I was born in the heart of Kurdistan, and joined the MKP, an insurgent organization in Turkey, as a young man.
Almost two decades after being imprisoned and tortured for my political struggle,
war is still raging in my mind .
My name in Turkish means ‘alive.’ Yasar. I was the first of four siblings. I asked her all the time. ‘When was I born, mother?’ She couldn’t remember. That it was 1975 is all she knew. ‘When?’ ‘I don’t know,’ she’d say. It was summer, she’d remember. I was born in the countryside, in Fême, a livestock farmstead outside Dersim province. The beating heart of the Alevis, the heart of the communists, the heart of the revolution.
Set on the steep hillsides above a river, our farms were far from each other, surrounded by the mountains of Anatolia. We had 400–500 animals. We’d go up the mountains in the morning. The beauty of nature would fill my eyes. It was like living in a fantasy.
We knew that there was a war going on in the mountains.
That’s where the rebels lived. People would help them when they came down to the village. The state didn’t want this, of course. Already from the early 70s, the situation was critical. The army started moving in, gradually chasing the population out. What would the rebels do without the people? That’s what they were thinking. That was their solution.
They came to my house, too. I remember my grandfather hiding our religious icons in the dirt so they wouldn’t reveal our faith. An officer told him, ‘you have to leave.’ ‘How can I leave?’ my grandfather asked him. ‘This is my home. This is where I was born. This is my heart.’
‘No,’ he insisted, ‘you’re helping the rebels. If you don’t go, we’ll kill you.’ ‘I’m right here,’ my grandfather answered. ‘Come and get me.’
They came back, twice, three times. He is still there today. Only two or three of the village’s 20–25 houses remain.
My parents and siblings left in the early 80s and moved to the city of Erzincan so that we could go to school.
The Armenian Genocide
The Pontic Genocide
The Dersim Genocide* In 2011 Prime Minister R.T. Erdogan apologized "on behalf of the state" over the killing of over 13,000 people during the Dersim rebellion (1937-38) and described the massacre as "one of the most tragic events of our near history". However, apology was viewed as an opportunistic move against the opposition party CHP. The same year the Turkish court didn't recognise it as a genocide.
Nothing has changed since then.
Parents are scared.
Children become insurgents.
The rebels hide in the mountains.
The Alevis end up in prison.
The chase continues.
We saw state oppression everywhere in Kurdistan. Our fellow villagers were tortured before our eyes. The rebels were hacked to pieces before our eyes. You’d see a soldier cutting off somebody’s ear or gouging out his eye and then turn to look at you, laughing out loud. The aim was to scare us. We were just kids at the time, four or five years old and all this happened before our eyes.
When I finished elementary school, my parents sent me to my uncle, my father’s brother, in Istanbul to study. I started in middle school.
In Istanbul things were different.
Everything was done in secret .
There were a brother and sister living in the apartment upstairs. I hadn’t realized at first. They were just simple people to me, my favourite neighbours because they’d play and laugh with me. After all, I was a child too! Then I woke up one day to screams and cries. I went out and saw their bodies being brought down.
It messed up my head. Why were they killed? I was deeply affected by their murder.
I thought school was pointless. I told my uncle I didn’t want to go anymore. I remember him saying:‘Go to school to become something when you grow up. If you don’t go to school, you’ll become a laborer.’
Without realizing, he was denigrating himself, because he belonged to that class too. What was it? Did he feel bad about being a laborer?
I’d react. ‘Look at what’s happening. Remember that nurse? She was educated, but she was killed and so was her brother.’
That’s when I decided to join the revolution. I was just 12 years old. I didn’t understand much, but just looking at what happened made me say:
‘When I grow up, I want to be a rebel.’
The first time I was arrested was in 1992 in Istanbul. I was there for the funeral of 12 insurgents killed in Dersim. They arrested me after the funeral. ‘You buy guns for the party and send them to Dersim,’ they said. I was just 17. They tortured me for three days and then released me.
They caught me again in 2000, a year after my interview with Armenian rebels who had been hit in Dersim. I was in Erzincan. I had gone to the supermarket to shop. I raised my eyes and saw a man in civilian clothes in front of me. I knew straight away that he was police. I turned my head, and there was another man behind me, staring. I knew I was surrounded in the supermarket. They jumped on me as soon as I stepped outside. I was calm, very calm.
That was it. They caught me.
They took me to the police station. They tortured me brutally for three days and, after failing to break me, they kept me illegally until my trial. They had no evidence. They just decided which law to use. They could have sentenced me to three years for helping the rebels, but they decided I was an insurgent, even though they had no evidence. ‘It’s over,’ they said. I was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Prison to me was the school I dropped out of .
I read more than 1,500 books. History, philosophy, economics. I acquired an even stronger conscience. I became even more revolutionary. The struggle intensified. We’d go on hunger strike two or three times a year. I had been on more than 20 hunger strikes by the time I was released. The law changed with regards to people like me in 2005 and I was released after five years.
When it was all over, I returned to Istanbul. I carried on as usual: hanging out with my comrades, unionism, newspapers… But whenever someone was arrested, they’d ask him:
‘ Where is Yasar ? ’
They wanted to catch me again. My comrades in the party told me I needed to get out of Turkey. If I got caught, my body wouldn’t survive the torture or prison, they said. I was in hiding for two years.
I came to Greece in 2010. I was caught in Alexandroupoli, held for four months and released. It wasn’t better than Turkey. There were 50 of us in a cell for 10. I slept on the bathroom door for the last month. Two people slept in the bathroom. I went to court and was released. I moved into the Lavrio Reception Center, near Athens, where other comrades of mine were living. I was given political asylum and a passport three years ago.
Then I found shelter here, in this place. At the Prosfygika.
One of the first things I did was go to a hospital. I couldn’t feel the ends of my feet in the winter; my entire body ached. ‘We can’t help you,’ the doctors told me. ‘It’s too late’.
‘You have to learn to live with your traumas.’
I went to a psychologist too. I remember telling him once: ‘You tell me what to do, but that’s not the point. I know what I have to do. But my head is like the sky; full of stars. What can you do for me? It’s a waste of time.’
The trauma is always there. The war in your head never ends. But a man who’s at war with himself is still alive. Still capable of resisting.
When the war in your head ends, that’s when you die.
I remember talking to my father once and he asked: ‘Who comes first? Me? Your mother? Or your comrades?’ ‘My comrades,’ I replied. ‘Right, sure,’ he answered, laughing. I told him I was serious.
‘You are a good father, but my comrades are more important.'
I was 10 years old when I left home. So my comrades always come first. Because I’ve lived with them most of my life. He understands it now. ‘You’re okay,’ he says. ‘You don’t need a mother or father; you’ve got lots of mothers and fathers.’
I’ m a communist. Communists don’t have a country. The world is our country. Dersim and Germany, they’re the same thing. We have no village. The world is our village. The proletariat. This is what I have learned in 20 years. Sometimes, though, when I go to sleep, the thought passes through my head: I’d like to go back, to the village. Then I tell myself: Where are you now? You are here. What’s the point of thinking about where you’ll go afterwards. You can’t know where you’ll be in 10 years.
When people ask me where I’m from, I sometimes hear myself say: Athens.’ I live here. I go to work. I paint. I see my comrades. Someone might ask: ‘Are you married?’ ‘I have a cat and five fish,’ I reply. They look at me funny. They must be thinking ‘this guy is a madman.’