Turkey: Hundreds of Kurdish Political Prisoners go on Hunger Strike
Hundreds of Kurdish political prisoners have entered an indefinite hunger strike, challenging Turkey’s treatment of Kurdish political prisoners. Through their protest, some are demanding re-trials and language rights while others want to raise international attention about Turkey’s treatment of Kurdish political prisoners. Despite their hunger strike, which is nearing six weeks, international media outlets have largely remained silent. This is not particularly surprising, since domestic media outlets in Turkey have both ignored the hunger strikes, and refused to report on them.
A Kurdish blogger explains how the protests began. Memed Boran, currently residing in London, says;
On 12th September 2012, nine women prisoners in Diyarbakir E type prison began an indefinite hunger-strike. In the statement they made via lawyers they highlighted two demands: the right to use their Kurdish mother tongue in the public sphere, including court and the removal of obstacles preventing imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan from negotiating in peace talks with the Turkish state. Soon after, many other inmates, men and women, from prisons in every corner of Turkey began joining the hunger-strike; sometimes in groups and in certain prisons individually. Now there are 380 prisoners in 39 prisons who are on what has surpassed a hunger-strike and become a ‘death fast.’
The number of Kurdish political prisoners is unknown, but according to Human Rights agencies there are thousands of political prisoners in Turkey, and this had led activists to believe that all of them, or rather significant number of them are on hunger strike. Elif from Turkey, Istanbul says the media has chosen to ignore Kurds on hunger strike, and that many of them may soon die.
One Pro-Kurdish rights activist, who tweets under @Hevallo has been desperately trying to get people on Twitter to send Vitamin B1 tablets to the prisoners on hunger strike, in an attempt to minimise the damage to their bodies, and the potentially inevitable consequence, death.
On Facebook Sedat Yezdan says:
In the last 3 years Turkish state has arrested more than 10,000 Kurds, who are students, children, mothers, activists, journalists, lawyers, doctors, mayors, MPs, and many people who are member of Peace & Democracy Party(BDP).
Hunger strikes are a form of non-violent protest, and despite the ongoing and large number of hunger strikers, Turkish media has willfully ignored their plight, perhaps hoping that through their silence the international human rights agencies will also follow a similar path. The lack of interviews with prisoners on hunger strikes has facilitated a justification for media outlets to ignore it, particularly journalists who complain about the lack of resources available.
The 33rd Day! From Hunger-strike to ‘Death Fast’
On 12th September 2012, nine women prisoners in Diyarbakir E type prison began an indefinite hunger-strike. In the statement they made via lawyers they highlighted two demands: the right to use their Kurdish mother tongue in the public sphere, including court and the removal of obstacles preventing imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan from negotiating in peace talks with the Turkish state. Soon after, many other inmates, men and women, from prisons in every corner of Turkey began joining the hunger-strike; sometimes in groups and in certain prisons individually. Now there are 380 prisoners in 39 prisons who are on what has surpassed a hunger-strike and become a ‘death fast.’ This is their 33rd day.12th September is an infamous day in Turkey’s history; the military coup that took place on this day in 1980 is representative of all that the ‘others’ of Turkey have had to suffer at the hands of the state. The 1980 military coup which opened the path for the Islamist cadres who now lead the AKP government, detained over a million people, imprisoned and tortured tens of thousands, carried out capital punishment on hundreds and pulled a black shroud over the whole of the country. Of course the victims of these inhumane practices were the Kurdish and Socialist Revolutionaries demanding national rights, democracy and independence – just like today.
The aim of the military coup was to silence the opposition and create a monolithic society in Turkey and Kurdistan using any means necessary; and the state was almost successful if it hadn’t been for the resistance of the Kurdish and Turkish cadres of the modern Kurdish Freedom Movement which in those days had recently been founded. It is an irony that these cadres were also imprisoned in Diyarbakir prison when on 14th July 1982 they began what is now termed as the ‘Great Death Fast Resistance’ in protest against the prevention of the right to defence, torture and inhumane prison conditions. The leaders of that ‘death fast’; Kemal Pir, M. Hayri Durmus, Ali Cicek and Akif Yilmaz all lost their lives. But this single event stoked the fire that had been lit by the likes of Mazlum Dogan. Necmi Oner, Ferhat Kurtay, Esref Anyik and Mahmut Zengin who had immolated themselves, and burnt to smithereens the shroud that had been pulled over the people, raising the Kurdish resistance against the Turkish state.
