“I have no regrets. I died doing what I believed was right, defending the weak and staying true to my ideals of justice, equality and freedom. Always remember that ‘every storm begins with a single raindrop.’ And try to be that raindrop yourself.”
These are the words that Lorenzo Orsetti, a young Italian fighter, left behind in case he was killed in action. The Kurdish YPG defense units released his message on Monday after the confirmation of his death at the hands of ISIS. On Tuesday, the Kurds published a video Orsetti had recorded in which he says: “I am an anarchist, I believe in freedom. If I had to do it again, I’d make the same choices a thousand times over.”
Orsetti—known in his unit by the nom de guerre Tekoser, meaning fighter—was a 33-year-old from Florence who was killed in Baghouz, in the last territorial enclave held by ISIS in Syria. In the heat of what has been called “the final battle,” thousands of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen fought the hundreds of Islamist militants making a last stand in the village there. The ISIS fighters were few, but—as everyone feared—determined to fight to the bitter end. Orsetti, “Orso” (“Bear”) to his friends back in Italy, died in an ambush together with his whole unit.
By Monday, even though news of his killing had emerged, nobody from the state institutions had gotten in touch with the Orsetti family. “I would have liked it if the institutions, the politicians, had reached out to us, but no one has gotten in touch with us,” his father Alessandro told il manifesto on Monday. “Even if his body has not been found … there are still his photos, his documents. We found out from the TV. Then it was confirmed by the Kurds, his commanding officer called us. He invited us to go there for the commemorative service, as Lorenzo’s wish was to be buried in Syria.”
“They’re treating him as second-class among those who fell in battle. If it had been someone else, maybe they would have called us. But perhaps he was on the ‘wrong’ side of the fence politically,” his father said.
After the initial silence, the Ministry of External Affairs finally reached out to the Orsetti family on Tuesday, and the Mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, has announced an official event to commemorate Orsetti’s life at the Palazzo Vecchio on Friday.
On Tuesday evening, Orsetti’s father announced that fellow Kurdish fighters had recovered his son’s body from the Syrian battlefield, and that he would be interred in Syria according to his wishes.
Orsetti arrived in Syria in late September or early October 2017, according to Davide Grasso, himself a former fighter with the YPG: “I met him in Syria. It was in the last stages of the battle of Raqqa. After training, he participated in the offensive on Deir Ezzor. Then, in January, the Kurdish canton of Afrin was invaded by the Turks, and he, together with other internationalists, insisted on going there. He distinguished himself in battle, and was among the last to leave the canton. Lorenzo was among the soldiers who had the most generous disposition when it came to fighting.”
He had quit his job at a restaurant just outside Florence to join the YPG in battle because he identified with the democratic ideals that the Rojavans had been working toward for years: “a more just and equitable society,” as Orsetti himself put it in an interview broadcast not long ago on Radio Onda Rossa. In his native Florentine neighborhood of Rifredi, his departure for Syria led to the creation of the “From Rifredi to Afrin” Facebook group. Lorenzo’s last messages on Facebook told about the battle of Baghouz, “slowed down” these days because of the presence of thousands of civilians. However, as Grasso tells us, “slowing down doesn’t mean you don’t fight; it actually means more ground combat and fewer air strikes.”
It was ISIS who first broke the news of his killing: the website Amaq, which has been for many years the “news agency” of the self-styled caliphate, published photos of Lorenzo’s body (described with contempt as an “Italian Crusader”) and of his documents.
“We in the YPG, we never touched a prisoner. What ISIS has been doing is disgusting,” says a friend of Lorenzo’s, a former anti-ISIS fighter himself, who goes by the nom de guerre Dilsoz. “We fought together in Afrin, in a war that concerns all of us, where Turkey has chased away the SDF to replace them with jihadists. When you die like he did, that’s when you become a martyr, because the things you died for will never die.”
“Lorenzo was a comrade, one of the proletariat, a working man. He was a simple man, he didn’t need any great political speeches to know which side he was on,” Dilsoz recounts. “Everyone loved him, and sharing just came naturally to him.” Two months ago, another Italian soldier fell in the fight against ISIS: Giovanni Francesco Asperti, aged 50, known in his unit as Hiwa Bosco. Lorenzo and Giovanni sacrificed their lives in the service of a revolution—however, in Italy, the political and judicial system keeps repressing those espousing the same ideals.
On Monday, Interior Minister Salvini tweeted out “a prayer for Lorenzo and contempt for his villainous murderers.” However, he is conveniently ignoring the fact that the Turin office of the General Investigations and Special Operations Division (DIGOS, an anti-terrorism agency under his ministry), together with local prosecutor Pedrotta, have been trying for months to restrict the civil liberties of other Italians who have fought in Syria just like Orsetti did. On March 25, the judges of the preventive measures section of the Court of Turin will decide on the request by the state for special surveillance for five residents of Turin and former anti-ISIS fighters themselves: Grasso, Paolo Andolina, Jacopo Bindi, Fabrizio Maniera and Maria Edgarda Marcucci. In Sardinia, the same measure has been requested for Pierluigi Luisi Caria, who also fought alongside the Kurds, whose hearing was Tuesday.
This judicial process is not a proper trial, and there is no sentence, just a decision to be communicated in writing regarding the “activation” of special surveillance measures. Caria’s hearing on Tuesday, just the latest in a long series of measures taken by the state against him, was accompanied by a protest outside the courthouse in his support. The basis of these requests for surveillance is nothing less than the political criminalization of the fight against ISIS: according to the Turin prosecutors, the five former fighters should be deprived of their civil liberties, without being accused of an actual crime and without a proper trial (a legal procedure which comes straight out of the fascist era, enacted by the Rocco Code), because they are supposedly dangerous to society: they have had military training and have (left-wing) political ideas that DIGOS and the public prosecutors believe to be a risk for the community.
The bitter irony is that the five have been fighting for many years as political activists on behalf of the very same community, for the right to education and housing and at the forefront of the No-TAV movement. At Caria’s hearing on Tuesday in Nuoro, the prosecutors tried to change the motivation behind their request for special surveillance: no longer because he is supposedly a risk due to fighting ISIS alongside the Kurds, but because of his domestic political activities, including taking part in the shepherds’ protests in Lula on Feb. 13, and even the mere fact that he wrote the slogan “Socialismo e indipendentzia” (“Socialism is independence”) on a wall. The judge remanded his decision to the next court hearing, scheduled for April 18.
“The municipal prosecutors have brought forward new ‘evidence’ against me, including my book,” Grasso tells us. “And the head of the Turin DIGOS, Carlo Ambra, simply copy-pasted our Facebook posts and the speech read by Jacopo at the demonstration in Rome in support of Ocalan. It’s all because of ideas, books, words. They are creating a toxic environment that is threatening those still fighting in Rojava. I spoke with Lorenzo just a few days ago, and he expressed his solidarity with us. If they approve special surveillance on us, it will be a threat against those who are still down there fighting.”
“Now, after Lorenzo’s death, I’d like to see how the judge can possibly look his comrades-in-arms in the eye and still condemn them,” Dilsoz tells us. “If you condemn them, you condemn the whole of the YPG.”