When his homeland needed him, Sebri Bamerni abandoned his life in Germany and took up arms. Bamerni was one of many retired Peshmerga fighters who’ve returned to Iraqi Kurdistan to fight invading Islamic State militants.
Bamerni died holding Mosul Dam against the militants. He was 51 years old.
“I remember when we were kids, we called ourselves the names of Peshmerga heroes,” Kurdish journalist Ayub Nisry posted on his Facebook after Sebri Bamerni was killed. “One of them was Sebri Bamerni. Because of his great activities against the Iraqi regime, his fame and bravery filled our ears.”
His funeral in his home village brought together family members from Germany and the United States—and was a reminder of the high human cost of the escalating war against Islamic State.
Bamerni was born in 1962 in the town of Bamerne. He was still in high school when he joined the Peshmerga near the Turkish border in 1979. By 1984, he was in charge of the Peshmerga forces loyal to the Kurdistan Democratic Party branch in Sheikhan and its surroundings.
Between 1984 and 1988, he fought against the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein.
The Ba’athists’ response to Kurdish resistance was the brutal Anfal campaign, in which the Iraqi army destroyed nearly 3,000 Kurdish villages and killed 182,000 Kurds. It included history’s worst chemical weapon attack—against the town of Halabja—and displaced 1.5 million people.
Bamerni left Iraq for a refugee camp in Turkey and quickly became the Kurdish camp manager. But because of his history of political activity, the Turkish government watched him closely and harassed him. He left Turkey for Greece before eventually settling in Germany.
But when American forces invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple Hussein’s regime, Bamerni came home. He became a deputy of head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party branch in Mosul. “He continued in that position until 2006, [but] because he had been injured five times and had many surgeries he went back to Germany,” his brother Mustafa Bamerni told War is Boring.
Mustafa, an American citizen, had also returned to Iraq. He worked as an interpreter for U.S. troops in Mosul and Baghdad until 2009. Mustafa was in Kurdistan when his brother decided to return to fight one last time.
“When ISIS occupied Sinjar, my brother Sebri came from Germany,” Mustafa said. “He arrived at night to our house and joined the Peshmerga in the morning.”
On Aug. 11, Sebri Bamerni posted a photo of himself on Facebook holding a gun and wearing a Peshmerga uniform. “We will go to war, this is the day of dignity and honor, don’t prevent yourself from it,” the caption read. “Victory is always for Kurdistan.”
His last photo appeared on Aug. 18 when he was at Mosul Dam—after a joint force of Kurdish troops and Iraqi commandos liberated it from militants.
Bamerni’s 24-year-old nephew Fawzi is a Peshmerga fighter as well, and also took part in the fight for the dam. “I was with him in the front lines two days before he was killed,” Fawzi said. “He told me to take few documents to Dohuk. I asked him to stay with him but he didn’t agree and said go.”
“He told me, ‘No one can kill me in the front,’” Fawzi continued. Sure enough, a militant sniper shot Bamerni in the back in the village of Sahrig near Mosul Dam.
“The Peshmerga who were with Sebri when he was killed told us that there was a heavy fight in that village,” Fawzi explained. “There were two snipers in one house. They fought them for a long time, they thought that they killed them so they entered the house. Sebri was the first one who entered the house.”
The Pesh hastily searched the house and moved on. But there was still one wounded fighter—a Russian jihadist—in the house. He shot Sebri in the back as he moved to clear another house.
“One week before Sebri’s death, he gave me a bullet and put one in his pocket,” Fawzi recalled, taking out the bullet. “He said, ‘We are men, we came to fight not to run away, we will fight as much as we can and if we know that we will be captured by ISIS, we will kill ourselves with these bullets.’ He put the bullet in my hand and said, ‘You will use this bullet only to kill yourself.’”
Bamerni’s oldest son Party Sebri, now 22, was born in Germany and traveled to Kurdistan for the funeral. He said that his father told him to take care of the family while he was gone fighting. “I will take care of the family as I promised him,” Party said.
Bamerni’s 46-year-old brother Idris lives in Nashville, Tennessee—home of the largest Kurdish community in the U.S. “I was in an interview for a job,” he told War is Boring. “When I came back, I saw my friends around our house in Nashville and my family was abnormal, so they told me that my brother had been martyred.”
“We held a funeral in Nashville for four days,” Idris said. “In our culture, funerals usually are three days but we have a large Kurdish community in Nashville and our relatives were coming to the funeral from far [away] USA cities.”
And it wasn’t just the Kurdish community that supported the Bamernis. “Our American neighbors came and helped us with food, water, desks, tables and places for parking cars that came to funeral,” Idris said.
After the four-day funeral in Nashville, Idris and his mother flew to Kurdistan to visit Bamerni’s grave and attend his funeral in Kurdistan.
Bamerni’s adventures had long inspired defiance in his family. “In the 1980s, I was arrested by Saddam’s regime when I was a student in high school because there was a photo of Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani in my pocket,” Idris said.
“The regime harassed us because my brother Sebri was a Peshmerga commander and he had many activities against the regime. I was released on 18 April 1987. I left the school and I went to the mountains to join Peshmerga.”
“It was a long time that my dad joined [the] Peshmerga and he fought against Saddam regime in many battles,” said Peiv Sebri, Bamerni’s 18-year-old, German-born daughter. “He was hoping not to be killed by Arabs, and we felt proud when we had been told that the terrorist fighter who killed my father was not Arab, [but] was from Russia.”
“My dad served the Kurdish nation for a long time, but unfortunately the Kurdish government ignored him,” Piev continued. “He even went to fight against terrorists with insufficient weapons, but now they are coming and telling us that our dad was a hero!”
Peiman Sebri, 23, was born in Greece before her father settled in Germany. “My dad didn’t fear anyone but God,” she said, weeping as she spoke. “When some people were making propaganda that ISIS will enter into Dohuk, my dad called us and said, ‘Don’t fear, I’m on the front lines. I will not let them come.’”
“We are so proud that my brother had been martyred for Kurdistan and Kurdish honor and dignity,” Idris said. “Why would I be sad for his martyrdom? He was 51 years old and he had been wounded more than four times when he was fighting against Saddam’s regime.”
“If his death was in a hospital, no one would ask about him,” Idris added. “But when he became a martyr in a battle against ISIS terrorists, we are proud of him.”
“And as the family of Sebri, we are ready to fight against ISIS.”