As we move onto a new post-hunger strike phase , we look back at the words of Hilal Seven, written on 16 May when Leyla Guven was on day 190 of her hunger strike.
London/ 16 May
According to the Human Rights Association 2983 prisoners are on hunger strike in 90 prisons in Turkey since first of March 2019. Most of the hunger strikers are Kurdish and they are political prisoners.
It was then-imprisoned Leyla Güven, a HDP MP, who first started the hunger strike on November 8 in 2018. Inspired by Leyla Güven, the action spread to other prisons and people from all over the world joined it. İmam Şiş, a 32-year-old Kurdish man from Newport began is hunger strike on December 16. Three more people from London are also on hunger strike since March 14: Nahide Zengin, Mehmet Sait Yılmaz, Ali Poyraz.
İmam Şiş’s situation is getting serious since he is refusing to take vitamins twice a day and he is not taking enough sugar and salt. He stopped seeing people and refuses to have visitors anymore. According to İmam instead of visiting him, people should be on the streets protesting.
‘Thousands of people came to see me here, I personally did so many interviews with the journalists and politicians on our action. As an activist and a striker, I’ve used most of my energy for making people aware about the situation. I don’t want people to come and see me. If people want to support me then they should make a voice on the Kurds hunger strike action. They should speak about our demands and talk to everyone, until we break the isolation on us.’’
There are so many things to say about the strategy of a hunger strike. Some people think these types of actions are out-dated while others think it is the most effective way of civil disobedience. For some Kurds, it is not the right action for Kurds, considering how many of them died in previous strikes.
On the other hand, many people from all over the world are in full solidarity with Kurdish hunger strikers. A group of Welsh people made a solidarity campaign for İmam Şiş and the other strikers. Twenty people from all over Wales are brainstorming every single day to find ways to ensure that the action can be heard by the world. They are actively working on social media 24/7, writing to the authorities and trying to get in touch with any media outlet and raise the awareness on İmam Şiş’s and the other strikers’ situation.
Some Kurds are staying away from the strike because they don’t want to get in trouble and to be associated with Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdish Freedom movement, the PKK.
The strikers have a demand. They want the Turkish State to end the isolation of the PKK’s leader. He has been in Imralı Prison for 20 years now and he had been banned from seeing his lawyers and his family since 2011. During this time, he had only seen his brother Mehmet Öcalan twice.
According to Turkish law, Öcalan has right to see family members and his lawyers on a weekly base. Turkey’s Kurds predominantly see Öcalan as their leader and want him set free.
İmam Şiş says the isolation of Öcalan is the same as the isolation of himself since he is in exile and he is not able to go back to his hometown because of his political views.
‘’Imagine, the reason we came to this country is our identity. We were forced to leave our lands and we became unemployed. Millions of Kurds went to Europe because of the economy. They think their problem is solved now but it isn’t. Instead of them being more active on diplomacy and fighting for their rights, they are more interested in taking a role in politics. Just because they want to make investments on Turkey, they don’t even share a single word on social media about us. That’s why I see those people as betrayals. I will continue my action until the isolation on Öcalan comes to an end.’’
On May 2, with the permission of the Government officials his lawyers visited Öcalan for the first time in eight years. Everyone held onto a hope that Öcalan would make a call for the hunger strike to stop, but he didn’t. Öcalan included the four prisoners of İmralı Prison in his written statement. He said that he didn’t want any more people to die. On the other hand, he says he respects the prisoners’ action on Hunger Strike.
The message of Öcalan was clear enough to understand, he was saying to the Kurds that they can do different things to save peoples’ life on this action while they make the Turkish Government accept their demands. But how? Turkish authorities had no comment on Öcalan’s statement so far.
Meanwhile some people think the strikes came at the wrong time since Turkey had local elections a few months ago and the media was very focused on the elections. And now, with next month’s re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election, where the largest population of Kurds in Turkey live, the focus will not have changed.
The İstanbul re-run election is also playing an important role in relation to the hunger strikes, since three million Kurds live in the city. Many feel that the Turkish government, having lost Kurdish votes, is now thinking of accepting the demands of the hunger strikers in order to gain Kurdish votes in the re-run election.
