where there is beautiful artwork commemorating her sacrifice. This building, with meeting rooms, a library, an archive, and a communal kitchen, is a vital space for both making connections with other activists and movements and for the transmission of knowledge of past struggles that we continue to learn from. Like so many of us in Bristol, it is a space that Anna frequented regularly. 

I remember upon seeing this artwork being struck by a feeling of tangibility that was initially hard to comprehend. Growing up in the UK – the birthplace of industrial capitalism and a core centre of the worst excesses of capitalist modernity – it is drilled into us from a young age that revolutionary politics are a childish myth, that revolutions are impossible, and that struggles are something confined to history that no longer have any relevance to our society. 

Learning about Anna turned all of that on its head and forced me to try and overcome the contradictions I had internalised.

 Here was a woman who was raised in the same society as me, who lived in the same city as me, and who used the same spaces as me who had given her life to defend a revolution thousands of miles away. In learning about her I began to learn what internationalism can mean in practice, and I was inspired to learn more about the ideological pillars of the revolution that she had left her home to defend. If Anna were not commemorated in this way, then I cannot be certain that I would ever have experienced this feeling that has guided my politics ever since.

It helped to concretise these thoughts further when I learnt that before leaving Anna had helped set up Kurdistan solidarity groups, and that after she had fallen Şehîd, friends and communities across the UK inspired by her expanded these groups and took on the task of spreading the ideas of the paradigm across all our movements. In her life and in her death, Anna has brought the shining star that the movement represented to her into the consciousness of so many people who have been guided by it ever since. It has been through interacting with these friends, these groups, and these structures that I have come to know the movement on a deeper level and commit myself more fully to it. The friends who have taken these steps understood that we cannot view martyrdom as something preserved in a moment of idealised perfection, but as something that actively exists in our struggles. To truly remember Anna means fighting for the ideas she died for and struggling with the joy with which she fought for them. 

Earlier this year I had the privilege of attending the First World Youth Conference in Paris with a small delegation from Bristol. 

Here, we met revolutionary youth from every continent who had all been brought together by their desire to learn from the Kurdistan Freedom Movement and connect with each other as internationalist youth struggling across arbitrary state-imposed borders. Perhaps the most beautiful thing we experienced at this conference was the Martyrs’ Wall, with a table adorned with pictures of Şehîds and surrounded by pictures of young martyrs from different historic and contemporary liberation struggles. To us, it felt fitting that we could contribute an image of Şehîd Anna Campbell to this table and share in her remembrance with everyone else present who has been inspired by her struggle. To me, it felt like I had come full circle and moved a step closer to reaching a synthesis of the personal and collective aspects of my journey.

Above all else, I felt even more determined to continue fighting for a free, communal, and democratic future.

 The beauty of remembering Şehîds is that across the world Anna is remembered differently yet provides the same inspiration. The way she is remembered in Bristol allows us to connect to her life and her struggle in a tangible way, as we imagine her in familiar spaces performing familiar tasks to familiar people. So, while her image shines on around the world as a young internationalist woman who gave her life defending the women’s revolution, to us in Bristol she is just as much the person who cooked communal meals in the social centre. We remember her not just as an internationalist fighter, but as an antifascist, a prison abolitionist, a queer feminist, and as a friend. All these aspects of her struggle are inseparable and remembering them enables us to continue fighting. And while the way we connect to her is different from how a young girl in Rojava who sees her image in the Komal might connect with her, in remembrance we all become connected to something larger, to a common horizon, and to each other.

Although this article has been written about Şehîd Anna Campbell since she is most familiar to me in my context, the same feelings I have described can be applied to anyone who fell in the struggle for freedom. 

Every martyr came from somewhere. Every martyr had friends and family that they shared the beauty of life with. And every martyr had a reason to struggle.

Do not let them become abstract in their death and confined only to memory. Wherever you are in the world, research and discover your martyrs, connect with them, keep their memory alive in your struggle, and let it inspire others, as the remembrance of Anna did for me and many other comrades. If Martyrs never die, then Anna will always live.

1. If you would like to find out more about her life, you can read her biography in issue 7 of Lêgerîn “In Memory of Şehîd Hêlîn Qereçox - Şerda Intikam”



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