Mourners pay tribute to young Canadian man who died fighting ISIS alongside Kurdish militia
The sound of the Kurdish anthem on a cell phone pierced the silence and the cold on Monday as dozens of people gathered at Ottawa’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to pay tribute to a young Canadian who had died fighting the Islamic State.
Nazzareno Tassone, 24, died near Raqqa, Syria in December alongside three other members of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), with whom he was fighting.
He is the second Canadian volunteer to die overseas, and part of a stream of young men and women who have been drawn to the fight against the Islamic State, sometimes without any military experience to lean on. His death only came to light last week in a press release from the YPG hailing him, and fellow volunteer Ryan Lock, as “fallen martyrs.”
“We are very proud of our son and feel honoured,” his mother, Tina Martino, told the crowd that swelled to about 100 people through tears. She was joined at the ceremony by her younger daughter Giustina.
“I want everyone to know that we are fighting for the same reason. That’s what he believed in,” Giustina added.
Mourners had a photo of Tassone’s face pinned to their jackets; they each delivered a single long-stemmed rose to Tina and Giustina. Some kissed their hands.
Monday’s vigil was organized by members of the Kurdish community in Canada. A couple of young Kurdish women who live in Quebec spoke about how thankful they were for his sacrifice. They told his mother and sister that they are now their sisters.
Both Tassone and Lock’s bodies were captured by ISIS, and the YPG is in the middle of negotiations with the terror group to retrieve them for their families. A spokesperson for the Toronto Kurdish Community Center told VICE News last week that his group, as well as the YPG itself, will pay to repatriate Tassone’s body and bear any funeral costs, as they did with John Gallagher, the only other Canadian who has died fighting with the Kurds who was also a former Canadian infantryman. Tassone’s family has also launched a Facebook campaign to raise awareness about their efforts to bring his body home.
Tassone kept his intentions overseas from his family so as not to worry them, instead telling them that he was going to teach English in Iraq.
Neither Tassone nor Lock had any military experience, a theme among many Westerners who take up arms for the YPG. Giustina says Tassone always dreamed of officially joining the military in Canada, but didn’t want to go through the lengthy application process. A former railroad worker, he loved his nerf guns and live-action role playing (LARPing) back home in Edmonton. He felt strongly about the atrocities being perpetrated at the hands of IS militants, his sister said, but she never expected him to do anything about it.
“If people don’t do something then those pigs are gonna run free and it’s just a matter of time till something really really bad happens,” Tassone wrote to a friend and former reservist Mike Webster before he left home, according to messages between them obtained by the National Post. “Shall do my best to stay in one piece,” he wrote again just two weeks before he was deployed to the front lines, and ultimately his death, in Syria.
“He would have loved this,” Giustina said of the memorial. Says she’s coming to terms with his decision to go abroad to fight without telling them.
“I wish we were all gathered here under different circumstances, to celebrate a successful mission and not his death.”
With files from Natalie Alcoba