Interview: “… learning about Helin has affected other people’s decision to come here”

Interview about Sehid Helin Qerecox with Heval Berivan and Heval Gelhat

Anna Campbell, Helin Qerecox, left for Rojava in May 2017 to join the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ). A year ago, on March 15, 2018, she fell in an attack by the Turkish army in the defense of Efrîn. With others, she has become a symbol of Internationalism in the fight for the revolution in Rojava.

A delegation of the feminist campaign “Gemeinsam Kämpfen” met Heval Berivan and Heval Gelhat in Rojava. They knew Anna from before, before she went to Rojava. The two speak about their life, the life of Anna and the influence that Anna has on them.

Hello, who are you and how did you got to know the Kurdish Movement?

Heval Berivan: My name is Berivan. I’m from the UK. I have been actively involved in some kind of political organising or another for about a decade since I was turning 20. That originally came through involvement in the ‘No Borders’ movement, which I still organise with in a different way. That lead me to points where there are physical borders near the UK, and for a while I was quite mobile and reactive and in different points of political action; going to camps and making resistances.
I learned a lot from this, but i changed my perspective on this a few years ago, and settled back in Scotland, where I’m from. I wanted to develop more long term organising, kind of looking at the big picture and slow, community building work. I’ve been aware of the Kurdish movement for years, I can’t remember when. But really, I feel until very recently, I was very ignorant of how the Kurdish movement connects to other struggles, and ignorant of the ideology behind the Kurdish movement.
I learned a lot more about this after my friend, Anna, came to Rojava. By then I knew a little more anyway and understood why she had gone, but her presence here inspired me to learn a lot more. Learn about the movement that is happening in Rojava, how it’s linked to the wider Kurdish movement and since that I’ve been a bit more involved in a little bit of solidarity work and education.

How did that happen!?

Heval Berivan: So, okay, good point! [both laughing]. I think a lot of people when they meet me, assume that it was Anna’s death that brought me to Rojava. This is really not true, but it’s safe to say that Anna’s life had a lot to do with it. While she was still here we were in contact and she was always trying to persuade me to come. Also, I was learning and educating and she would be on the phone sounding like a girl scout at camp saying, ‘you should come here, it’s great! There are loads of really nice dogs and everyone is really cool!’
Not just because of this, but also through learning and reading, and because of how I felt about politics in the UK I made the decision to come to Rojava. What I felt strongly about politics in the UK and in my context, was that I felt as though I had been, for years, trying different directions and meeting dead ends. I felt like I wasn’t sure where to put energy. I had energy and a lot of anger and I wanted to dedicate that to political organising, but I was really struggling to know which path to take and feeling quite paralysed. I felt, and I still hope that coming somewhere with a movement like this can at least inspire and energise and teach.
In this way, I want to support the Kurdish movement as much as I can, but, I also want to learn from being here, and wanted, when I originally made the plan to learn from being here, to make the revolution in my context, because it has to be global.
So, I made a plan to come. This was over one year ago. But there were problems, so I didn’t come then. Politically, I feel, actually, good about this, I feel much more prepared now, much more educated now and much more part of a collective, both, here and in the UK. I feel more like a delegate from a group, which actually I think is much better, and more in the spirit of the revolution. I feel like I have much more knowledge and understanding and, I also am happy that I’m now here in social, not military structures. Politically, I think the last year of, delay, has been really good. Obviously, it breaks my heart a little that I never saw Anna again. Just personally, in my head, I thought I would see her.
By the time it would have been possible to come, it had been about one month since Anna fell Sehid and there was a lot going on in my community, there were a lot of people that, we had this mutual relationship with, there was a lot of change. I was in a very particular place, so I needed some time to review and plan again and re-make the decision, not just push on. So it took a few months for both practically the plans to work out, and to understand the options; I think the options for coming in society are much more than they were before, to meet with people who were also travelling and to make plans to come together and to discuss with my friends, family, chosen family and close community, and to re-make those plans.
A lot of people, when they make decisions like this they say, you know, it’s my life, it’s up to me, and there is some truth in that and I don’t think that people should be able to tell us not to make this decision, but actually, if there’s one thing I learned from losing Anna, it’s that this isn’t just about me. That I want to take care of my community just as the Kurdish struggle are fighting for their communities, so there were a lot of conversations to be had before I rushed off. But, those conversations worked out the way they did, I feel very supported to be here, so, here I am.

