Jamie Bright’s twin brother Andrew, his mother Faye-Marie Kenny and his sister Leah. Photo: Karleen MinneyJamie Bright’s body lies frozen in a Kurdish hospital in the centre of one of the most geopolitically fraught places on Earth.
Mr Bright, 44, a former sapper in the Australian Army, was shot through the head by an Islamic State fighter on Wednesday last week, after about 16 months fighting with the Kurds during which he disposed of more than 100 booby-trap bombs.
Now his family want to cremate his remains and spread the ashes over the sea off Western Australia where his 21-year-old son Jake lives.
It won’t be easy. Speaking for the first time, Mr Bright’s family say the cross-border conflict between the Syrian Kurds and Turkey is at an explosive pitch.
“We can’t get him back yet. The borders are closed and we can’t get his body through,” said his twin brother Andrew, a forestry worker who lives in Canberra. “It’s all going to be a political shitfight … because Turkey’s already denounced him as a terrorist.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the department was “providing advice to Mr Bright’s family”.
It’s understood Australia’s Ambassador in Ankara, James Larsen, is involved in the case. But negotiations with Turkey are likely to be tricky given the deterioration in relations with the Kurds, with whom they are locked in a civil war that has killed thousands of people in the past year and destroyed Turkish towns near the north-east Syrian town of al-Malikiyah where Mr Bright’s body is being kept.
Fairfax Media understands Kurdish authorities believe they may have to take the remains through the Kurdish-controlled region of Iraq – a long and difficult transit.
Mr Bright’s family don’t know exactly what prompted him to go and fight. He had no previous contact with Kurdish issues. He spent a few years in the army in the 1990s before being medically discharged with a back injury. His mother Faye-Marie Kenny, 67, said her son remained a frustrated soldier.
“He wanted to be a soldier from the minute he was born. He used to march round with a stick and at his first opportunity he did join,” she said. “He was out well and truly before his time. He hadn’t achieved what he wanted to achieve and he saw a cause [in fighting with the Kurds] and something he could do to help.”
Ms Kenny had a two-hour visit from ASIO last year. The family continued to talk, text and email with Mr Bright regularly. Mr Bright sent his mother some money as recently as May 20 – just five days before he was killed.
Andrew said his last conversation with his brother on April 6 gave him the sense his brother wanted to come home, that “he was getting a bit ground down by the whole situation … the kids, the women and children and whatnot … wiring the kids up [as bombs]”.
The family is being treated with reverence by the Kurdish community, representatives of which visited them at Andrew’s house on Thursday and presented them with a framed picture and a flower arrangement.
“It was a lovely thing that they did,” Ms Kenny said. “Very comforting.”