When you will read this article, the Kurdish political prisoners will reach to their 50th + more days in hunger strike that they will continue indefinitely until their two basic demands are met. These are critical days in a hunger strike without time limit, since the prisoners could be exposed to some permanent physical and psychological damages. On the other hand, hundreds of other Kurdish political prisoners will participate to the hunger strike group by group. As the hunger strike continues in about ten prisons, we read on alternative media that some strikers are put in solitary confinement and they are not permitted to have B1 vitamin which is very important to preserve their health. Moreover Turkish government, in violation of Declaration of Malta on Hunger Strikes (2006), didn’t allow yet for an independent examination of hunger strikers’ health condition by Turkish Physicians Association. Meanwhile Kurds are holding meetings, protests, press declarations and staging hunger strikes in order to support the political prisoners’ demands especially in Kurdish southeast part of the country. They are assisted by human rights organizations, socialist parties allied with Kurdish political movement and progressive NGO’s.
What are the Kurdish political prisoners’ demands and what were the developments that have lead them to stage a hunger strike without time limit?
The demands of Kurdish political Prisoners
Over 750 Kurdish political prisoners are in hunger strike since 48 days for two basic demands: The first is that, the Turkish government should end the complete isolation policy applied to Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of Kurdish political movement in Turkey. A. Öcalan is sentenced to life imprisonment and is kept under solitary confinement in an island since 1999. But the conditions for him had worsened as he’s not allowed to meet with his lawyers for the last 14 months. A. Öcalan, as the leader of a significant part of Kurdish population in Turkey, could play a key role in putting an end to the civil war which has been continuing for 28 years between PKK’s (Kurdistan Workers Party) guerillas and Turkish military and which has cost about 50,000 lives. Thus he should meet with his lawyers, should have free access to relevant information about political developments in Turkey and his conditons should be eased so that he can participate in a possible peace negotiation process. The Kurdish movement in Turkey ultimately demands that the peace negotiations which failed some 14 months ago due to government’s failure to perform the steps which were agreed upon by both parties.
The political prisoners’ second demand is about the use of Kurdish language both in court and in public education. Over 10,000 Kurdish political activists, politicians, democratically elected mayors, rank-and-file members from Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, BDP, have been arrested during last three years and are on trial in so-called “special courts”, courts specialized for “terrorist crimes”. They are not allowed to defend themselves in their mother tongue. So they demand that the use of Kurdish should be free during the hearings. And they also demand that public education in Kurdish language (as different from the teaching of Kurdish in some selective courses) should be provided by Turkish state.
May Be The First Hunger Strike in World’s History For Peace and Public Use of Mother Tongue
It may seem a little strange at fist look that hundreds of political prisoners went on hunger strike for the fulfillment of the first step necessary in order that peace negotiations between PKK and state’s authorities could begin – the removal of A. Öcalan’s isolation.
As every reasonable person in Turkey admits, even an official declaration by the government signaling in a serious manner that the negotiation between two parties could begin might lead to a cease-fire by PKK and thus lay the ground for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey which cost so many lives and a dramatic deterioration in living standards of Turkey’s society. Therefore the hunger strike which could result in deaths of many political prisoners if the government continues to ignore the basic demands is aiming directly peace; that is, putting an end to the deaths of hundreds of soldiers and guerillas.
The other demand, to defend themselves before the court in their mother tongue and to acquire public education in Kurdish may also seem a little strange as a motivation behind a mass hunger strike during which many hundreds political prisoners are risking their lives. So why these demands which should be the issues of normal political struggle have turned out to be the goals of a mass hunger strike? Perhaps a brief look at the political developments that took place during recent years in Turkey might be helpful.
Because They Had No Other Alternatives…
Turkey’s last general elections took place in June, 2011. The representatives of PKK and top executive officials of Turkish Intelligence Service (MIT) have met several times two or three years before the electoral process in order to discuss some critical steps that should be taken by both parties as the preconditions of a possible peace negotiation. Those meetings became public when some records have been leaked on the internet in June 2011. The Prime Minister and leader of the governing party (Justice and Development Party, AKP) R. Tayyip Erdogan later accepted that he charged his undersecretary, the top executive of MIT, for those meetings and claimed that the intelligence officials ceased to meet with PKK’s representatives because its government didn’t believe that PKK was sincere.
