Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hunger Strike, 50th day--and year anniversary of Mamoste's Arrest

We spent the Bayram holiday on the Mediterranean in the village of Kaş—swimming, kayaking, canyoning, and eating seafood. We always enjoy food on vacations (and every other day for that matter, we’re plumping up like Thanksgiving Turkeys, or Bayram sheep) and it was with an odd pang of unease that we gorged ourselves silly as the papers across the street seemed to accuse us with headlines about the hunger strikers.

65 prisoners began their hunger strike on September 12th, the anniversary of the military coup that began decades of purges, disappearances, and assassinations by the Turkish state.  Since the 12th, an estimated 600 people have joined them, with more strikers announced every day (the number varies, sources are notoriously unreliable; the Bayram holiday has made exact numbers difficult to ascertain—at least according to the channel, NTV. Reuters claim 800. Most people say around 700).

Their demands are simple.

1. That solitary confinement (tecrit) be lifted for Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali Island (the island where his prison is located). They’re on good constitutional ground with this one—Öcalan hasn’t been permitted to meet with his lawers for a year and a half. The government has offered some rather silly excuses—‘the weather is not safe for the boatride over’ or ‘the boats are broken’, but no one, of course, is buying. Cengiz Çandar today wrote in the Radikal on Monday that an AKP official told him this:

‘We are aware of the influence of Imrali on the Kurds, but we are the ones who brought about this situation. In other words, the State did it to itself. Since he was captured in 1999 Öcalan has been managing his organization from prison—we recognized the possibility. This is a situation you would see nowhere else on earth. Thanks to us, his managed to increase his influence over his people. Now, for months no one has heard a peep from that island and the world hasn’t ended. That means that the influence he gained (thanks to us) is weakening.’

In other words, the isolation is meant to break any influence Öcalan still holds over the Kurds.

2. That Kurds (and everyone) be allowed to defend themselves in their mother tongue before the court. In their petition to the government, the BDP writes:

‘From today, with over 8000 people in prison for over three years on trial in the KCK investigations, and with our requests for a defense in the mother tongue not only refused but counted for nothing, the judicial process has come to a standstill….The efforts of civil organizations have been ignored and our pleas in the legislature have failed to draw any attention, and so hundreds of prisoners are forced to submit their bodies to hunger and death.

I witnessed the repeated refusals for a defense in Kurdish this July while visiting the trials in Silivri—the court was stubborn, defiant, and seemed bent on hurrying the trial to a predetermined end.

3. As indicated in the above quote from the BDP’s petition, the strikers are also demanding public education in Kurdish.

The first two requests have been met with some positive signs—but so far they have remained only signs. Just today (October 30th) IMC news reports that the government has once more refused permission for Öcalan to meet his lawyers while at the same time the Ministry of Justice tries to circumvent the whole problem by claiming that there never was any solitary confinement. He could meet anyone he wanted, apparently, but they had to apply through the proper channels like everyone else.  Well they do and they’re refused, guys. That’s the issue.

Today—I am writing on the 30th, the BDP’s co-chairman Demirtaş called for civil protest throughout the country today. Businesses were not to open their doors, children and teachers were not to go to school, life was to come to a stop—an attempt to have a Kurdish spring like the Arab one.  And life did come to a stop—all over the Southeast thousands went to the street and marched in support of the hunger strikers. We have been anxiously watching reports coming in from the cities of Van, Muş, Mazgirt, Tunceli, Agrı, Doğubeyazit, Şirnak, Antalya, Adana, and of course, Diyarbekir showing marchers filling the streets only to be attacked by police with tear gas, water cannons, and in a clip from Diyarbekir, a line of tanks. A friend in Diyarbekir said that, despite living in a city where protests are the norm, he had never seen anything so comprehensive. The city was paralyzed.
Photo: Van ve Yüksekova'da Onbinler Yürüyor

Van merkez ile Hakkari'nin Yüksekova ilçesinde onbinlerce kişi barikatları aşarak, yürüyüşe geçti. 

Kepenklerin yüzde yüz kapalı olduğu Van'da  il binamızın önünde açılan çadırın önünde biraraya gelen onbinlerce kişi polis barikatlarını aşarak, yürüyüşe geçti. Kültür Merkezi yolundan Akköprü Mahallesi'ne doğru yürüyüşe geçen onbinlerce yurttaşın yürüyüşü devam ederken, polisler ise kitlenin sayısının artması ve yürüyüşün başlaması üzerine barikatları kaldırmak zorunda kaldı. Kitle Akköprü Mahallesi'nde araçlarla Van F Tipi Cezaevi önüne doğru hareket edecek. Kitlenin yürüyüşü sürüyor. 

