After being captured by PKK guerrillas in the 1990s, a young Turkish soldier from a nationalist background turns into a pro-Kurdish peace activist.
This is an excerpt from an interview with Yannis Vasilis Yaylalı by Corporate Watch.
As a young Turk from a nationalist background, Yannis was eager to join the army and fight against the PKK in the 1990s. After just a few months, he was captured by the guerrillas, and spent two years in captivity. This experience completely changed his views and his life, and he now lives as a Kurdish solidarity activist on the border between Turkey and Iraq, and is a member of Conscientious Objectors Association.
Read the full interview here.
“In September, five or six months after I came to the military, I was captured by PKK guerrillas, close to here, 30-40 km away. Before that, thirty or forty of our soldiers were killed by the guerrillas during an army operation against the PKK. We were sent to help. We went on a three day operation to a mountain called Kale Mehmet to push out the guerrillas. 500 soldiers searched for them for two days. Rangers told us that there were guerrillas in a certain area but we didn’t really believe them. A small group of us went – twenty-five or twenty-six. We went to the top of the hill to get ready for a small battle and prepared with sandbags. It was dark and raining.
Then at around 6 or 7pm we heard bullets above us. The guerrillas were shooting. But not directly at us: they wanted us to go back. The guerrillas didn’t want to kill soldiers because the military would be glorified and the funeral would be a big occasion in the city. Nationalism would be fueled.
I got shot just above my knee. I ran and fell down with my backpack on in the dark. I fainted by a riverbank. I laid there for hours and hours. I couldn’t stand up, and my other leg was also injured.
Early in the morning I crossed the river and crawled to try to reach a burnt village. I was losing blood and needed food. I used a T-shirt to wrap around my leg. I ate margarine that had been left in the burnt village. I thought I would die, and I knew that there were guerrillas around. I had been told not to be captured alive. ‘They’ll skin you alive!’ I had been told, ‘don’t be captured alive.’ I kept one grenade for the guerrillas and one grenade to kill myself. I rested in a house. I heard someone and reached for my hand grenade, but it was a kitten who was also searching for food.
I left the burnt village and climbed up to a small cave. Whilst I was sleeping in the cave on the second day, a female guerrilla came. She was collecting fire wood. She tried to wake me up by shaking me. This was the first time I’d seen a woman guerrilla alive. I had often seen female dead guerrillas. I wanted to throw the hand grenade but I couldn’t reach it. She called the other guerrillas and they came. They told me to relax and they took my hand grenades away. They said: “We are Kurdish and we’re from the ARGK [now the HPG – the armed wing of the PKK]. You are a prisoner of war.” I waited to be killed and I imagined how they were going to kill me.
They lifted me up and helped me to walk. They took me to a small camp. The guerrillas were preparing a meal by the water, using the river bank. They had a fire but nobody could see them. Şerif Goyi came and said to me: “You’re a prisoner of war and we follow the Geneva convention.” In 1994 the PKK were practizing the Geneva Convention and a year later they signed up to it officially.
Şerif Goyi said: “When conditions are better we can help you to leave the country, and maybe you can go to Europe.” In Turkey, if a soldier is captured by the PKK, he would be seen as weak and he wouldn’t get help from the government.
The guerrillas used radios and stated: “We have captured İbrahim,” so that the Turkish soldiers could hear. This was so that the military knew that I hadn’t run away.
A couple of days later I was taken to a camp on a mule. There was a dead guerrilla, wrapped in a blanket, who was also being carried on another mule. When we came to the guerrilla camp, close to the border – between Roboski and Uludere – we found that the military were bombing. The guerrillas were quite calm but I was panicked. We crossed the border to south Kurdistan [Iraqi Kurdistan] and reached a guerrilla camp.
When we arrived, they put me in a cave the size of a room. I could walk a little outside, but not very far. They wanted to check whether I was a professional soldier or whether I was on compulsory service. Mustafa Karasu [Deputy Chairman of the PKK] came and told me: “You’re not a professional soldier.” He told me about the PKK, why they were defending themselves, and he explained that the state of Turkey was colonizing Kurdish land and assimilating the Kurdish people.”
Continue reading on Corporate Watch’s website.
Source URL — https://roarmag.org/2016/05/18/corporate-watch-yannis-vasilis-interview/