Up to a thousand people have gathered at the Kurdish community centre in north London to mourn Mehmet Aksoy, the British-Kurdish film-maker and activist who was killed by Islamic State fighters in Raqqa in September.
Aksoy, regarded as a cherished member of the Kurdish community in the UK, went to Syria in the summer to document the Kurdish resistance. The 32-year-old was not fighting but working as a press officer for the People’s Protection Units (YPG) when the military base in which he was stationed was hit by a surprise attack .
A world away, in Haringey on Friday, the road leading to the community centre was closed to vehicles, and bags were searched on entrance to the venue, which was adorned with YPG flags and pictures of Aksoy as well as others killed in the Kurdish struggle for greater rights in the Middle East.
Friends, relatives and supporters chanted slogans in unison as Aksoy’s coffin was carried on to stage and tributes were paid to “a seeker of truth, realiser of dreams, warrior of light” and to the “fight against fascism” in the region. “Together with his comrades he had turned London upside down to tell everyone about the war against Isis,” one speaker said to rounds of applause.
Aksoy was born to a Kurdish family living in Istanbul and migrated to London as a young boy with his family. He was believed to be the fifth British citizen killed while volunteering with the US-led militia spearheading the battle against Isis in Syria.
It was at the Kurdish Community Centre that Aksoy developed his Kurdish identity as a teenager and became increasingly political and vocal in the Kurdish struggle, according to the Kurdish People’s Assembly UK. “He was an eloquent speaker and leader at Kurdish solidarity marches and demonstrations throughout the last decade,” the group said. “While in Raqqa he was assisting the YPG as a member of the press office making videos, photo stories, and working on a feature-length documentary.”
Aksoy did a bachelor’s in media studies before taking a master’s in film-making at Goldsmith’s, University of London. In his 20s he co-founded the London Kurdish film festival while working as editor for the rights website The Kurdish Question.
He travelled to Syria without telling his parents, who live in Luton, Bedfordshire. He spent three months filming the battle for Raqqa, publishing his material on social media and other websites. His job was also to liaise with journalists in Britain and around the world covering the conflict. His death came just weeks before the fall of Raqqa.
The procession on Friday was due to march three miles to Highgate, where Aksoy would be buried near the grave of Karl Marx in the afternoon. In October, more than 2,000 people attended a commemoration to him at the community centre. A military ceremony was held for him in Syria.