Can you just say a few sentences about your family background?

Heval Berivan: My parents, they didn’t send their children to school, I never went to school and my parents both moved quite far away from their families. It’s not like a big split, they have sociable relations, but, I think my parents politically, passively, if not actively pulled away, so my immediate family I grew up with, but the extended family, I don’t feel so much connection with. Sometimes I think I look at my piers now and they’re starting to have children and maybe their children will have this similar life to what I did, if that makes sense? Like, my parents quite their jobs as teachers and they took on a life that made us a lot less wealthy and made various decisions around these things. My parents are political, if not actively, my dad is not very happy that I’m here. He is very scared and has told me that he’s not happy, but frankly I think he’s the one that talked to me about Marxism when I was about twelve [all laugh], so he’s only got himself to blame!
I’m very close with my mother and my sister, and my brother in a different way, and they have, in their different ways, been supportive of me coming here. So yeah, I do feel a connection to my family, which I know is lucky, because I know a lot of people have problem with their families in this context.

Do you want to continue Heval Gelhat?

Heval Gelhat: So, my name is Gelhat Connoly and I am from England. Like Berivan, I probably started my political activism about ten years ago in 2009. The first kind of politics I was involved in were solidarity groups for Palestinian human rights. I guess from there it kind of evolved more into anarchism and also trade unionism as well. I became a member of the IWW, nicknamed ‘The Wobblies’, and I was involved in organising with them.
When I became an anarchist, I also engaged with the anti-fascist movement, but more importantly the prison abolition movement. I was involved in the Anarchist Black Cross. Over the years I managed to combine my activism in the prison abolition struggle with trade unionism to help form, with other people, the incarcerated workers organising committee in England. This is a union movement to help build a union within the prison system itself.

How did you got to know the Kudish Movement?

In regards to the Kurdish struggle, my first knowledge of it probably came around 2012, when the PKK attended an anarchist conference in Switzerland. They were there to speak about how they had started to embrace the ideas of Murray Bookchin and other anarchist theorists, and how they had incorporated this theory into their own political structures.
When I decided to properly get involved and start showing my support was when the Kurdish movement resisted against the rise of the Islamic State in 2014 and 2015. So, this is when you had the siege of Kobane, also, the siege of the Sinjar mountains, and the Kurdish movement were effective in trying to push back the threat of ISIS. At that moment I decided to attend demonstrations and talks by the Kurdish movement and to learn more about the Kurdish movement. Not so much about what they were fighting against, but about what they were fighting for.
As the years went by me and Anna used to speak about this quite a lot together, we used to live in the same house. We spoke about wanting to go to Rojava, wanting to do our bit to help the movement, at this time, we also met with other people in Bristol and discussed the idea that Bristol needed to be more active in supporting the Rojava revolution. We formed a solidarity group for Bristol and started to connect with the wider Kurdish movement in England.
It was around this time that Anna had made the decision, along with another friend of mine, to go to Rojava and join the YPJ and YPG. I wanted to go as well, but because me and Anna were involved in the same groups if we both left the groups would fall apart, so the deal was, Anna would go, I would wait, then when Anna came back then I would come here. It was always in my intentions to come here. Initially my intention was to join the military units, the YPG but because of Anna falling Sehid, and from speaking to Kurdish comrades, I decided to change my approach and to go with civilian structures.
Now I’m here in Rojava as well and I’m hoping to learn as much as I can about the movement here and how we can spread the ideas of the revolution in our own country and also Europe as well.

