Translation of Bülent Yıldırım’s Statement to the Press

Posted in translations by anna on June 4, 2010

On June 3, 2010, Bülent Yıldırım, president of İHH İnsani Yardım Vakfı, spoke to the media regarding the events aboard the Mavi Marmara during the Israeli attack on the aid convoy. The text of his statement is available to read on the website of Radikal, a Turkish newspaper. Below is an English translation of his account of the events. (Translation by Anna Wood.)


There were people from over fifty countries. Among our friends there were a total of thirty-five parliament members, plus many politicians, intellectuals and journalists. We set out with a total of nine ships. A few of the ships were sabotaged along the way. They could not continue. We waited in the sea for a few days. Then we went on with the ships we had. Actually, like all of you, we never sensed that Israel would interfere with us violently. And we couldn’t understand it. Because Israel was saying, “I’m going to come with my whole fleet.” The Israeli press was continually calling us. There was live broadcasting. We were being called from every corner of the world. Among us there were Christians, Jews and Atheists. We were together with people of every belief. We actually never entered Israeli waters. In fact, this was a first in world history. They announced an open-ended operation. They said this as the place of shooting. They said 68 miles. When we looked at our radars, we saw this was a fictional operation. Because the ships were wandering around. Despite this we went in 80 miles. We went in international waters. But Israel did not understand this. Tomorrow or the next day our captain will speak.* We will bring out the documents. Our destination was Egyptian water, to enter Gaza from Egypt. There was nothing to attract their [Israeli] interest.

Despite this, all of a sudden Zodiac ships began to appear in great numbers around us. Helicopters, F16s, five large warships and submarines. We broadcast again. They at least wouldn’t do something this unintelligent, we thought. When the call to prayer was read in the morning, we stopped to pray. Then we realized that they were attacking us from the air, from underwater, from boats, all of which were uncountable. We said to each other that they were just putting on a show. If we had been in their waters, if we had been in waters where pirating actually illegally occurs, or if we had been in Palestinian waters, then they would be able to attack us, we said. Then all of a sudden they began to land. Our friends committed solely civil resistance. The whole press was there. Arm in arm we said, don’t let them in. Then we saw that entering arm-in-arm wasn’t working. While the Israelis interrogated me, I made them a promise. I am a resolute man. When I make a promise, I keep it. For three days they questioned all the units. They asked me, “Are you thinking of attacking us with those irons and axes?” I answered, “You were attacked with irons and chairs. It was legitimate self-defense.” I said I would explain this. I give you my word. In the press conference I will say that our friends defended themselves with the bats they saw there.

At first they were saying they didn’t use weapons. Supposedly they got permission to use weapons, meaning real bullets, in the 35th minute. Well, you immediately threw sound and gas bombs. Pieces of the bombs you threw came off. Most of our friends were wounded. Isn’t this a weapon? We did the statistics. Of the first bullets they shot, two were plastic. One of them resembled a nail. Our brother Cevdet – may God give patience to his loved ones – he was martyred. Our brother Cevdet was a member of the press. While the Israelis were firing above, he was only taking photographs. He was shot from just one meter away, and his brain was in pieces. This wasn’t enough. We realized that news of martyrs was coming from every side. We saw that the bullets they had started shooting were real bullets. Plastic bullets kill, too. Because you’re firing from 1.5-2 meters away. They started shooting real bullets.

In the first stage, our friends rendered ten of the coming [soldiers] harmless. We went in. Whatever happens, happens. We will be right. Normally, this is our legitimate self-defense. Yet I made them a promise anyway. I’m telling you. We took their weapons. Even if we had used the weapons, before the law of the world it would have been legitimate self-defense. Because, legally, if you take the weapon of your attacker and use it against him, you’re innocent. Despite this, we said to our friends that we would be martyrs. But we weren’t going to appear in the position of weapon-users. With this decision of ours, our friends accepted the martyrdom. We threw the weapons we took from them [the Israeli soldiers] into the sea. And I gave them this promise, too. I’m telling you. “You gave the image of us rendering your soldiers ineffective with bats. You did very well,” I said. “There is an image of the Israeli army in the world. A powerful image. Arab countries were saying that the Israeli army couldn’t be defeated. But look, just three to five volunteers can repel your strongest army. You’ve brought shame to yourselves.” I said this during the interrogation.

Our friends were shot after they had surrendered. We had put aside one of our friends, an Indonesian doctor, to make sure no harm came to the Israeli soldiers. He treated them. We gave them water in the midst of the conflict. While we were dying up above, we were giving the Israeli soldiers their water. Whenever we checked in with them, we got news: “So-and-so was killed, too.” We told our Indonesian friend to hand over one [of the Israeli soldiers]. He did. Just as he was going, they shot five bullets into his stomach. There is absolutely nothing humane in that. After that I realized that things weren’t panning out. I took off my shirt and waved it as a white flag. The onslaught of bullets was inconceivable. When they saw the white flag they would stop, we thought. Even after that they killed people.

