An Ontario man who died fighting Islamic State militants in northern Syria was remembered as a hero by members of Canada’s Kurdish community who gathered Monday in Ottawa to honour him.
Nazzareno Tassone, 24, was killed on Dec. 21 in the city of Raqqa, while fighting alongside the Kurdish People’s Defense Units, a U.S.-backed group that’s also known as the YPG.
Tassone’s family in Niagara Falls, Ont., only learned of the young man’s death last week when they received a letter from the YPG.
The letter didn’t provide details of how Tassone died, but it did reveal that his body had been seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIS or ISIL.
For Tassone’s family, Monday’s memorial – organized by Kurdish community members at the Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near Parliament Hill – helped them deal with their loss.
“He was remembered as a hero and a martyr,” Tassone’s younger sister, Giustina Tassone, said in an interview. “We don’t plan on having a funeral until his body is back so this is kind of like a mini funeral for us.”
Nazzareno Tassone left Canada in June, telling his family he was headed to Iraq and Turkey to teach English. His family had suspected, given Tassone’s long-standing interest in the military, that he might get involved in the Middle East conflict, but news of his death was the first time they learned he had been fighting in Syria.
Despite their shock, Tassone’s sister said the family is proud of what the young man did.
“Even though he didn’t tell us, we still loved him,” she said. “We just basically want him remembered for who he was and what he did for the Kurdish people.”
Tassone’s sister said the commemoration of her brother’s life in front of the National War Memorial in Ottawa was “overwhelming,” but the family was “very honoured” by the support.
Tassone’s memorial was attended by members of the Kurdish community, as well as a handful of people who identified themselves as YPG members in Canada, said Ihsan Kaya, co-president of the Toronto Kurdish Community Centre, who travelled to Ottawa for the event.
Community members held up photos of Tassone in his military YPG uniform, laid flowers at the site and gave short speeches, Kaya said.
“They say Tassone is like a hero and he helped the Kurdish people.”
Kaya’s group has been in contact with the YPG over efforts to recover Tassone’s body.
Negotiations between the YPG and ISIL are underway, he said, but the process is likely to be a long and difficult one.
WATCH: Ontario-born man killed while fighting ISIS in Syria
All costs related to retrieving and repatriating Tassone’s body will be covered by the YPG, Kaya has said, and the cost of the man’s eventual funeral in Canada will be covered by the Toronto Kurdish Community Centre.
A Global Affairs spokeswoman has said Canadian officials are doing their best to assist Tassone’s family but the unpredictable security situation in Iraq and Syria severely limits their ability to help.