A November 2019 Turkish airstrike in northern Iraq’s Gara region killed Eva Maria Steiger, a German environmental activist who joined Kurdish forces in the region, the People’s Defence Forces (HPG) announced on Wednesday.
Steiger, who used the nom de guerre Elefteria Hambi, had joined the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in late 2018, after travelling to northern Syria to join the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the Kurdish-led group’s fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in April the same year.
Steiger had taken her name from Elefteria Fortulaki, a Greek mother of two who self-immolated in protest in 2006, and the Hambach Forest, the old growth forest land in western Germany that environmental activists had been camping in to protect against commercial razing.
The anarchist activist decided to travel to northern Syria, which Kurds call Rojava (“the West”), to understand and join the struggle of the Kurdish people, and to fulfil what she saw as an obligation to the community.
“When the German government is giving weapons and letting the Turkish regime do what they want, it is also important that people from Germany come here and to say, ‘No! We don’t accept what you’re doing. We give an answer to that by being here and fighting with the people, and building up this revolution.’,” she said in an interview.
“Internationalist martyrs represent the true values of humanity,” umbrella organisation Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) Spokesman Zagros Hîwa told Medya News about Steiger’s passing. “Their personality and attitudes have gone beyond the borders of the self, class, gender, state, and ethnicity or nation.”
“Kurds can no longer be referred to as a people with ‘no friends but the mountains’,” Hîwa added. “Quite the contrary, we are honoured to have internationalist martyrs, each a majestic mountain of merits, values, and righteousness in whose sanctuary we reflect on building a new life and a new society.”
The spokesman continued:
“Her life and struggle represents a shining path against darkness, freedom against fascism, and good against the evil.
Inspired by the struggle of our fallen comrades and all other internationalist revolutionaries around the world, the Kurdistan Freedom Movement represents the new internationalism needed to unite all those walks of life which are being increasingly oppressed by the forces of Capitalist Modernity.
This new internationalism, conceptualised and formulated as Democratic Modernity by Leader Abdullah Öcalan, offers a new paradigm of struggle based on democracy, ecology, and freedom of women.
Only through building a new life and a new society based on democratic, ecological, and women-emancipatory values can we honour the memory of our fallen international comrades.
Hereby, we offer our heart-felt condolences to the families of all internationalist comrades, particularly the family of Şehid Elefteria Hambi, as we renew our revolutionary oath to take their struggle to victory.”
Steiger was born in Bavaria and studied physics in her home country, while also participating in social movements. As part of an anarchist group, she got to know Kurdish refugees and was introduced to the movement.
“Comrade Elefteria was a militant who marched on the path carved by Ronahî (Andrea Wolf), Nûdem (Uta Schneiderbanger), Şiyar (Jacob Riemer), Sara (Sarah Handelmann), Bager (Michael Panser) and Azad (Thomas Joham Spies),” the HPG said in the statement announcing her death.
The fight in northern Syria was not just a fight for Kurds, Steiger believed.
“Especially Turkey and Daesh (ISIS) try to destroy [the revolution] because they fear it,” she said in another interview. “They are afraid that this revolution can destroy the system of patriarchy and capitalism.”
“By fighting them I hope that I will have the same strength and be able to be so brave as the people are and were that they already joined this fight,” she continued. “To make it more real – I hope we can do this not just in Rojava. Because it’s not just the fight of the Kurdish people. It is also the fight of everybody that is oppressed by the system. This includes not just the Kurds, it includes everybody in the whole world.”
“The women’s revolution of Rojava echoed throughout the whole world and became a source of hope for all women whose hearts are beating for freedom,” the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), of which Steiger was a member during her time in Rojava, said in a statement commemorating her passing. “The sparks of our struggle spread from our lands and throughout the world inspired our comrade Elefteria to choose a new place to live and fight. The Rojava Revolution showed her that her ideas of a free life were not distant utopias, and that the ideas she dreamt of were being put into practice in Rojava.”
“My name is Elefteria. The name my parents gave me was Eva Maria,” Steiger had said when she was in the YPJ. She was 31 years old.