Father of British woman killed in Syria battles to repatriate her body from Turkey

Anna Campbell travelled to northern Syria in 2017 as a volunteer, fighting alongside the YPJ before her death last year

Anna Campbell in Syria. Courtesy of Dirk Campbell
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The father of a British woman killed while fighting for the Kurds in northern Syria has accused Turkey of being uncivilised as he launched a legal campaign to repatriate her body.

Dirk Campbell’s daughter Anna Campbell was killed in March 2018 in what was thought to be a Turkish missile strike on the city of Afrin. The city remains under Turkish control.

"I am taking this action because it is one of many examples of Turkey's refusal to observe human rights," Mr Campbell told The National.

Dirk Campbell photographed at his home in Lewes, East Sussex. Mark Chilvers / The National
Dirk Campbell photographed at his home in Lewes, East Sussex. Mark Chilvers / The National

“I hope that by drawing attention to this it will raise public awareness of the degree to which Turkey has departed from the norms of civilised behaviour."

He said the Turkish authorities were “telling flagrant lies” about their military involvement in neighbouring Syria.

Mr Campbell said he had instructed human rights lawyers McCue and Partners to make formal representations to the Turkish government.

The law firm could take legal action against Turkey if his request to bring his daughter's body home were refused by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“I can say to him that 'You have ignored my human rights, you have broached my human rights and therefore I can take legal action against you',” Mr Campbell said.

A musician who lives in the town of Lewes in East Sussex, he said he had received almost no support from British authorities in his fight to bring his daughter home.

“I have received no support from the Home Office, I have received no support from the International Red Cross or from my MP, or from any of the normal channels so this is all that is left for me to do – legal action,” Mr Campbell said.

He said his local Member of Parliament, Conservative Maria Caulfield, had been “completely unhelpful”.

Mr Campbell was equally critical of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

He said former minister of state for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, had told him in April 2018 that “he would do his best in making representations”, but his appeals to the UK government had been unsuccessful.

Mr Campbell said he would not continue to seek the support of the Foreign Ministry: “No, because their response was zero. There’s no point.”

The Foreign Office did not immediately respond to The National's request for comment.

Anna Campbell travelled to Syria in 2017, aged 26, but according to her father her interest in the Kurdish cause began in 2012.

“I told her I was alarmed but I told her that I couldn’t stop her,” Mr Campbell said. “What could I do? I couldn’t take away her passport or chain her to a bedpost.”

He said Anna was involved in political actions before she left, but the origins of her activism reach further back.

“There’s a story about her protecting a bumble bee in the school yard which was being tormented by other kids,” Mr Campbell said.

“But she fiercely protected this bumble bee despite the attacks and mockery of the other kids.

“It was from there, really. She was 11.”

Mr Campbell said he believed his daughter had found “a deep inner peacefulness” in her time among the Kurds and never expressed doubt about her decision to join the YPJ.

Anna Campbell in Syria. Courtesy of Dirk Campbell
Anna Campbell in Syria. Courtesy of Dirk Campbell

He remains supportive of the cause for which she gave her life.

“I think ethically and morally it was a very worthwhile cause,” Mr Campbell said.

He has started a crowdfunding page to support his legal campaign and has already received significant support.

“We’ve got a target of £25,000, £11,000 of which we raised in the first day,” he said.

But for Mr Campbell, the campaign is the only road to the eventual repatriation of his daughter’s body.

“All I can do is assert my human rights under international law to reclaim my daughters remains, but what I hope to be able to do, as a kind of secondary effect, is to draw attention to Turkish war crimes and atrocities and deliberate flouting of human rights.”