US silent as thousands go on hunger strike in Turkey for Kurdish political rights

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Seven hundred Kurdish political prisoners have been on hunger strike in Turkey for the past 60 days and many are now in critical condition. However, their efforts were given a boost in the last week. 10,000 people decided to join the hunger strike following a November 5th statement by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP government that ignored all the demands of the hunger strike, denied its existence and then alleged that it was only a bunch of hoodlums. The number of strikers is ever increasing as journalists and artists in Turkey join in on the hunger strike in solidarity, as well as the number of international hunger strikers who are protesting the injustices of the Turkish government increases.

These hunger strikers were initially put in prison during a large incarceration campaign against Kurdish students, politicians, journalists and people in general as well as those who are in solidarity with them, which has been going on over the past three years. They have had several hunger strikes before, but this is by far the largest and the longest one and they have declared that the strike will not end until their demands have been met.

These demands are 1) the right to education and defense in their mother tongue, and 2) the provision of conditions which ensure the health, security and freedom of the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan – who has been kept in isolation by the State of Turkey for more than a year, without being allowed to see his lawyers.

Unfortunately, at this point many of the prisoners on strike are close to death since they are not provided with the vital vitamin B1, salt or sugar by the prison authorities. In this situation of utter denial, international support is of utmost importance, as the prisoners have stated that they are defending their “most legitimate and lawful basic human, social and political rights.”

One of the main reasons the Prime Minister and the AKP government can remain in such complete denial, refuse to consider the prisoners’ demands and violate human rights so openly is due to U.S. support. Not only does the United States see Turkey as its ally in NATO and have a military base in Turkey, but it also constantly presents Turkey as an example of the perfect combination of Islam and democracy in the Middle East. Quite recently Hillary Clinton made a statement supporting Turkey in any course of action it decided to take on Syria. This feeling of security in its position as the main U.S. ally in the Middle East other than Israel, is what allows Turkey to usually fall beyond the scope of international criticism with regards to how democratic it actually is. Any support from the United States for this hunger strike and demands voiced by the Kurdish prisoners would, therefore, have an immense impact on Turkey’s international image.

A petition is being circulated internationally in order pressure the Turkish government into negotiating with the prisoners. Brief comments in solidarity with the prisoners urging the government to respond, along with signatures are very important in publicizing the action, and helping political prisoners and those in solidarity with them resist the creation of a repressive, open-air prison out of the whole country.

A frequently updated photo blog on the hunger strike: http://kurdishhungerstrike.tumblr.com/

PETITION: http://www.change.org/petitions/hunger-strikers-in-turkish-prisons-engage-in-constructive-dialogue-with-prisoners

About Feride Eralp

Feride Eralp is from Istanbul, Turkey and has been a student of Anthropology at Columbia University since 2010. She is a feminist and an activist in solidarity with the Kurdish movement in Turkey. She is now also a member of the Students for Justice in Palestine at Columbia University.

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