Injured by a land mine while fighting against PKK, Turkish war veteran speaks of his struggle
Ayşe Arman – firstname.lastname@example.orgWho are you?
My name is Yılmaz Yiğit. I am 35 years old. I am a veteran of the war in the southeast.
How and where did you lose both of your arms and one of your legs?
In 2007, in Şırnak province. At Besta Dereler and Tepe Tepe area, I stepped on a land mine during an armed clash. My left arm was amputated above the elbow, my right arm below the elbow and my right leg above the knee. I also lost 90 percent of my vision in my left eye.
How old were you then?
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Edirne [Turkey’s border city with Greece and Bulgaria]. I did my military service with the Special Forces. I served for five years in the southeastern town of Şırnak as a specialized sergeant. I was appointed to the western town Tuzla. I had 20 days left to go. I was an athlete. I was professionally involved in wresting and boxing.
Do you remember the incident?
Yes, I was fully conscious when I stepped on the mine.
Can you explain it from the beginning?
It was reported that the helicopter carrying supplies was raked through. As the Special Forces battalion, we went to Tepe Tepe. We conducted a field search. We found explosives close to one ton. There were cable mechanisms in large bins. Their other ends were buried underground. We informed our battalion commander. He told us to 'immediately get out of there,' so we went away. Then we saw that they had torched some places. We also saw that they had brewed some tea. We saw the tea pot. It was still heating. Our commander told us to carefully lift the lid and see whether the leaves had sunk or not. We looked and they were still floating. He said, ‘A firefight may be imminent. Seize the closest hill.’ We told him there was a path. And ‘Shall we go over it or under it?’ He said we should definitely go over it. At that point, a specialized sergeant from Osmaniye stepped on a mine. Both of his legs were blown off from the hip.
What did you do with him?
We called for a helicopter. We gave him emergency treatment and then sent him away. Then our battalion commander came. We told him what happened. Meanwhile, one of our advanced troops said he saw a few people at the side of the river bed. We started taking action. Right at that moment, it felt as if I was electrocuted. My entire body shook; I flew in the air and fell down. I looked and saw that my backpack was still on my back but I did not have my gun. I looked down and saw I had no left arm. I looked at my right arm, I had my right arm but only its bones were there, the flesh was melting like plastic. There was no flesh left. I looked down at my legs; I had no right foot. I turned back and saw that my comrade’s face was burned, his eyes had completely melted. Then suddenly, I saw my foot in the hole. It was there with my boot on.
What you are saying is horrible…
Yes, but the words that came out of my mouth were ‘Where is my rifle; find my rifle.’ The battalion commander said, ‘My son, your rifle is no longer important. We will find it.’ I had four magazines and my rifle and two hand grenades. One was still there, the other was not. Four magazines had melted.
What do you mean?
If they melted, then the magazines should have exploded. It is quite fortunate that the bullets did not fire and go into my body. But probably one of the hand grenades exploded. I had bomb ammunition in my backpack; thank God it also did not explode.
I recited the Islamic confession of faith six times, because three of my arteries were ruptured. My blood should have been emptied in seven minutes and I should have died. I was waiting to die, but I did not. Later I learned that the mine had burned my veins with 3,000 kilowatts of energy. In other words, while it ripped off some places, it burned and glued some others. For this reason, there was no blood discharge. Due to this, I survived.
Where were you taken then?
First to Şırnak Military Hospital. I was treated there for one week; I do not remember it at all; then to Ankara, Gülhane Military Medical Academy (GATA). In that ward, everybody was shouting, moaning; it was a horrible environment. I started having terrible nightmares. Mountains were collapsing over me. They would throw me to the sea, I would try to stay afloat but because I did not have arms, I would drown. Giant people were coming on to me. I was going mad. I wanted to overcome these nightmares but I did not know how to. I was always in clashes in my dream. Some time went by like this.
Who was your mentor? Who supported you?
Comrades from the Special Forces came to visit me. Koray Gürbüz asked me, ‘What do you have Yılmaz?’ I told him, ‘What do I not have? I do not have two arms, one leg. One of my eyes cannot see.’ They had brought me underwear. For the first time then I saw that I did not even have underwear. They had cut a sheet and wrapped it around me. Koray gave me strength. This was seven years ago. For seven years, we have been like brothers.
How did you go on with your life afterwards?