Can you tell us when did you come and a little bit more about your family background as well?

About my family, I grew up in a working class family. My parents themselves were involved for a short time in the environmental movements. My granddad on my mums side was a leftist, I think he was a member of the communist party for a short time. On my dad’s side is the more kind of Irish catholic leftist tradition. We have roots going back to Ireland as well. My family was involved in the Irish republican movement for some time.

Are you Irish originally?

I’m not Irish, no, but my grandparents were. On my mum’s side my family were from Scotland as well, not so much on the leftist side, but my granddad was in Dunkirk when it was surrounded by the Nazi’s. So, there has always been this, kind of, desire to fight for the right causes and to resist against fascism.
In terms of me being here, my family were obviously very worried about me coming here and they did express their doubts about it. I think after I explained things to them, and now that I’m here and I’ve been able to contact them since being here I think they’re relieved and a lot happier that I’m here. I think, they decided to support me even if they didn’t want me to be here.

Can you both say something about your first impressions in Rojava?

Helval Berivan: The first few days…I think it feels very surreal to come somewhere that you’ve read about and seen talks about and seen interviews and films about, there’s a sensation of un-reality. While you’re still working on the language as well, everything is still in translation so it’s a step removed as well and that also feels, yep, unreal. So the first impressions are this feeling of, ‘am I really here, what is this place?’
Now having been here just over one month, I find it, in lots of ways, what I had expected and heard about. Which is really good, it’s not like you come and it’s like, ‘wow, this isn’t what everybody said’. My impressions are that there’s such a level of engagement with these politics from everybody, from society, it’s really interesting to talk with people, even when people don’t necessarily agree or aren’t necessarily part of the movement, they still have strong opinions and still are engaged and have an understanding of politics, which in my context are quite obscure politics, they’re not what most people think about, which is something we need to work on, obviously.
I’m starting to understand the complexities, you know, I came knowing that life is really complicated and there are so many contradictions and complexities, and now I’m starting to be able to see concrete ones and understand the tip of an ice-burg of how these things might fit together, this is really useful and really good. The more I learn the more I realise that I don’t know. Every question that is answered, there is, like, five more multiplying. Which is life, but also is being here!

Hevla Gelhat: This is actually a very new experience for me, because this is actually the first time that I have left Europe. It’s also the first time that I have left England for quite some time. The longest time I’d left England for before coming here was probably 3 weeks, in the Basque country. So now I’ve been in the Middle East and it’s obviously a very new experience for me. It is exciting and it’s been very nice so far. It’s a very exciting experience for me.
I think the biggest obstacle I have at the moment is trying to overcome the language barrier. I’m trying to learn Kurmanji as much as I can because I think it’s really important to do that, and also to do the education here as well. So for now, my main focus is to learn as much Kurmaji as I can and to engage with this experience basically.

Would you like to talk a little bit about Anna and how did you know her, where did you know her from, what was your common history, what did you feel about Anna here in Rojava?

