When power takes life

Not hunger striking to die, but to live. Photo: Jan Sefti/Kurdistan Photo/flickr




Life becomes resistance to power when power takes life as its object


Approximately 1000 Kurdish political prisoners across Turkey have been on an indefinite hunger strike for the last 44 days, demanding freedom for imprisoned Kurdish leader Mr Abdullah Ocalan and the right to use Kurdish language in the public sphere. They say they will not end their fast until their demands are met.
Background: Denying the Kurds

Since 2009, when the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) achieved a remarkable success in mainly the Kurdish region and all other parts of Turkey in local elections, the Turkish government has jailed nearly 10,000 Kurds, including 6 deputies, 31 mayors, 96 journalists, 36 lawyers, 183 leaders of the BDP (in Turkish Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi), trade unionists, human rights defenders, as well as students and some 2,000 children. Thirty four Kurdish civilians were killed in the village of Roboski (in Turkish, Uludere) in a bombardment by mass destruction weapons launched from Turkish warplanes in late December of 2011.

Since 27 July 2011, Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan has been denied meetings with his lawyers, and has been held under total isolation in the prison on the island of Imrali.

The Kurdish language has been banned in the Republic of Turkey since its establishment in 1923. The Kurdish identity has also been denied by the Turkish state which categorized Kurds as “Mountainous Turks” until 1991. Yet, pronouncing oneself as Kurd or speaking in Kurdish in public and judiciary areas are subjected to penalties.

History: Hunger Strikes

The examples of hunger strike can be seen in different places in world throughout human history. Probably the first hunger strike, or in this case a death fast, was carried out by Zul-Kifl, an Islamic prophet who was identified with various Hebrew Bible prophets, most commonly Ezekiel. He and his friends had gone into a cave and announced that they would not eat until people started to believe in good and truth. If this story is true Zul-Kifl must still be suffering for his hunger, as people are still repeating the same old mistakes.

In the present day Turkish authorities have put a restriction on the supplements necessary for hunger strikers such as salt, vitamins, and drinking water. Most of the strikers had already decided to not take vitamin B which is essential for cell metabolism, and announced that they will not accept any medical intervention. However fasting may cause severe damage, including by the 40th day Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder due to thiamine deficiency.

The Prisons Watch Council of Turkey stated on the 43rd day of the fast that prison administrations not only put deliberate prohibitions on B1 vitamin access to prisoners on strike, but also subjected them to ill treatment and isolation torture.

On the other hand, BDP declared October 30 as a “day of resistance” and called on all Kurdish people to bring activities in the country to a standstill and to join actions in support of prisoners on the hunger strike. On the 30th Kurdish deputies and mayors will also begin a hunger strike in tents to be set up in cities.

Censorship and Ignorance

The hunger strike, and more importantly its two basic demands by Kurdish political prisoners, has unsurprisingly been ignored by the mainstream media in Turkey since the very beginning of the act. As the fast reached day 44, more and more Kurdish people and institutions as well as many other organizations supporting them have been staging demonstrations and hunger strikes in Turkey, Kurdistan and Europe to support prisoners on strike some of whom have turned their hunger strike to a death fast.

In a statement on the strikes, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Mr Stefan Füle (in charge also of the EU-Turkey Accession talks) stated that they are following the process, while Amnesty International in a recent statement called on Turkey to respect the rights of hunger strikers. However, the Turkish government continues to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the strike while security forces severely attack prisoners’ families and people who also go on several-days long hunger strikes to support the prisoners’ strikes.

Prisoners on strike also announced that they will refuse to see their families during Kurban Bayrami, the most important Islamic religious festival of the year, which begins on the 45th day of the strike.

The hunger strike by Kurdish political prisoners should be seen as a protest action demanding not the improvement of their own living conditions, but to allow Kurdish voices to be heard by the world. In their own words, they are not doing this to die, but to live.

One Reply to “When power takes life

  1. Thank you for your report on this situation from 2012. I can only assume it continues to this day. A world where all residents of Kurdistan are respected and afforded a full spectrum of human rights is a worthy dream for any people. They have my support.

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