Abdullah Öcalan: in isolation

Kurdistan: Hunger strike reaches critical stage

Esen Uslu reports on a travesty of justice

More than 700 Kurdish political prisoners have been on hunger strike in Turkey since September 12: ie, more than 50 days. The first group of more than 300 have reached the critical time where the adverse affects on their health could be permanent.

At the start, the hunger-strikers stated their aims as follows:

1. End the isolation of comrade Abdullah Öcalan on the prison island of ?mral?.

2. End the ban on mother-tongue education for Kurdish pupils.

3. End the ban on using Kurdish in defence statements at criminal courts.

As may be remembered, both comrade Öcalan’s family and his solicitors were prevented from visiting him at ?mral? prison for over a year, using paltry pretexts such as “adverse weather and sea conditions” and a “mechanical breakdown” of the shuttle boat. His younger brother was finally allowed to visit him on September 21, and subsequently the concern over comrade Öcalan’s health reached international audiences. However, since then no further access has been permitted.

After a spring and summer of increased guerrilla activity, when Kurdish fighters attempted to set up permanent bases within the boundaries of Turkey, there were hundreds of deaths and as a result prospects of a negotiated settlement started to look quite slim. The developments in the Syrian Kurdistan, where Kurds have suddenly assumed control of a wide swathe of land along the Turkish border, have ended any enthusiasm among sections of the AKP government for such a settlement. At present the government seems adamant in its unaccommodating attitude towards any talks with the PKK and its recognised leader, and refuses to allow comrade Öcalan to express his opinions to his followers and to Turkish public opinion.

After the much vaunted ‘democratisation programme’ grudgingly implemented by the AKP government, Kurdish-language teaching became a school option, with dictionaries and course books prepared. In practice, however, many schools were unable to find trained teachers or sufficient pupils to start the courses, with many families scared of being stigmatised if they opted for their children to take up Kurdish. So for most Kurds mother-tongue education remains unavailable.

Since April 2009, when 2,000 alleged members of Öcalan’s Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) were detained in a single sweep, more then 8,000 people have been arrested and about 4,000 are still held, accused of being members of an illegal organisation. Those detained include elected members of parliament, mayors, municipal council members in several cities and towns, lawyers, trade unionists, teachers, academics and human rights activists.

During the various trials the defendants have not been allowed to speak Kurdish and many have been forcibly removed from court when they attempted to do so. A good number have been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms without having been able to present a defence. Their cases are now going before the supreme court of appeal.

The AKP government and the mainstream media controlled by the Islamists have employed a news embargo on the hunger strikes, and news coverage has appeared in the press only when, for example, a demonstration has been crushed by the police.

Facing the onslaught of the state for its support of the hunger-strikers, the Democratic Society Congress called a “day of total resistance” on October 30 in support of their demands and to prevent their deaths. The action in the Kurdish provinces of eastern and south-eastern Turkey was met by oppressive measures on the part of the state. However, in many places the courage and determination shown by protestors resulted in police lines being broken, and impromptu marches were turned into mass demonstrations.

In Istanbul, under the benevolent eyes of the police, fascist thugs attacked people on their way to one of the demonstrations and several people were stabbed (more up-to-date information and photos are available on the website of the Firat news agency at en.firatajans.com, or on the Firat Facebook page). There have also been many solidarity actions in major European cities, including London.

It remains to be seen whether the hunger strikes and mass demonstrations will be enough to force the AKP government to abandon its obstinate stance on a negotiated settlement, or whether instead there will be an autumn of mass funerals.