Helval Berivan: I met Anna in 2011, in Calais, in France, we were both there with Calais Migrant Solidarity, which was an anarchist group attempting to be in solidarity with people without papers and who were/are affected by the border there. At the time that was a focus of both of our political goals, in that context you build up relationships very quickly, as I’m sure you’ve all experienced, like there’s a sort of intensity in the way you live, and what you’re doing. Politically and socially, we got quite close quite quickly, very much as part of a group of people. When I think about Anna I think of about six or seven people not all of whom I’m still close with, but it was not just a one on one friendship, it was a gang.
Later that year, we were part of a group of people who were involved in a resistance action at a traveller site in the UK, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Dale Farm, but there was a very big eviction. A significant eviction of a large traveller site in the UK, and there was a resistance call out from the solidarity groups. So, people who hadn’t been involved with or worked in solidarity with travellers before, but there was a call out for as many people to come as possible.
We were there in total for about two months building up defences and then the actual day of the eviction was quite a big confrontation. We were also getting to know the folk who lived on the site, sadly, I’ve fallen out of contact with many of them but still, message occasionally with a couple. One sent a really beautiful message to Anna’s memorial.
Again, that was very much part of a group and I think, again, because of the age we were, the type of work we were doing, and then what happened and these actions, it’s quite a formative time and Anna and I didn’t live in the same city, unlike Gelhat, has lived with her. Later on in life we didn’t live in the same city, but relationships from that time have stayed really strong and have stayed really clear. Also, we stayed in contact, she was very good at staying in touch and writing letters and we’d also come to visit. I would come to Bristol, she came to visit in Scotland.
So, yeah, after that year, during the year after Dale Farm we were very much around each other, people were squatting in London or Bristol and this same group of people was very much connected, we went on a lot of, you know, I can’t count the number of demos and actions and things we went on together and buildings we broke into and stuff like that.
Towards the end of that year Anna’s mum died, she died of cancer, so Anna went back to spending more time near, either in her father’s house or near there in the south, so then our, sort of day to day lives kind of parted. I also went travelling at this time, when I came back, I moved back to Scotland, so at this point the day to day practicalities of life were very different. But we stayed in contact as I’ve said, and it was always good to hear what politics she was involved in, sometimes in a different way to me, or in equivalence. We’d kind of swap what was going on in different cities.
Anna and I also have many good mutual friends, one of them is sitting right here. In fact, the reason that Gelhat and I know each other is because of Anna. We hadn’t met before they lived together. One good friend in particular who I met at the same time, and the three of us were very close within this group of friends, that relationship somehow feels very important. There was this dynamic of the three of us and now one person is gone from that. People would, for months for some reason, when people met any two of the three of us together they always assumed that we were a couple which we weren’t at any point! The way that we were hanging out together, obviously it looked like that. This other person also lives in the same city as me now, so that connection was also there. She and Anna stayed in touch as well.
I really hadn’t been in contact with Anna when I heard that she’d come here to Rojava. She didn’t tell me, she didn’t tell quite a lot of people who would have quite liked her to have told them. Which made me reflect a lot when I made my decision to travel, even before she fell Sehid, and I saw how it affected people when she hadn’t spoken to them all. Then when she fell Sehid and I saw how many people it affected, it really affected how I dealt with my travel in my community and who I spoke to and how I communicated, this balance of security culture and emotional needs. I think I chucked security culture out of the window and decided emotional needs were more important.
So, I didn’t know before. She told me by text ‘oh, I’m going somewhere and I don’t want to talk about it by text’ so I thought, ‘okay, I can think of a few options’. I didn’t think it was this. Then I heard it was this, so, we started e-mailing and contacting by the phone and stuff while she was here, and actually were in more contact while she was here than we’d been in the year before then, just because I guess you get in touch when something big like this happens. Yes, she was always trying to persuade me to come here, talking about how great the politics were, how much she was learning, everything she was going to tell me about when I arrived. There were quite a lot of moments when she’d say, ‘I’ll tell you when you come here, it’s going to be great’. I’m really happy this contact was there, because, for some people, I think it was harder to find that contact.

