Many of the men and women standing before Ashley Johnston’s flag-draped coffin had never met him.
But the deep gratitude they felt for the sacrifice he made was evident in the tears rolling down their faces.
Dressed in the green, yellow and red of Kurdistan’s flag, mourners streamed into a Sydney chapel to bid farewell to the 28-year-old Australian army reservist on Thursday.
Mr Johnston was killed in February while fighting in Syria with the Kurdish YPG, also known as the People’s Protection Units.
He was shot in a clash with Islamic State (IS) forces in Rojava, near the Turkish border.
His family believe he arrived to take up arms in the conflict in late 2014.
He’d told his mother Amanda he was simply heading to the Middle East to do humanitarian work.
Mr Johnston’s body finally arrived home in Canberra last week, leaving Mrs Johnston to face the grim task of identifying him.
Sitting with hundreds of mourners, many with pictures of her son and a YPG star pinned to their chests, she listened on Thursday to the story of his legacy.
“We came from different lands, different cultures, different religions and different languages” Saadet Ozdemir, a Kurdish community member from Sydney, said.
“A young man from Canberra by the name of Ashley Johnston brought our communities together not just in Australia but globally.”
The service heard Mr Johnston was among eight fighters in a broken-down truck confronted and outnumbered by IS.
His comrades said he sacrificed himself to draw enemy fire, a move that saved them.
Mrs Johnston fought tears as she reflected upon her son’s actions.
“Ashley put his life on the line to stand up for what is good, for what is just, to protect and defend not just innocent people caught up in this war but you and I and people everywhere,” she said.
Kurdish Association of Sydney president Gulfar Olan said Mr Johnston would be remembered as the “great Australian human rights activist”.
“You gave your life so that our children and our community might live in peace and hope,” she said.
Men and women in khakis carried Mr Johnston’s coffin out of the chapel and into a waiting black hearse as mourners chanted “They are alive forever” in Kurdish.
Although fighting against IS, Mr Johnston could have faced prosecution for serving with a foreign irregular force.
It was a notion a representative from the Kurdish Association of Victoria labelled an absurdity.
“It cannot be emphasised enough that although Ashley did not die for Australia, Ashley did die fighting for values that we Australians call our own,” she told the service.
Mr Johnston will be buried in a private ceremony.