Friday 23 March 2018

‘We were worried about Afghanistan, we thought Northern Ireland was safe’- soldier’s parents

Jennifer Cockerell

SAPPER Patrick Azimkar dreamed of settling down in Northern Ireland as he loved the place so much, his heartbroken father revealed.

Mehmet Azimkar, (61), said he thought the region where his 21-year-old son was gunned down was nice and peaceful.

The soldier's mother, Geraldine Azimkar, (58), said her youngest son called her just hours before he was shot by dissident republicans outside Massereene barracks in Antrim.

He was quiet and subdued as he was about to fly out to Afghanistan, Mrs Azimkar recalled.

She described life since his murder as the "worst nightmare that anyone can ever have" and said all she wanted is for her son to be alive again.

She said her life came to a standstill when she heard her son had been killed, as did those of her husband and their elder son, 28-year-old James.

She was told the devastating news by two members of army personnel who knocked on her door at 5am, but said she could not understand how he could have been killed as it was before he was due to start his tour of duty in Afghanistan.

"I said 'It can't be, it must be a mistake because he's still on the plane. The plane hasn't arrived yet in Afghanistan. How could he be dead?'," she said.

"It seemed completely and utterly surreal and unbelievable.

"It was just impossible to take it in, I'd just been speaking to Patrick a few hours earlier on the phone.

"It was the most terrible, terrible moment."

Mr Azimkar said: "It was like somebody put a stop to our existence. We're still living, we're still breathing, but we're in a different world now."

Mrs Azimkar said she and her husband sat for four hours until an officer who was assigned to the family arrived to give them further details.

"Nobody seemed to know what had happened, nobody could say what had happened, all they could just keep saying was he died of gunshot wounds, and the whole thing seemed just impossible to believe and impossible to understand.

"It was just a living nightmare and we were in a state of deep shock."

Mrs Azimkar said she had shared an emotional goodbye with her son when she spoke to him as it was their last phone conversation before he went to Afghanistan.

She said: "He was sort of quiet and subdued. He didn't say very much."

Mrs Azimkar, from Wood Green, north London, added that they "never dreamt" that the soldier would be killed in Northern Ireland.

She said: "We thought he was safer in Northern Ireland than around our area.

"Because around our area, you know, you hear a lot of young men being stabbed and things like that, and we thought 'Oh great, that's a safe place for him to be'."

Mr Azimkar added: "We were worried about Afghanistan. We thought Northern Ireland was nice and peaceful. Every time he came home, he was telling how he loved Northern Ireland and he was going to settle there."

Describing the sporty soldier, Mrs Azimkar said: "Patrick was a very lively sort of boy, very full of energy and very full of life.

"He had loads and loads of friends and was always very popular because he was funny and he made people laugh.

"He had a really good sense of humour and a good sense of fun, so he was fun to have around the place."

He had not planned to join the forces, and originally wanted to follow in his father's footsteps by becoming a carpenter, but could not find an apprenticeship to do so.

Eventually a friend told him that he could learn a trade by joining the Army, so he did so in early 2007.

Mrs Azimkar, who works one day a week at her local authority's children's services department, said his Army colleagues had helped and supported the family since her son's death, as had his childhood friends, with one even naming his baby after him.

The couple, who married in 1980 and have both had to give up working full-time due to their grief, said they sat through the first week of the trial but found facing his killers difficult.

Mr Azimkar said: "It's distressing and it's terrible. You can get angry sometimes, you just feel you can't even do anything."

His wife added: "It was difficult to hear the evidence. We knew a lot of it already - what it was going to be and what they were going to say.

"But still to hear it all again ... was very difficult.

"It's difficult to explain really, it's been chilling, shocking."

She added: "Nothing will bring Patrick back to us and what we want is Patrick back."

She went on: "In a way, until now we've just been living from day to day, just living in the short term.

"In the first year we were just living in a state of shock. Those first few months we could do nothing.

"Patrick always loved children and he always talked about having children, even though he was young.

"We've lost the grandchildren we would have had, and we've lost the daughter-in-law that we would have had. We've lost so much of our future, it's gone with Patrick."

Speaking of her other son, who works as a personal trainer, she said: "It's terrible for James. He's lost his brother, he's now on his own.

"We're still in a state two-and-three-quarter years down the line. We still have days where we just take the day as it comes. You can't think about the next day.

"But we know that we must keep Patrick with us, and he'll always be with us."

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