Who was Anna Campbell and why did she become a freedom fighter in Syria?

Anna Campbell, from Sussex, was killed while volunteering as a freedom fighter in Syria, with the all-female Kurdish armed unit, the YPJ.

Words by Charlotte Philby

When Dirk Campbell received the call on Sunday that his daughter, Anna, had died, it was the news he had been dreading. Anna Campbell, from Lewes in Sussex was just 26 years old when she killed while volunteering as a freedom fighter in Syria, with the all-female Kurdish armed unit the YPJ. A qualified plumber in the UK, Campbell first travelled to Syria in May 2017 to help the Kurds, who were battling the Islamic State group. She died on 15 March this year in Afrin, which has been under bombardment by Turkish forces.

Described by her father as a ‘deeply principled’ and ‘determined’ person, Campbell had been been involved in human rights activism in Britain, and was originally inspired to fight when she learnt of the Kurdish aim of creating a democratic society in the wake of IS. She had been fighting with the YPJ in Deir ez-Zor, the largest city in eastern Syria, when she decided to move to the northern Syrian border where Kurds were under attack. Though her Kurdish colleagues apparently tried to prevent her going to the city under Turkish bombardment, she would not be stopped.
‘With fair hair and blue eyes they knew she would stand out, but she dyed her hair black and persuaded them to let her go,’ Dirk Campbell told the BBC. ‘She wanted to create a better world and she would do everything in her power to do that… I told her of course that she was putting her life in danger, which she knew full well she was doing… I feel I should have done more to persuade her to come back, but she was completely adamant.’

Anna Campbell

A female sniper belonging to the Syrian-Kurdish YPJ takes aim at what she thinks may be an Islamic State sniper changing position in the Iraqi border town of Rabia

Anna Campbell is the first British woman to have died in Syria with the YPG but the eighth citizen to have been killed while assisting the groups. Translating as the People’s Protection Units, the US-backed YPJ (also known as the YPG) is a mainly-Kurdish militia in Syria comprising 50,000 members including Arabs and British volunteers. Turkey views the group as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a link that the Kurds deny. Ahmet Berat Conkar – an MP from Turkey’s ruling AK Party and head of the Turkish delegation to Nato – accused the YPJ of pushing ‘young people into the frontlines’ and recruiting child soldiers. British police have repeatedly warned civilians against travelling to Syria, stating that becoming involved with any armed group could lead to arrest and prosecution.

Anna Campbell

Kurdish demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament

Friends of Anna Campbell in Syria told the BBC she was killed by Turkish airstrikes, describing her as a feminist with ‘sincerity and courage’ who wanted to fight for women’s liberation in the Middle East. YPJ commander in Syria, Nesrin Abdullah, said Ms Campbell had ‘insisted’ on leaving for Afrin, adding: ‘Although we tried to keep her far from the frontlines, the attacks from the Turkish state were very heavy.’

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