Heval Gelhat: I believe the first time I got to know Anna or to meet Anna was in 2013, so a couple of years after you met her Berivan. I met Anna through her partner at the time, who is also a friend of mine and I really got to properly know her and become close friends with her when she moved to Bristol in 2014. In fact, I remember the first night when we really properly bonded, was when I was trying to make a present for a friend and she helped me make these stencils of revolutionary women. They were of, obviously, Emma Goldman, Lucy Parsons, Kanno Sugako [a Japanese anarcho-feminist] and this was really exciting. It was great to learn more about revolutionary figures that I knew, but it was also great to learn about new ones that I’d never heard about before. That was really nice, so we had a good chat and talked a lot, and I think from then we became really close friends.
We ended up living in the same house as each other for some time that was really good. Anna was like a big sister for me in a way, because when I went vegan, I wasn’t very good at eating vegetables. I was very fussy about what food I would eat, so Anna would always try and find a way to make sure I would eat these vegetables and enjoy them at the same time. She’d sneak in certain vegetables she knew that I didn’t like into the food so that I wouldn’t notice. It was really nice living with her.
We also decided to get involved in some of the same kind of politics together. When Anna was living in the south, in Brighton, well Lewes, she would always go to the prison for New Year to wish the prisoners a happy New Year. This is a tradition that we also do in Bristol, so something I was doing too, and of course when she came to Bristol she wanted to get involved in prisoner support politics as well. In the end we ended up doing a lot of projects together; prison abolition work, also some anti-fascist work. In the evenings sometimes we’d also go out together and get up to no good, you know, a bit of graffiti…

Heval Berivan: I don’t know what you’re talking about mate! [All laugh]

Heval Gelhat: Of course I won’t go into detail!
It was really wonderful to spend all that time with Anna. I think, over the years, as I said, we both took interest in the Kurdish Freedom Movement, I remember, that she did tell me that she was going, before she was going to be going. We had a good long conversation about it. It’s kind of a strange feeling because I know a lot of people who I spoke to about it, who also spoke to Anna, were very worried about her; some wondered if she was doing the right thing, but I was really happy for her, of course I was worried about her safety, but I was really happy for her. I said to her, you know, ‘I’m really proud of you, and in a way my only regret is that I won’t be able to come with you’. I wished her all the best for her travels because I just knew it was what she wanted to do. I think to try and stop her from going…it would have been a lie, to try and stop her from going, because it was something I wanted to do, but it was also something she wanted to do, so I had to support her in going. When she left I was a hundred per cent behind her.
When she was over here in Rojava, we would speak from time to time on the phone and she would sometimes send pictures as well. She would send pictures of like puppies that she found on her travels and stuff, or telling us what kind of stuff she was learning. It was really quite exciting, she was telling me about, for example; the new vehicles they were getting, just little things like that, but it meant a lot to me and I’m sure it meant a lot to her as well. She would always, like Berivan said, try to encourage me to come along, she’d be like ‘oh, you should come here’. I would tell her, ‘there’s work to be done here, when you come back then I can go’.
I also remember the last conversation I had with her as well, this was when I told her that I was beginning to learn Kurmanji , but I only knew very few words, you know, like Rojbas, Dembas, Heval…and she said, you need to learn more Kurmanji! And she was very right. I definitely need to learn more Kurmanji!
Unfortunately, that was the last conversation we ever had, because a couple of weeks later she fell Sehid in Afrin. I wasn’t really aware that she was planning to go to Afrin, but, again, no one was going to stop her from going there I don’t think.

Can you tell us a little bit about, what you know that Anna did here? When she arrived, how did she feel here, how did she live here, what was her work here?