Yüksekova'da Onbinler Yürüyor 

Yaşamın durduğu Hakkari'nin Yüksekova ilçesinde İlçe binamız ile Oslo Oteli önünde biraraya gelen onbinlerce kişi, Eski Cezaevi Kavşağı'na doğru yürüyüşe geçti. PKK ve Konfederalizm bayraklarını açan onbinlerce kişi, sık sık "Biji Serok Apo", "İntikam" sloganları atıyor. İlçe halkını akın ettiği yürüyüş sonrası basın açıklaması yapılacak.
The protests in Van

In Diyarbekir
In Istanbul as well—where in Okmeydani police attacked protester, even tossing a gas bomb into a tent with several mothers of strikers holding a hunger strike of their own in solidarity.  (Emine Akdoğan, reports Bianet, has one daughter in the mountains and one daughter, Şehnaz, in prison. Şehnaz told her what she was about to do on her last visit to the prison. ‘What could I do but support her decision? We went to Bakırköy for the Bayram holiday and were met there with a Bayram meal of gas bombs.’ The reporter adds that moments later the tent where Emine spoke to her was ‘dispersed’ by tear gas)

The Turkish media channels report things as if the police responded only after being attacked by Molotov cocktails and rocks.  Oh, I am sure this happened, but wonders what exactly one needed a line of tanks for against some kids with rocks? And really, why does anyone believe the police need any provoking when we have seen countless reports of torture and abuse of people from all walks of life at police hands?  (The woman beaten by cops in Izmir, the man in Istanbul kicked by a team of cops as he writhed on the ground, the girl band tortured in Istanbul. Here's a documentary on the topic featuring pictures of political prisoners on hunger strike killed with flame throwers by Turkish guards.)

And as for police attacks being a response—a video on one of the main Turkish channels show protesters standing in front of a building and being warned that if they don’t move in five minutes, police will ‘intervene’.  No one was throwing a damn thing. In the meantime, the Prime Minister calls the BDP who started the hunger strike ‘terrorist barons’ and says that they themselves feast on lamb while their pawns are forced to starve themselves to death. To prove his point, he shows a picture of BDP party members at a banquet in the town of Kızıltepe near Mardin, but the correspondent reporting never mentions that the picture was taken in July, some three months before the hunger strike was even conceived. Reuters leads with Erdogan’s deliberate misinformation as if it were fact.  Just yesterday, Turkey’s Independence Day, Erdoğan forbade celebrators to march in Ankara. When they tried anyway, police responded with billy clubs and tear gas—and the victims were mostly old Kemalists, well dressed women and old men, members of Parliament and local governors. Erdoğan called them terrorists, too.

The  hunger strikers are entering a critical point—four days ago, it was reported that four women on hunger strike in Siirt are moribund—their stomachs no longer accept fluid. Meanwhile, Amnesty reports that guards in Tekirdağ prisoners are ill-treating the hunger strikers while those in Silivri and Şakran are putting them in solitary confinement. There are also reports that they are restricting strikers access to vital liquids, vitamins, and salts. False media reports are popping up everywhere that the hunger strikes are ending—only to be disproven later. 

Things look grim. And this whole situation hangs over our family like a dark cloud. Over thousands of families.

Turkey has a history with hunger strikes. In2000, over 800 prisoners in the F type prisons (like Kandıra where my father in law was first held) began unto death hunger strikes to protest inhumane conditions. The strikes ended when police stormed the cells—30 prisoners died. Many are wondering if this is what Erdoğan plans.

There is a petition you can sign to make your voice heard. However lightly.....

Here...Petition for Hunger Strikers


Anonymous said...


I support the ability of the accused to defend themselves in their native language, and I don't know enough facts about the effect of having public school in Kurdish to make a judgment about it. But why are the prisoners including the treatment of Ocalan in their demands? Shouldn't they be on a hunger strike to protest the fabrication of evidence against them, the unjust trial procedures, etc.? Including Ocalan in the demands would seem to only increase opposition to the prisoners. Many of the prisoners have probably never done anything violent or been a part of the PKK, but including Ocalan in the demands associates them with the PKK automatically. Furthermore, Ocalan was issuing orders and directives to the PKK through his lawyer, which as I understand, was the reason for putting him in isolation in the first place. While I don't support isolation generally, it is also not ok for a prisoner to be directing military operations of any kind from his cell. What are your thoughts on this?

Jeff Gibbs said...

Good questions and I had much the same reaction--why not make demands for their own rights? On that one, I am not sure except there is a policy of asking nothing for themselves in general. I have observed that many times. It strikes me as a bit foolish but then, the court has been able to spin most of their ill-treatment in ways that make them seem innocent of any wrong doing. As for Ocalan--another one I initially found difficult to understand. It seems there is a lot of Kurdish respect for Ocalan no matter what the Turks might want to believe (and of course, many Kurds consider him a guerilla leader and not a terrorist) and they see his treatment as their treatment. And in any case, the govt is being very disingenuous when it comes to him directing the PKK from inside. It was what they were counting on--it seems well accepted now that they have been conducting negotiations with the PKK THROUGH him for years. A journalist friend said that interviews he has done verified this. They aren't asking for his release in the end (officially) but they do want the constitutional right to council recognized--which seems a fair thing in light of the seriousness of the hunger strike.

Jeff Gibbs said...

And I just read Ezgi Basaran's article in Radikal--she mentions that until now, all of Ocalan's meetings with lawyers were recorded and submitted to the Ministry of Justice (a condition he wants lifted). The official story: that the Turkish state, who wanted to execute Ocalan, would then turn around and simply jail him then let him run the PKK from his cell always sounded like hogwash to me. It just makes no sense. That they were using him for negotiations (supported by many sources outside the media) certainly makes more sense