Our friend saw this: in one of the toilets there were two corpses. It couldn’t be determined who they belonged two. And they’re gone, too. As of this moment they’ve given us nine bodies. The families will identify them. But the list we have is larger than that. At the moment they aren’t anywhere to be seen. There are lost people. Our doctor friend handed over the thirty-eight wounded. On the return they told us there were twenty-one wounded. They said they couldn’t hide anything because the event is so well-known. We’ll see. God willing, they’re right. Because we don’t want to see the numbers of dead and wounded increase, either.

We broadcast live to the whole world. We had set up three systems. When they ruined one of our systems, we broadcast for hours over the internet and people saw their true faces. We never stepped out of the bounds of the law. We made sacrifices. We obeyed even the laws we do not believe in. Because there were warships from various countries following us. They should have helped us. They didn’t help. When they [the Israelis] came to us, we treated them. In return for this, they killed those of our friends who surrendered. They killed some of our friends and threw the bodies into the sea. We don’t know yet who those were. So many of our friends were wounded; we will learn this in the days ahead.

Well, we surrendered, didn’t we? We put our hands in the air, all together. If there hadn’t been women, we wouldn’t have surrendered. I applaud all of my friends. Not one of them took a step back. They took the mother of a one-year-old child prisoner. They held the child hostage. They separated the mother and father from the child. Then they couldn’t look after the child and brought it back. What cruelty this is. Not one of our friends took a step backwards. Not one of them hurt them [the Israelis]. We did this so that the rights of the Palestinians would be known throughout the world. It was in order to explain to the world the rights of these oppressed people that we had gone there. There was a wounded person among us. He had been shot in the head. His brain was in pieces. I don’t want to give the name, his condition is very serious. He might not make it. We were forced to leave behind two heavily wounded friends.

There was a girl from Kashmir with us. I saw this girl, and I won’t forget her for the rest of my life. They had held all the doors. The weapons were all pointed at us. They were saying they would shoot anyone who stood up. They had already shot most of us with lasers. Our girl was brave and wrote something. She is a British citizen. She approached them with what she had written. “There are wounded people. We want to give them to you,” her note said. They almost shot this girl, too. There was no mercy at all.

Then an agreement was reached. We started handing over the wounded. They began bringing us out one by one. This lasted hours. People couldn’t leave when they needed a toilet. They were insulting us. Then they took us to the second floor of the ship. The ground was wet. They tied our hands, most of us from behind. They tied us up very tightly. There are still marks on our hands. Then they tortured us for nearly five hours. They began deliberately bringing a helicopter over our heads, then turning it back. The helicopter began pouring seawater on top of us. They had us in the coldest part of the ship. If you were to ask me, “Did you receive refrigerator torture?” I would answer yes, friends. At this point they were taking our sick. Up above they were holding them for minutes, then taking them. If they had wanted, they could have put all the wounded in just a few helicopters. They didn’t do that. They took the wounded one by one. Our friend will explain this to you all. Without numbing it first, they opened up his leg with something like a screw. Is there no mercy?

Then they started taking our volunteers. Because Turkey and the world had stood up. I thank the people. I thank Turkish people and people around the world. I especially thank the media. The members of the press aboard our ship and all of you have helped us achieve victory in the name of humanity. We said this all along.  I said it during the interrogation, as well. If Jews were in Gaza, and if Muslims were the oppressors, I would still send this fleet out. For us, the important thing is oppression. Whoever the oppressors may be, we are against it.

I am calling out to the whole world. This embargo will be lifted. We are not afraid just because some of us were martyred. We will continue until the embargo is lifted. We will see all together what humanity has achieved. Either you will lift this embargo, or, as institutions of civil society, we will. If lifting this embargo requires it, at a time we will determine, we will get the whole world to act at the same moment with larger fleets of ships, with larger convoys of cars, from Egypt and from the sea. Let the world leaders consider what will happen after that. Either you will save these people or one of us will pay the price. We are determined on this topic. Everyone with a conscience on this earth has united. We are not afraid of anything. And we are not retreating from anything.


*According to the text on the newspaper Radikal’s website, this sentence should really be translated as: “Tomorrow or the next day our captain will use.” However, this appears to be a typo; they seem to have written “kullanacak” (“will use”) in place of “konuşacak” (“will speak”). As the former is illogical, I have translated with the latter.