I wrote and gave this talk at a reception in Parliament shortly after Kosta’s death.
I would like to start by taking this opportunity to thank the Kurdish people from the Rojava region for looking after my son and honouring him and for their support in his repatriation and the financial assistance they’re giving us for this. I’d also like to thank the people from the Kurdish region of Iraq and particularly the Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani for their support of my husband during this difficult time and for pulling out all the stops to expedite the paperwork so that we can bring Kosta home. It is heart-warming to see Kurdish people coming together over a common goal and it bodes well for the future. I’d also like to thank the Foreign and Commonwealth office and the police for their advice, support and encouragement and my MP Dan Jarvis and his office for their unstinting support, advice and empathy which helped keep us strong; my family, friends, acquaintances and even total strangers for their hugs and exceptional support which have helped ease our grief. We’d also like to thank the media in the UK and Greece for the respect and dignity they have shown in their discussion of Kosta.
Kosta was not a mercenary. He wasn’t an out of work soldier looking for an adventure or something to do to pass the time. After fulfilling his obligation to Greece by doing his national service there, he joined the Royal Marines and only left his well-paid job there in order to go to Syria to fight against so called IS. He wasn’t paid a wage as a reward for going out to oppose IS; he gave up a wage to do it.
As a Royal Marine I was told Kosta was exemplary. While serving in the Marines and on exercise in Nevada, I am told he saved the life of a colleague by administering timely first aid. He was also one of the first on the scene when Luke Island lost his life in the Cairngorms and he insisted on keeping a long vigil at Luke’s side until the necessary authorities arrived. While in Rojava he worked alongside thousands of Kurds to create a corridor so that the trapped Yezidi people whose plight touched the heart of the British nation could leave mount Sinjar and escape to relative safety in Rojava. While participating in this he administered first aid to an injured colleague and carried him down the mountain to safety, saving his life. When Ashley Johnston fell Kosta went to retrieve his body. We are told he was a positive motivating force and always first to volunteer. Kosta would never ask someone to do something that he himself wasn’t prepared to do first.
|Ashley Johnston and Kosta. Both served in the same YPG unit and both died within a week of each other.
Kosta was determined to make a difference and although this is not a way that many of us would have had him choose, it was the way he considered the best for him and I am proud of him for finding the courage to do this. He went out to oppose so called IS of course but really he went out to support the fundamental rights of every human being to live in their own country, with a government they have chosen rather than one imposed on them by religious ideology, the right to worship the God of their choice, in the way they choose, to celebrate their own culture and language, to read and speak freely, to make music and enjoy art or play football without fear of brutal execution. In other words he was a humanitarian who, in his own words, wanted to help.
We have found the support of so many people stunning and inspiring. We welcome it but we must remember that he is not the only person to have died at the hands of so called IS. He is not the only hero. I am not the only mother who is grieving. We mustn’t forget Ashley Johnston, Ivanna Hoffmann, James Foley, Ali al Sayyed, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Abbas Medlej, Hervé Gourdel killed by an affiliated group in Algeria, Alan Henning, cameraman Raad al-Azzawi, Peter Edward Kassig, Haruna Yukawa, Kenji Goto Jogo, Hujam Surchi of the Peshmerga, Moaz al-Kassasbeh of Jordan, 21 Coptic Christians, 500 Kurdish men and women combatants, the victims of Charlie Hebdo, the Iraqi soldiers executed and dropped into mass graves, the group of 13 year olds executed for playing football, and the thousands of civilian women and children sold into slavery or brutally murdered for being the wrong religion or race. There are many more who we don’t know about and can’t name.
Does any human being really believe this self-titled IS is Islamic? Does any rational person really believe it is a state? It has repeatedly proved through its actions that it is a gang of genocidal, mass murdering, and sex trafficking terrorists and we should give them a name that reflects this. To call them anything else lends them credence.
Kosta may not have been supporting British political interests with his actions but he was certainly supporting British values. Values that are pretty standard across the Western world and that we take for granted. Values that make me grateful every day that I live in Europe. He was born on the day of the Deal bombings and in the year that the Berlin wall fell. He saw the Balkan wars, the Afghanistan war and the Iraq war. He was brought up in a multi-cultural, multi lingual family. He was taught to value Democracy, religious freedom and the rights of women. He watched while the Western world joined wars to promote these values and then he watched while genocide and brutal executions took place, while women were sold into slavery, and those same governments did nothing. Being brought up to think critically and having acquired a set of specific and valuable skills he decided that it was cowardly to stand by on the sidelines so he went to do what he could and what he believed was right. In our family we have always believed that if something needs to be done you step up and get it done, rather than wait for someone else to do it and he did exactly that, in the end giving his life for these values.
He was one small drop in a massive ocean but he has caused big ripples and now I ask that the governments and media across the world turn their attention to so called IS. Shine the spotlight on them so brightly that there is no shadow deep enough for them to hide. Name and shame every government and politician that supports this organisation either covertly or overtly and ensure they are sanctioned, name and shame every organisation that sells them weapons, buys their oil or does any business with them at all and ensure strong penalties. Self-titled IS needs two things in order to continue their foul work. They need people and they need money. Let’s think creatively about how we can cut off their supplies of both even if it means rethinking treaties.
Not everyone can be a Kosta but there are elections coming up. If you are feeling politically apathetic but have strong feelings about self-titled IS, then here is a cause and a clear reason to get involved. Ask your MP what their view is on so called IS. Ask what they are going to do about it. Ask what will be done to immediately secure a humanitarian corridor into Rojava so that the refugees who Kosta helped can now have the aid they need. Ask what our government is going to do to support the work of Mogens Lykketoft, the Danish MP who says that strong action is needed to ensure thousands of women who have been taken captive and are being sold to rich businessmen are returned to their former lives. Ask your MPs what they are going to do to ensure that pressure is put on countries where these women are being trafficked to ensure that it ceases and they are returned. Ask why we are not supporting the Kurds at the frontline in Syria by, at the very least, equipping them with defensive equipment such as bullet proof vests and night vision goggles. These Rojavan Kurds are the 300 Spartans fighting the massive Persian army; they are inadequately equipped but armed with spirit, conviction and the desire to protect home and hearth, they have shown that the so called IS is not invincible and they have halted its advance. We owe them as much help as we can. Let’s stop standing by and let’s instead think creatively about grinding down and putting out the biggest threat to the world since the Nazis.