By Paul Burnham
On Sunday, 11th November, more than 2,000 Kurds marched five miles across North London in solidarity with the Kurdish hunger strikes in Turkish prisons, which have reached their 61st day. The hunger strikes are reaching a critical stage, and some hunger strikers may be near death.
The 680 hunger strikers include elected representatives who have been jailed under the repressive policies of Turkish Prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. They are demanding Kurdish language rights, and the end of the isolation in jail of Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), to help to negotiate a political settlement to the Kurdish Question. Other Kurds have joined the strike by refusing food in solidarity, including MPs belonging to the pro-Kurdish BDP (peace and democracy) party.
The fifteen to twenty million Kurds in Turkey have faced decades of oppression. Turkey is a key ally of the USA and Britain, and Turkey’s policies towards the Kurds have only been sustained with tacit US and British support.
In 2009, the Turkish government began talks with the PKK at Oslo in Norway, but then abruptly broke off the talks. Since July, the pressure on Turkey’s government has racked up, as Syrian Kurds have established an autonomous zone along Turkey’s southern borders, and Erdoğan’s military interventions in Syria are aimed at least partly to control the Kurds.
Erdoğan said of the strike that “there is no such thing, It is a complete show. I personally sent my minister to prison to see for himself. Over half have already given up”, but Kurds in Turkey respond at mass rallies by vowing that “We won’t be silent toward deaths”.
But Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish BDP party, has warned Erdoğan that the Kurds would follow the path of the Egyptian revolution by “seeking their freedom in their own Tahrir squares”. Demirtaş told a mass rally in South-East Turkey in support of the hunger strike to “start acting like a government and a state – there is a people in front of you. Look, a Kurdish state is being constructed in the Middle East.”
The mood of the march in London was very militant. Many of the demonstrators wore the Kurdish national colours, and they repeatedly sat down in the road. The march began at
Edmonton Green, ending with a rally near Harringay Green Lanes.
Mehmet Aksoy from the Kurdish Federation in London says, “We want freedom for Öcalan, for there to be meaningful negotiations. And we want an end to the ban on using Kurdish in the law courts and in schools.
07847 714 158
Pictures 6, 7, 12: On the march
Pictures 17, 18, 22: Demonstrators sit down in Harringay Green Lanes
Photographs: Paul Burnham