CHP candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu’s election as mayor was not accepted by the Turkish Government and the Supreme Election Court cancelled the election results, negating the votes of more than half of the city residents who voted for İmamoğlu. The Supreme Election Court made the announcement of the re-run on May 6.
When we look at the history of Britain, we can see that there are similarities between Kurds and Irish people. The hunger strike strategy is a familiar one in Ireland as a way of fighting British oppression. So many people died on the strikes. The most effective one was in 1980 when Bobby Sands and 10 people died. Irish people also fought for their rights against the state and so many of them lost their lives on the conflict.
On the other hand, Kurds have been fighting against the Turkish State for over forty years to get their rights, to have education in Kurdish language, to have their own schools, to govern their own municipalities. They want to live in their cities without the control and threats of the army. They want to have equal rights with the Turks. They don’t want to be seen as second-class citizen in Turkey. More importantly they don’t want to be killed just because they were born as a Kurd.
Thousands of Kurdish people are in prisons of Turkey because of their political views or actions. Many of them have been arrested without even having a clue on what was the case. Hundreds of them were arrested just because their family members were involved the Kurdish movement. Academics, journalists, doctors, teachers, activists, lawyers are being arrested only because they didn’t want Turkish State to kill Kurds anymore.
We, as those who are not in prison, have many options in life. We can listen to any music we want, we can eat any food we like, we are able to hug our friends whenever we want. If we don’t want to live in a country where there is no freedom of speech we can opt to go a place where there is democracy. But for those in the prisons of Turkey with a Kurdish political background there is no other option than going on a hunger strike.
Now today is the day to talk, to shout and to change in order to make life better for millions of people. Or we can simply keep our mouths shut and not say anything just for the sake of protecting ourselves from the evilness until we become the evil itself.
As Kurds and their friends in Turkey, we know that once we start talking we will become an easy target for the shouters. And we are still not that many to have the power to stand up against the mentality that kills and arrests us and makes it impossible to stay in our mother lands. But we can talk, without having the fear of being arrested, about fundamental human rights. The good in people will always prevail.
When we look at the history, we talk about the good memories. We recognise the dictators and killers for what they were. We talk about and celebrate the people who sacrificed their lives on peace, human rights, women’s rights, democracy and freedom of speech.
In the year of 2019, everybody is using a smartphone, it is so much easier than before to access information. It will be even easier for the next generation to look at today’s history to see what happened in the past.
When your children read about the history they will ask you ‘what kind of stand did you take while the Kurds were dying for democracy?’
Today, Leyla Güven is on her day 190. She has not been eating for 190 days, she lost over forty kilograms and her situation is getting to worse. Her daughter Sabiha Temizkan, a Kurdish journalist, keeps writing on her twitter account that she doesn’t want to lose her mom. She wrote once; ‘Mom, don’t leave me’.
I can empathize with Sabiha, and I am very upset. Not only because of the nightmare she is living, that her mom could die any second, but also because she doesn’t get enough support from the people that her mom and so many other Kurdish MPs served. I am angry and very much disappointed with people who claim to be democrats and socialists and human rights defenders, and friends of Kurds.
I know very well how it feels when a person who is close to you might die on hunger strike. As a daughter of a man who had been on hunger strike at the age of 60 despite his diabetes and heart problems, I felt the same sadness.
You don’t eat, you don’t drink, you don’t feel anything but pain. You hope for it, you pray for it. Every single second you are waiting to get the good news.
Thousands of people are on hunger strike in Turkey. Not just the prisoners, but their families and friends are too.
I am writing this as a daughter of a man who spent his life for his people’s rights, I am writing this as a granddaughter of a man who had found himself in prison at the age of seventy because his son fought for his rights, I am writing this as a Kurdish journalist whose friends and colleagues are on hunger strike. They will lose their lives if their demand is not accepted by the Turkish state.
There are 30 people now on death strike among hunger strikers. They are refusing to take vitamins.
Tomorrow will be too late. History does not forget, and history will not forgive anyone who did wrong, just as we have never forgotten those who wronged us, and have never forgiven them. Let the Kurds live, let the humanity win.