Heval Berivan: She came, always with the plan to join the YPJ, and her focus here was to get into the military and do that work. At times that was difficult and she was having to push for that to happen, but she always had that focus. She helped to build up the YPJ international academy, she was a big part of that, I’ve visited that place since I’ve been here and I think you really feel her there. You can feel how much she put into it. I mean, there’s a massive photo of her on the wall which probably helps, but I think emotionally as well, I think you can feel her.
She once spoke to me about that place and she said that that place is the education that she dreamed about before she came here. When she arrived she found out that it was more complicated. That that place didn’t exist yet. She had to build it herself in the end, or help to build it. She realised that there wasn’t this easy structure for female international fighters at the time and that, it was complicated for many reasons, some resistance. There was a lot of care taken with female internationalists and some people were resistant to them getting too involved in the military.
She obviously had to learn the language, she always picked up languages very easily and very well, she was really talented with this stuff. So she could get to know people a lot quicker. I also know she developed very close relationships with some people here, and it took her a long time to organise when she would be in the education, and she went through the YPJ education eventually, before the international academy was built up. I think that education experience was really formative, really changing, really affected her a lot. After she still strongly had this focus, she felt like she was willing to fight and that she could fight and this was what she wanted to do. She didn’t come with a skill, like a doctor or something, so she felt like this was what she could give.
My experience of her was always that she was very fearless, like, I don’t, maybe, I don’t use that in the same way as brave, she just didn’t get scared. So I don’t know what that means, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing in a person, but it was for sure a thing in Anna when it came to confrontation. So I can imagine that, that she never wavered in this, this dedication.
She was very devoted to building up the new academy for internationalists as well and really thought it was a good place. She seems to have made a lot of connections here, she was briefly with Jineoloji, and briefly in different structures contributing to different things and a lot of people really seem to have felt a connection with her. A lot of people contact us, and want to hear about her and I think the way that the international communities related to her death is complicated and I think there’s a lot of things that are really negative about it, like media responses and all these things that I don’t think are coming from a good place. But, there really does seem to be this feeling from here that people felt like she became part of the society. Someone who works with Jineoloji in Europe, who never met Anna, but she came to speak to me and Gelhat and some other friends who knew her said, tell me about this person, because my Kurdish friends in Rojava, they got so upset when she fell Sehid and they said, she wasn’t an international she was one of us. She really managed to make connections here.
Someone else, another friend of ours, said, and I think it’s really true, that they never knew her so happy as when she was here. When you contacted her here, she was as happy as we’d ever known her and I think this was a place that made a lot of sense for her to be, and the way that she talked, the clarity, and almost simplicity that she saw politics with, and saw revolution with, really fit with the work. She said to me once that she came wanting to help the Kurdish struggle and wanting to support but then she realised it was more important to learn and education became really, this important thing. I think she would have been here for a very long time, there were a lot of stories coming from her about when she was coming back, but I was not convinced by any of them. They kept moving, you know, she was coming back at this time, but then, okay a few more months and then ‘I’ll come back for the bookfair’… ‘Okay, my brother’s birthday’, so I don’t think she was coming back anytime soon.

Heval Gelhat: To add a point to that, I remember some Kurdish Hevals spoke to me, who had travelled here for a delegation and obviously met Anna here, and, I don’t think she was coming back from what they told me. I think she had some long term plans, she was going to get involved in other structures here after doing the time she did I the YPJ. So yeah, I think she would have been here for quite a long time. I think it’s understandable, I mean from being here, I can see how that could happen. There’s so much to learn here.
I think, to be honest, Berivan has said almost everything that I know about what Anna was doing here, I knew about the YPJ academy, but I think beyond that I didn’t really know much else really, so yeah, that was the only thing I wanted to add to that basically.
On another note, where Berivan was talking about Anna being quite fearless, I think I knew that even before she came to Rojava.

She was like this in England as well?

Heval Gelhat: Yeah, I mean, I was with her when we had to confront fascists in Dover and she actually got very badly hurt in this situation, it showed how fearless she was. She went into where the fascists were to try and stop another comrade from being hurt and got hurt in the process herself. She had no fear, she just went straight in there and did what she had to do. I spoke to another friend of mine who was in Rojava at the same time as the confrontation with the fascists and a lot of the Kurdish hevals who were on the front lines here were saying, ‘wow, I’m glad I’m not there, that looks really scary’. They actually said they would rather be on the front in Rojava than in Dover, so it just shows how brave Anna could be. No matter how bad a situation could be, she would always be prepared to stand her ground.

What did you hear about when she fell Sehid, when she lost her life?

