Sunday, November 4, 2012

54th Day--Hunger Strike

                Tonight was unusually warm for November—humid, everyone in short sleeves. I was coming from a friend’s house where we were doing some filming for an improv theater we are starting up on the Asian side. I went down to the wharf to fill up my Akbil (the card you use for busses, trains, and ferries) when I noticed a group gathering next to bus station. About a hundred people sat in front of a line of candles illuminating signs that read, ‘We are here on the 54th day to support the hunger strikers’ and ‘Ölüm değil, çözüm için’ (not for death, but for a solution) They chanted slogans—‘The murderers will have to answer for this crime!’  From the dark beneath Kadikoy’s Haldun Taner theater came another group marching with red flags. They called to each other across the newspaper sellers and sausage stands who started to notice. ‘What the hell are they shouting about?’ one asked. A crowd started to gather. Police began to notice.

I stopped in front of the candle flames like a moth. I don’t know what it was exactly—but the graveness of the situation seemed to flicker in that candle light. In Turkey, hunger strikes have always meant death. The prime minister denied their existence. ‘We have no hunger strikers!’ Or else called them terrorists. ‘The state will never bow its head to the pressure of terrorists’ or else said it was all a show. Every day there’s something else he says that is more crass. Some of the newspapers are saying that not much interest is being garnered by the hunger strikers—but here is this gathering crowd at the Kadikoy wharf. In Denizli 91 students from Pamukkale Univeristy were arrested for marching in support of the hunger strikers. Galatasaray students and others from universities all over the country have started sympathy strikes.

While we were filming tonight, a friend asked me if my father-in-law was striking. ‘Not yet,’ I said. There’s been an announcement tonight that all the prisoners will start striking—(some estimates put that at over 10,000 people, though it is still unclear just how many people have been arrested in the KCK case. The arrests continue—yesterday 21 people more people were arrested in Mersin.) This will include my wife’s dad, of course. And means…means what? There’s a storm coming. Shadows. I am proud of him. I want to help him somehow. But the government seems so ruthless, so indifferent. It throws as much propaganda as it can at the strikers. But I have felt how frustrating it is to be among these people and face the power of the Turkish state.

And I have seen a hunger strike before. In 1998, six Tibetans in New Delhi stopped eating to protest Chinese occupation. It ended when the Indian police stormed the tents and Thupten Ngodup, a 60 year old man set himself on fire. It changed nothing of course. For the past few months, people all over Tibet have been doing the same--self immolations, deaths, self-murder as the only weapon against the all-powerful State.
Those candles at the wharf tonight reminded me of the candles in front of the Tibetan strikers tents. And there’s this dread that spread over with the wind coming off the water, that the flames are rising again.

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