Yannis Vasilis, born Ibrahim Yaylalı, is a former Turkish soldier who only discovered he was Greek when he was captured by militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in 1994.
Vasilis’ story became famous as he was originally an ultra-nationalistic Turk who only discovered his true Greek origins after he was captured by the PKK in a failed operation and the Turkish government refused to assist him.
They considered him a traitor and terrorist despite identifying as a Turk and wanting to be released.
Yannis learned that his great-grandfather was murdered during the Greek Genocide and that his grandfather was given to a Turkish family and raised as a Muslim Turk.
In a 2014 interview with the news site Demokrat Haber, Yannis said, “If they had told me 30 years ago that I was a Greek, I would have sworn at them.”
As revealed by Armenian Weekly, in the third month of Yannis’ captivity, he contacted his father and asked him to request information from authorities about his situation.
“My father went to Ankara to talk with a military officer who my uncle knew. But instead, another man turned up and told my father: ‘We know you, you are Greek, after all. We can call you ‘Greek members of the PKK’ and if we say that, you will be in a bad situation.”
“My father could not say anything. They [my family members] know they are converts [to Islam] but they feel Turkish. As they see themselves as Turkish, they think the state also sees them as such, but the state does not forget,” Yannis explained.
In the eighth or ninth month of his captivity, he received word that his family was told they were Greek.
“The journalists learned it while conducting interviews with my family. My mind then changed completely. Whatever the [Turkish] military said turned out to be a lie. Whatever the other side said, it was confirmed true,” he said.
Over the weekend, Turkey conducted a botched rescue mission of 13 Turkish military personnel, police officers and intelligence agents.
Many of them had been held in PKK captivity for five years, and one of the police officers was even recorded as a traitor.
Yannis, with his unique insight into the racism and barbarity of the Turkish military, gave his insights into the operation that led to many Turkish soldiers being killed and pretext given for a justification to impose greater persecution against Kurds.
His comments were given to Yeni Özgür Politika and goes as follows:
The PKK announced that within the scope of the Garê war, the Turkish army hit the camp where the captive soldiers were kept.
As a former captive soldier, I can say that the Turkish Army Forces (TSK) followed the same method many times in the past.
I believe that the PKK will make a statement about the fate of the captive soldiers very soon, probably thinking that the families of the captives are curious.
I know well how the Turkish army is shown to the public in TV series. Facts about the TSK, on the other hand, are 180 degrees in contrast to the movies.
Due to many statements I made, the public will know that I am a former soldier and that I was in the same region to fight the Kurds in the 90s.
Those who are still waiting for an army like in the TV series will be faced with great disappointment.
On this occasion, I would like to remind you once again of some of the events I have experienced in the past when I was a soldier.
In the 90’s, I was taken prisoner by the PKK after being wounded in a clash with the PKK in the Kela Memê mountain near Roboskî.
After a guerrilla stopped the bleeding on my foot, he was going to take me to a safer area of Southern Kurdistan.
After I recovered a little more, we started to move.
The guerilla received information that I was in their hands as he was listening to Turkish radios.
Believe it or not, Turkey prepared an ambush against its own soldiers and started to shoot on the route we were using just as we were passing through the border area.
Since the guerrilla knew the area well, he transferred me safely to the other side of the border.
Of course, the TSK was not limited to this, it took every opportunity as long as we were there.
From the Heftanîn camp to the Metina and Garê camps, Turkey carried out air strikes at every opportunity.
Especially when the location is determined, if journalists and delegations come to visit us, they evaluate it – the place where we stayed was determined and attacks followed immediately.
The guerilla saved me from death countless times at the expense of other lives.
I would like to add one more thing here, the list of those who wanted to take our lives was quite high, but if we ignore the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and what they do, half of everything would be missing.
The KDP brought us soldiers to the camps we were at many times.
This is why we were constantly changing camps in the triangle of Heftanîn, Metina, and Garê.
I know Garê, Turkey is quite far from the border area compared to where prisoner camps were in the past.
The KDP cannot be unaware that captive PKK soldiers are in that region.
Even in the past, Turkey still hit camps with captive soldiers.
Some segments that evaluate the recovery operation of Turkish prisoners see this was manipulated for greater power.
This will be achieved through a provocation of killed captive soldiers.
After that, there will probably be other provocations and the government will turn this into an opportunity for authoritarianism, and this constitutional work will be part of this process.
The PKK has already demonstrated its attitude of choosing Garê, the furthest region, in order to keep captive soldiers safe.
However, with the KDP intelligence, the TSK, who knew the location of the captive soldiers, hit the camp where the captive soldiers were held, again with an operation.
These two forces are naturally responsible for all deaths that may occur here.
We hope that there is no life or death situation, but if there is a life or death situation there, the state did it by planning for days with the KDP intelligence, just like in the Roboskî massacre.
Now I would like to say a few words to the relatives of the captive soldiers who attended the theatre organised by the state in front of [pro-Kurdish] Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Diyarbakır.
I will talk very hard, but if there was a massacre here, I am sorry to say that you had a share in it.
In this sense, we warned the relatives of the captive soldiers in this sense, especially me.
In particular, I said that while Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu was talking to you there, the TSK might be bombing the camp where your relatives are located.
The state was performing a theatre in front of the HDP, you may have been an extra in a play that will cost your child’s life.
In other words, they unconsciously made you have the stones of the stairs leading to the bombing of your relatives.
In our geography, the cost of trusting the state has always been heavy.
I hope you did not pay this bill with your children and relatives.
On this occasion, I repeat once again a call to the PKK to inform them about the bombing of the camp where the captive soldiers are located.
In addition, I do not know how many provocations the state has, but once again it showed that it will do all kinds of games to kill its own soldiers and blame the PKK.
The PKK has to release captive soldiers it has been holding on to for five years to an observer institution.
It has not happened today, but the state will pursue new provocations, the captive soldiers are in the mountains, deprived of their freedom and their families and also devastated for five years.
Having those prisoners in the hands of the PKK after this time will in no way serve anything positive.
We see that the opposite situation actually occur.
Organisations and activists fighting for human rights should step in and make efforts to facilitate the release of captive soldiers in PKK hands, regardless of war or peace.
Before anything happens to the captive soldiers there, they must be reunited with their families.