How similar it is today. The AKP regime, like its military counterpart has detained tens of thousands of Kurdish politicians, journalists, health-workers, lawyers, human rights activists and children, imprisoning almost ten thousand since 2009, when the witch-hunt known as the KCK (The Union of Communities in Kurdistan) trials began. It is ironic that almost all these people are members of the legal Peace & Democracy Party (BDP), the AKP’s most fierce and only opposition in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. And that not a single fire-arm, weapon or anything pertaining to terrorist activity was found or discovered about these people who have been in prison for almost four years without sentencing is further proof that the AKP is behind the ‘hostage’ situation. Because with only small changes in the constitution the AKP could bring an end to the unnecessary suffering of these people and their families. However while this grave injustice hangs over the nation like a dark cloud Turkey’s Prime Minister has made ‘one language, one state, one nation’ his favourite slogan, saying that there is no longer a Kurdish issue in Turkey. The AKP dominated Turkish media have followed suit and are not even reporting the clashes between the PKK and Turkish army anymore. Furthermore and to the utter horror of Kurds and democratic circles there is yet to be even a single news item about the ‘death fast’ on mainstream Turkish TV. There is a total black-out regarding all matters Kurdish.
Besime Konca, the chair of the BDP’s women parliament before her imprisonment, and one of the nine who began the ‘death fast’ in Diyarbakir prison has spent 16 of her 38 year life behind bars because of her political activities. In her last meeting with family she told them: ‘ Behind these cold walls we have nothing to sacrifice but our bodies, and we will not refrain from doing this for the freedom of our people and a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue. Our morale is soaring, we are strong and cannot be defeated by the enemies of democracy and an honourable life.’
As I write this, another statement has been made from prison by Deniz Kaya, the spokesman for prisoners sentenced in PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) and PAJK (Free Women’s Party of Kurdistan) cases. In it he says:
‘From 15th October onwards all PKK and PAJK inmates inTurkey and Kurdistan’s prisons will join in the indefinite hunger-strike. Rather than respond to the demands of people on hunger-strike, the AKP government has attacked prisoners with solitary confinement, disciplinary action and physical torture. There are prisoners who have internal bleeding and are being forced to treatment. If the AKP think they can deter us, they are mistaken, we will not give up our freedom. If there is a price to pay we will pay it, if there is torture we will persist, if there is suppression we will resist, if there is solitary confinement then so be it!
At a time time when our leader Abdullah Ocalan is in intensified solitary confinement and his life is under threat; when our people are attacked and tortured physically, politically and culturally by the racist regime’s military and police, all we have to protect them are our naked bodies. We will not hear the voices of anybody except our leader and movement. We will not heed any calls for us to end the hunger-strikes until our demands are met, the ban on Kurdish is lifted and the path to the freedom of our leader opened.
We are appealing to our people and all revolutionary and democratic public opinion to join in an indefinite act of solidarity and continual period of action to realise the freedom and democratic unity of our people. We are also calling on all sensitive political parties, MPs in parliament, non-governmental and human rights organisations: hear our cries. The people of Kurdistan are under the threat of genocide, our comrades in prison are on the threshold of death, our leader is under savage torture and Kurdistan has been turned into Vietnam.’
Millions of Kurds around the world today are hoping that these ‘death fasts’ do not end in loss. But their voices are going unheard outside Turkey and Kurdistan and Kurdish communities in Europe. Kurds need the support of all individuals, human rights and non-governmental organisations, professional circles, political parties and governments. Everyone can do something to stop these deaths.
What can you do?