The family of an Australian killed fighting with Kurds against Islamic State says Turkey is the problem.
The last time Keith and Michele Harding saw their son, he told them he needed a break and was off for a few days.
Reece Harding was an insatiable traveller so a last-minute break to Fiji, his parents thought, was entirely in keeping with how he liked to live.
But the 23-year-old, with his broad smile and Hollywood good looks, wasn’t bound for a beach in the South Pacific.
Instead, he was off to the distant battlegrounds of Syria.
By the time his parents discovered that, via federal authorities who came knocking at their Gold Coast home, Reece was in Iraq preparing to cross the Syrian border to join the fight against Islamic State.
Despite his mother’s desperate appeals to come home, Reece spent six weeks there, fighting alongside the Kurdish militia group YPG who are in close combat with terrorists Australia and its allies have vowed to defeat.
At the end of that sixth week – during a night mission to clear a village of explosives and booby-traps planted by IS fighters – Reece stepped on a land mine.
‘The next time we saw him was to identify his body,’ Keith tells AAP, almost a year to the day since his son was killed.
It was only with the help of the Kurdish community Reece fought with that the Hardings were able to bury him.
The community drew on friends in high places to get his body out of Syria to be buried in a cemetery not far from his parent’s home.
It’s a place Keith visits a few times a week to talk, and sometimes to gently berate his son for the cataclysmic shift he brought about in their lives.
Since Reece died, the couple has been adopted by the Kurdish community.
And they’ve become loud and persistent voices about what is wrong with Australia’s foreign policy when it comes to defeating IS, and stopping the slaughter of Kurdish people.
‘Just one word is the major problem – Turkey,’ Keith says.
Michele and Keith say the Australian government and its western allies are well aware of the atrocities Turkey, which is headed by President Tayyip Erdogan, is committing against Kurds within its borders, and of Erdogan’s role in fuelling the war in Syria.
But because of Turkey’s strategic importance, they won’t do anything about it.
Michele went to Canberra recently with members of the Australian Kurdish community and met with retiring Liberal Party veteran Philip Ruddock.
‘We said: why aren’t you making this public? Standing up in parliament and telling people about what Turkey is doing?,’ Michele says.
‘And his response to that was: ‘Do you expect me to stand up and embarrass Julie Bishop?’
‘My answer to that was yes, people are dying.’
She says Mr Ruddock later told her: ‘We know how odious Erdogan is. But we keep our discussions behind closed doors.’
At the end of the meeting Ruddock told Michele the Kurds had a powerful advocate in her.
It’s a role the Hardings feel driven to fulfil.
They feel they owe it to their son to draw attention to the plight of the Kurdish people that affected him so powerfully that he went to join their fight to drive IS terrorists out of their homeland.
‘It was important to Reece. You don’t want him to die in vain,’ she says.
‘And then when you delve into it, you see that terrible things are happening.
‘That proverb does sum it up: evil prevails when good people do nothing. And so many of us do nothing and think, oh you’re just one person. But we are all one person.’
Michele hates the tag of activist that’s often applied to her.
‘I’m not an activist. I don’t want to be an activist. I’ve been a housewife for 24 years.
‘But when you see the suffering of others how can you sit there and not try to make a difference?’
Source: Sky News Australia