The Hunger Strikes in Turkey: Using One’s Body as a Means of Communication

Youth burned tires and stopped the traffic along the streets, preventing the police from approaching the demonstrators. (Photo by Gulisor Akkum, The Armenian Weekly)

From The Armenian Weekly

Life came to a standstill in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey on Oct. 30. Shops and businesses were closed, except for a few bakeries and pharmacies. Buses and other means of public transportation were out of service. Children didn’t go to school.

Ayse Gunaysu

Protesters in the streets, both in Istanbul and in the Kurdish provinces, were tear-gassed, chased, beaten, and taken into police custody.

Oct. 30 marked the 48th day of hunger strikes by Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey—a critical stage for human life, not to mention lasting disabilities. And the government, instead of taking a step toward a peaceful settlement, continued to fuel the conflict by slandering the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

At a time when millions of Kurds were waiting for a hopeful sign from the government, Prime Minister Erdogan on Oct. 30 declared that he would not give in to the ongoing “blackmailing [of] the government by deaths in prisons.”

The Kurdish prisoners had begun the hunger strikes on Sept. 12. Their demands: the release of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan from solitary confinement; the right of education in Kurdish; and the right to defend themselves in Kurdish during trial.

With new groups joining, the number quickly reached 700, with 8,000 people taking part in hunger strikes outside of prison.

Oct. 30 marked the 48th day of hunger strikes by Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey—a critical stage for human life, not to mention lasting disabilities. And the government, instead of taking a step toward a peaceful settlement, continued to fuel the conflict by slandering the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

Their demands may seem unusual; they do not, after all, involve an improvement in prison conditions, or the better treatment of inmates. They are more political in nature.

Öcalan’s solitary confinement on Imrali Island in the Marmara Sea continues under even more severe conditions. For 461 days since July 27, 2011, he has not been allowed to see his lawyers, whose formal applications for a visit have been denied for unlawful and nonsensical bureaucratic reasons.

No steps have been taken to resolve the “Kurdish question.” The war in south-eastern Turkey has been going on for 30 years; has claimed some 50,000 lives; has caused the forced evacuation of 3,000 villages, leaving millions homeless and unemployed in nearby towns; and has seen thousands of cases of unsolved murders and missing persons under police/military custody.

No attempt has been made toward a peace-building process by the government; on the contrary, the conflict continues to claim more lives and damage the whole social, political, and economic landscape of Turkey.

The war is not confined to the mountains anymore. It has spread to the cities, and through mass arrests. For the past two years, thousands of human rights activists, municipality workers, lawyers, journalists, intellectuals, students, and trade unionists have been thrown in jail with no solid legal evidence of having committed any offense. The ongoing mass arrests have destroyed the entire setting for a peaceful political struggle by the Kurds and their supporters.

While parliament members have long worked on a new constitution, there’s no indication of any intention to recognize the Kurdish identity as an equal and active part of Turkey’s social and political life.

What’s worse, the government’s language grows more and more insulting when talking about the Kurdish question. The government refuses to enter into any kind of talks with BDP deputies, accusing them of collaborating with the “terrorists.” This, in turn, provokes ultra-nationalist para-military mobs ready to stage lynching attempts in the western provinces of Turkey—which has been happening with greater frequency lately.

BDP deputies are indeed treated like “terrorists” by the police during peaceful demonstrations, where they are beaten, tear-gassed, and hit by pressurized jets of water.

An estimated 10,000 Kurdish prisoners in Turkey, who are denied the right to defend themselves in their mother tongue during trials, are making a call to Turkey and to the world to hear them. They want us to see that they have been left with no choice but to use their own bodies as a means of communication, at the cost of a slow and painful death in the eyes of a totally indifferent Turkish majority.


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  1. George said:

    Few days ago there was a declaration of partnering against the Kurds between Mr. Erdogan and Mrs. Merkel, Turkey and Germany together like old days, is this a preparation of repeating the history, this time the Genocide against the Kurdish population, Germany already has it’s hand in the Holocaust of the Jews, The Armenian Genocide, and now the Kurds, also since we are in election year why don’t somebody ask Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton their stand on this issue?

  2. Tsoghig said:

    Turks are their own worst enemy. This is what a history of suppression of intellectual thought leads to. Those dumb bastards would gain so much more in being nice to Kurds in the eyes of the world community. Unfortunately for the Kurds, Armenians and other oppressed communities in Turkey, the American and, probably, the international media does not report these events. Thanks to NPR and other American media outlets, Americans think Turkey is a model Muslim country for the middle east. Sickening. The only model Turkey is is a model for genocide, as Hitler so elequently stated, and a model of what hell on earth looks like. These turks who think it is ok to kill Kurds for speaking Kurdish as Erdogan does are a clear indication to me that, these turks are wild animals, subhuman if you will. There are good Turks too, I’m not saying all turks are subhuman, Ayse is an example of an enlightened Turk, but she is risking her life to speak out. Hopefully she doesn’t live in Turkey.

  3. Alex Postallian said:

    Ayse:You are not a turkey,gooble,gooble,you must be of another ethnical background.You make sense,and have compassion–No you are not a turkie gooble,gooble.

    • Hagop said:

      When I read comments like these, I wonder why on earth any Turk (forget “enlightened”) would bother with Armenians, when this is the kind of responses they’re to expect in return.