Heval Berivan: It changed, there was a version of the details of what happened that changed and I think now we have as close to clarity and a reality as anyone does. Obviously it’s a war and these things are confusing, there were reports where at one point they were in a convoy and then it was this and then the understanding that she was in a defensive position in Afrin with three other soldiers and there was one strike from a drone, and some time past and people were back outside for whatever reason, there’s a slightly different version of this story, but after a while they came and made another strike, three people lost their lives and one was injured.

You don’t know where her body is?

Heval Berivan: As far as we know no one has been allowed to recover the bodies, so, there is no body. Which I think has affected how things are, my understanding is that here, the funerals are quite focussed around the body, so it’s affected how the process has been, when there is a body of a Sehid and when there isn’t, I think it’ different here. It’s kind of the same in the UK for sure, there is no funeral and a lot of official things have not been able to happen, but our community in the UK held a memorial and for us it was the funeral, because Anna’s family came, and we all have a good connection with her family. But anyway, because it was organised by her friends, we would not have had charge of her body anyway. That would have always been a family thing, so for us we had the ceremony that we would have had anyway. Which I think is slightly different here.
Heval Gelhat: Anna’s family had a memorial of their own as well in Lewes, which I was honoured to be a part of, but again, there has been some campaigns to bring her home. The friends here do this quite a lot. It’s also really good that Anna’s father, Dirk, was able to come here as well, he came here in November, along with another Sehid’s father, Jack Holmes, I think it was a really good experience for both of them, to be able to come here.

Heval Gelhat: I think it’s really good to have them come here, and you know, to see what it was that their children fought for.

So in general, what was the reaction of the people around you when they heard that Anna lost her life?

Heval Berivan: I think there’s a lot of different relationships to Anna’s death, there’s the close friends, many of whom are people I know and a circle that I’m very much in, then obviously, there are friends that I don’t know. So there’s these groups of close friends; friends from longer ago, friends from Bristol, and Anna’s family. There are a lot of people who didn’t know she was there until they heard she fell Sehid. Some people, like old friends from longer ago only found out from the news. They hadn’t had touch in years, but they still felt a connection and they only found out from the news, which I think is very difficult. Then there is a wider set of people, who maybe didn’t know her personally but knew her politically or didn’t know her, but knew groups that she was part of.
There’s been a huge, really amazing set of responses from all these groups and a sense of a community having lost a political presence and a political being, and I think that has been really amazing. There’s a lot of stuff that has been written and shared by them. It was also such a big thing in the media, if only briefly, but very big, and I feel very torn on that. In one way to make this issue more high profile is good, but I think that the reason that Anna’s death was such a big thing in the mainstream media is not for good reasons at all. I think it’s for patriarchal, imperialistic reasons, because, look at her face, of course that’s going to sell your newspaper. I think that’s really disgusting.
So there’s all these different moments and responses, and for us personally, for the people that I know and that we know, everyone was completely shattered and heartbroken. For me it’s the closest person to me who I’ve ever lost, it was the biggest grief that I’ve had, apart from grandparents who were very old, and there’s a sense of the natural timing of things, but a closer friend to me had never died so, it was an experience about grief as well.
How people really responded I think, was coming together, it’s not been perfect and there have been complexities, but actually I feel really proud of our community and I think we’ve seen the strength in our community by how we came together practically. For example, organising of the memorial and the event, and a lot of people are organisers, so they want something to do, so they organised the event. But also, prioritising each other emotionally, really for months, like a group of us have stayed in touch in this really concrete way and prioritised coming to see each other, from Sweden, from France, from all parts of the UK, making that a focus, and trying to be gentle with each other. I think the period of grief has an intensity and that intensity will fade again and we will go our separate ways, but you did see something really powerful in that time. I really felt it.