However the leaders of PKK later declared that during the last meetings in 2011, as the general elections came close, both sides have agreed on the critical issues and at that time they thought that Kurdish problem was about to be resolved.
What it appears to be the case, when we objectively evaluate the available data and judging from the policies pursued by the Turkish government afterwards, the Turkish government and intelligence service put PKK representatives off with some promises, delayed the conclusive steps and targeted to gain time in order to secure the electoral process by convincing the PKK to a lasting cease-fire.
This seems to be a confident conclusion since immediately after the general elections (June, 2011) in which AKP won about 50 % of the votes and thus come to power with a very strong popular support, its policy regarding the Kurdish issue changed very dramatically. Let’s look at what happened factually.
A Balance Sheet Showing a “Soft” Kind of Fascism in Turkey
In Turkey, by virtue of the “anti-terror law” which is in effect since 2006, state prosecutors and “specialized courts” can arrest and sentence virtually anybody dealing with Kurdish issue to very serious imprisonments like 10-15 years and even more.
Participating to a peaceful demonstration calling for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem, to a press declaration asking for the removal of isolation applied to Kurdish leader A. Öcalan, speaking in a conference on behalf of Kurds’ rights, being a member and activist of BDP (Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party) in any position from top to rank-and-file, being an elected mayor of a Kurdish city or town … all of these are sufficient for being arrested and tried in “special anti-terror” courts with terrorism charges amounting to heavy prison sentences.
Thus, as a result of police operations continuing since 2009, but significantly intensified after June 2011 elections, over 10,000 Kurdish activists and politicians are put in prison. These people never involved in any violent or armed struggle.
Among these prisoners there are dozens of elected mayors, some of them ex-mayors of major Kurdish cities like Van and even more members of municipality councils of various Kurdish cities and towns.
Almost all of the lawyers of A. Öcalan are put in jail in November 2011 with the charge of helping “the terrorist organization”, that is, PKK.
There are about 76 journalists in prison according to a recent report of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and most of them are arrested during police operations targeting Kurdish media in December 2012.
There are over 700 students in prison according to a report by the Initiative of Solidarity with Arrested Students (TODI) and again most of them are Kurdish activist students.
It’s clear enough that June 2011 general elections were a turning point in AKP’s policies. The Prime Minister R. T. Erdogan and other top administrators of the governing party AKP chose to aligned themselves with the classical Turkish repressive and heavily nationalistic state system although they were once Islamists critics of it. During AKP’s ten years in power, a kind of new oligarchy flourished which was ready to be part of this repressive state mechanism. This oligarchy composed of a newly developing bourgeoisie, some of which already become big corporations, of powerful media corporations, of a complex network of interests and patronage systems and of some very worldly so-called “religious sects” become the new masters of traditionally repressive and nationalistic state apparatus. It literally adopted Turkish state’s basic policies and began to defend them against the Kurds, religious minorities like Alawites, other traditionally excluded groups, workers, poor people and other unprivileged sections of Turkey’s society.
The repressive policies of the governing party is also directed to working class as well as Kurdish activists. The labor movement is heavily suppressed to an unprecedented scale and the labour unions are deprived of their organizing power by various amendments to existing laws. A recent strike carried out by air transport workers resulted in an amendment banning striking in air transport sector and firing of more than 400 striking workers by text messages.
Especially during last few years Kurdish people and their political representatives were deprived of every means of peaceful political protest. Each demonstration and protest was brutally oppressed and dozens of Kurds were heavily wounded and dead.
So this very harsh state repression left only two ways to Kurdish activists: Either to be put in prison and be tried with heavy prison sentences or to participate to Kurdish guerilla.
Now it seems to me that these political prisoners in hunger strike are attempting to open anew a way for legitimate and peaceful political struggle. They need international solidarity…