Grieving Lewes man’s anguish over reclaiming daughter’s body

Anna Campbell was killed in an air strike
Anna Campbell was killed in an air strike

A grieving father has spoken of his despair at ever being able to repatriate the body of his daughter, seven months after she was killed in Syria.

Anna Campbell, from Lewes, was 26 when she died in March, the victim of an air strike on the city of Afrin by Turkish forces while she was serving with the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ).

She travelled to Syria in May 2017 to help the Kurds, who were fighting against the Islamic State group (ISIS).

Her father Dirk Campbell this week said: “Anna’s body is still unreclaimed and I don’t know what condition it is in.

“I know where she was killed – next to a house in Mahmoudiyeh on the edge of Afrin city where she was stationed with three Kurdish members of the Rojava [North Syrian Federation] Defence Force.

“When I visited Rojava recently I was able to speak to the only survivor of the air strike that killed Anna, a young Kurdish man named Shiyar who had been badly wounded.

“He told me he saw two casualties but they had literally been blown to pieces so were unrecognisable and he didn’t know if Anna was one of them. It is certain that she died but I don’t know what condition her body is in.”

Mr Campbell said the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the International Committee of the Red Cross have repeatedly expressed concern but have done nothing effective to help reclaim Anna’s body.

“Their position is unchanged from when I first heard of Anna’s death,” he said. “They say the Turkish authorities will not allow independent observers into Afrin because it’s too dangerous.

“It is now 10 months since Turkey began its invasion of Syria and there is no fighting reported in the occupied area.”

Turkey sees the YPJ and associated YPG as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a link that the Kurds deny.

In May, Mr Campbell and the mother of Icelandic national Haukur Hilmarrson who was also killed in the area with Anna, wrote to their governments asking for help to recover their bodies.

They said Turkey was breaking the Geneva Convention by failing to retrieve them.

The families said Article 15 of the Convention states parties to a conflict have a duty to “search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled”.

Mr Campbell continued: “My daughter died trying to protect Kurdish civilians against illegal Turkish incursion into Syria.

“The Turks are still there, without any adverse comment from Western governments. So is my daughter’s body.”