Heval Gelhat: I think fortunately for me, I was able to find out from a very close friend what happened to Anna, the word got out quite quickly after the first people found out that she was dead, mostly because of social media and I think some people unfortunately found out that way, and I think it’s so devastating to find out from social media as well, that somebody you know and care for has been killed. So, yeah, I was lucky that I found out before this happened. It was obviously still really devastating.
I think the one thing that has come out of this as well is that I’ve got to meet a lot of people who were really close friends with Anna who I had never met before then and I know why they were friends with Anna, because they are really decent people and I’m really glad I got to meet them. I just wish I could have met them under better circumstances, but I’m thankful that I have got to meet them.
For me, I think it has also been very difficult because I think some people have gone back to doing what they need to do in their lives, and obviously people have a lot of responsibilities and things they can’t just drop, but for me there hasn’t been enough focus on Kurdistan. Since Anna died that has to be my priority. I think her death has made me very focussed on this situation because, for someone to die for a cause like this, there has to be something very much right about this. You don’t risk so much unless it’s really, really, worth it. I want to know why things here are so worth it, because I think they must be if Anna put her life on the line for it, which she did. So I want to be a part of this and learn as much as I can and to keep the spirit of what she fought for alive.

Is there anything you want to add to the end of this interview?

Heval Berivan: I just wanted to add a bit to what Heval Gelhat was just saying. People have reacted in a lot of different ways, but something that I wrote in my diary not long ago, that I realise has become really strong for me, is that, some people would say of me that I could never switch off in life and not think about the important things. But, I feel a difference now that it’s not possible anymore to go through this process where you kind of, just for a moment, put your hands up in the air and think, ‘what can I do anyway? What is this? I could just give up’ when you’re frustrated politically, that just isn’t possible anymore, now that someone close to me has died. I don’t have that anymore. That’s not to say that Anna’s death has affected everyone the same way.
It’s not necessarily about being here or about Kurdistan, although this will always be important, but just in terms of fighting for change and for revolution. I feel this, kind of steady drive that is more powerful and more constant than it was before. I also know that to have gone so far in my life, and never to have lost a close friend in the struggle is a sign of where I’m from, and a privilege and that for so many people here, the normality is always having lost people in the struggle. I know that that’s how it is, but non-the-less it was a change for me.
Something that I’ve learned recently is how much learning about Helin has affected other people’s decision to come here and how people have related to it, and at first, from a distance it was linked with this media thing that I find really disgusting and I found it a bit strange to hear this, to hear people who had never met her and didn’t know her, and at first I was like, ‘why?’. Obviously I’m devastated, but why is everyone else more devastated by Anna than by the Kurdish comrades she was with dying. I think there’s something in that when it comes to the media but since I’ve met people here, a lot of people from Germany but from other places as well, have been able to much more clearly explain to me that when they learned about her story, it was, like, similar to their story. So they understood that it was possible for them to do this, it wasn’t just this thing that people completely different to us do. It was something that people in our world can do and that they could connect with in some way. It’s not like everyone has to troop of and join the YPJ and do exactly the same thing, but to join in and be part of the struggle in some way, and explained to me like this, it really makes a lot of sense. I do think it’s really beautiful and I wanted to say, I’ve met a few of these people and you guys are here as a group and I think Anna would have really liked you.

Heval Gelhat: Yeah, I think, even back in England, speaking to some of the Kurdish Hevals there, a lot of them didn’t know Anna, but as soon as she fell Sehid, they wanted to know who she was. I think what is really good, as you were saying Berivan is that people could have made an image of her from the media and stuff. But they didn’t, they spoke to people who knew her and some of them came over here as part of delegations, and they got to learn about her here as well. For me, that’s really special as it shows that they’re prepared to come straight to the people that matter and ask us about her, not to just take the opinions of some journalist who didn’t know her at all. I think as well that people here put so much of their time into helping those who have lost people and, you know, everyone here has lost loved ones and people they care about as well, but they saw that we were hurting and I think they’ve gone above and beyond to help us as well. I couldn’t thank them enough for that. I brings a lot of hope to me. I feel very much at home here as well.

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