It was not easy. While I was in the hospital only BDP [Peace and Democracy Party] deputies wanted to visit us. Nobody came from other parties. But the Office of the Chief of General Staff did not allow the BDP deputies to visit us. One day, we were called for a conference at Ankara University. The rector asked, ‘Didn’t the state give you prosthetic arms and leg?’ I told him they did not, probably because it was too expensive. He offered to launch a campaign, but I rejected it. The rector told me, ‘My son, how can I help you? Tell me.’ I told him I wanted to talk with politicians. He immediately called Köksal Toptan. He was the parliamentary speaker. He passed the phone to me. ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘Which country’s parliamentary speaker are you?’ He said the Republic of Turkey. I asked him which country’s veterans we were. He said, ‘Of course, the Republic of Turkey.’ I replied, ‘Well then, why didn’t you visit us while BDP deputies wanted to visit us?’ He said he was busy but promised to come the next day. In fact, he did come to visit us in the rehabilitation center with 10 deputies the next day. He asked me why I was so reproachful. I told him that I gave my arms and leg for this country. People were trying to launch campaigns to raise money.
Are you angry at everybody?
Well, of course. Even for prosthetics, I had to fight an unbelievable battle; whereas shouldn’t they be provided immediately? This last incident is the one to cap it all…
Yes, let’s come to the incident in the Ankara city bus. Do you feel like this: ‘Did I lose my arm and leg to be insulted?’
I totally feel like that. I do not demand anything. I do not want money, compensation, anything. I only want some respect.
What exactly happened that day? The city bus driver saw that you do not have an arm. He said he noticed it. Could it be that he did not understand that the other one was a prosthesis?
While I was getting on to the bus with my daughter, the driver saw I had no arm and he did not say anything. While we were getting off, he said something, ‘Did you press your card [to pay the bus fare]?’ I opened my coat and showed him my prosthetic arm. The other does not exist anyway. ‘How can I press my card while like this?’ He was not convinced, he insisted. Then I was desperate, I told him to take it from my pocket. He said, ‘I cannot do it.’ I told him, ‘Well, I don’t have hands, how am I going to take out my card?’ A stupid, rude quarrel started. I was angry. Here is a man missing a leg and two arms. He could have said, ‘Sorry,’ and move on. No, he insisted and insisted, then insulted me.
Which was the worst incident in this whole event that upset you the most?
I do not care much about actually what the driver did. He is a rude man. But it is insane that the mayor of Ankara [Melih Gökçek] took the side of that rude man. It hurt me that the mayor declared, from Twitter and other social media, that I was a member of the ‘parallel,’ from the Fethullah Gülen community, from the CHP [Republican People’s Party], from Dersim, etc. I don’t think I deserved that. My father makes a living by selling birdseed for one Turkish Lira. If I were any one of those, I guess I would have had more money.
Do you accept you were angry?
Not at the beginning. But when I couldn’t explain myself, I became angry. I was telling him, I do not have hands, I am a veteran. I also told him if you want to see my card, take a look. Look this is a prosthesis, I said. He did not understand. Anyone in this situation would have become angry.
How much did the sentence ‘God knows whose arm to take’ hurt you?
Very much. I consider all of these insults to every fallen soldier and veteran’s family. Look, I am not a member of any veteran association or foundation. But some of these institutions have interests in the municipality. They went to the mayor and accepted the apology on my behalf.
What do you mean?
They wanted me to go to the municipality. I said I would not go, as if I were the faulty one. Whoever wants to come can come to the rehabilitation center where I work, I told them. They did not accept it. Then, two veteran associations went to the municipality and accepted the apology on my behalf. We immediately heard that a large plot and five to 10 shops were donated to the Veterans Foundation.
They told me, ‘Your incident was beautiful.’ Is there any beauty in this incident? Things have gotten out of hand in this country. I swear there is so much evil around, they can do anything; they can smear your name. Nevertheless, there are also good people. There were seven people in the bus who saw what happened and I thank them for leaving aside their business and coming as witnesses on my behalf.
Are you a member of the CHP? Gökçek said so and said you were a provocateur?
Of course not. What I want the most is to speak on television and explain all of this and show their lies to their faces. But, somehow, the General Staff does not allow me to; they told me I would lose my job because I am a civil servant. They told me not to be filmed. Because you are writing on paper, there is no problem.
What does it mean to you that the bus driver was given his job back?
It means ‘You, war veterans are not worth a penny. You are worth nothing to this country.” Gökçek is trying to say that veterans are worthless. Not just veterans, actually, but he is insulting the entire Turkish nation, the flag, everybody… And, we cannot speak out.