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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:


Feride Eralp
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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11 Responses

  1. November 10, 2012, 8:44 pm

    I know that Turkey has a large number of political prisoners, journalists etc.
    But let me tell you this:
    Many years ago, when Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdish PKK, was arrested, the Kurds in Europe staged the most brutal demonstrations in Germany and Switzerland that we had ever seen. – Storming buildings of political parties (of the Social Democrats for instance) and have people hang out of the windows, threatening to drop them. Blocking the autobahn and fanatically hitting the police with metal bars. The German and Swiss police had never seen such a thing.

    I got to tell you: I’m not a friend of the Kurds the way they acted.

  2. Scott
    November 10, 2012, 9:25 pm

    Yikes. What are the demands of the Turkish Kurds? (Beyond those for legal treatment of the political prisoners described here.) To me it’s one of those intractable old ethnic issues, liked those which plague Eastern Europe, and I can’t help being conscious of the way various neocons have tried to lever Kurdish demands against various states in the region that were resisting the US for one reason or another. (Safire and Iran come to mind.) I do suspect Kurds are discriminated against in Turkey, and also that they are treated better than Palestinians by Israel.
    I mean, it is actually true that Turkey is a successful Islamic democracy, and Erdogan has done a lot to support the Palestinians. Is the bottom line whether one supports a Kurdish state carved out of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq? I don’t know, but American and European diplomats never have, and I suspect for good reasons.

  3. amigo
    November 11, 2012, 9:14 am

    One could at least expect the usual comment reserved for Israel.


    Of course the Turks could respond with,”Turkey deeply regrets” etc , etc.

    Get you act together Turkey, if you seriously wish to join the EU.

  4. piotr
    November 11, 2012, 9:21 am

    It reminds me “sharp” American reaction after Azerbaijan freed (and promoted from captain to major) axe murderer sentenced to life for killing an Armenian when both murderer and the victim were in the same dorm during English language course organized by NATO. An American spokesperson pronounced “concern” and that was all we ever heard on the issue.

    Perhaps it is better if they just do not say anything. Erdogan can do what he pleases provided he is not criticizing Israel too much, so if he is preoccupied with something else, Ergenokom or Kurds — all the better. Syria is a vexing problem that Erdogan thoughtlessly brought on himself. Strapped Syrian government allegedly made a deal with PKK so PKK de facto controls north-east corner of Syria and does not bother the government otherwise.

    Erdogan is an increasingly repressive champion of freedom and dignity which is what America historically wished from her less developed allies. It kind of pegs him in a spot that is not particularly exalted, so he should ponder on that (not that he will).

  5. piotr
    November 11, 2012, 9:44 am

    There is nothing particularly intractable in Kurdish demands to be free to use their language in public, use Kurdish in education (that usually requires a compromise, how many classes in mother tongue and how many in the national language, exactly kind of thing that is sorted out in various ways in European countries) and to have political parties that are not consistently outlawed or harassed.

  6. clenchner
    November 11, 2012, 12:53 pm


  7. Citizen
    November 11, 2012, 1:23 pm

    All proxy fights because Israel murdered some Turks in international waters, and Israel has not apologized. Is Turkey supposed to treat that incident like the US did, not to mention Rachel Corrie?

  8. ToivoS
    November 11, 2012, 7:44 pm

    There should be no debate here at MW on this question: the Kurds deserve our support.

    The Turks have been oppressing the native people in Anatolia for 700 years. The Seljuk Turks over ran what today we call Turkey and established the Ottoman empire only in 1300. They have been oppressing the previous inhabitants ever since — Kurds, Greeks, Romans, Armenians, Persians and too many to list. It was just 90 years ago that the Turks committed one of the greatest genocides of the the 20th century. They basically exterminated the Armenians in Eastern Turkey and NW Syria. (Didn’t Hitler comment that genocide would not be a problem because no one talks about the Armenians?).

    Turkey has to be held responsible for their actions.

    • piotr
      November 11, 2012, 10:28 pm

      Slightly wrong history. Seljuk Turks overrun Anatolia in the aftermath of the Battle of Manzikert in August 26, 1071. (5 years after Norman conquest of England, to give some perspective. Normans were greatly oppressing native Saxons and various Celtic people). In particular, a large number of Seljuk settled in the center of Anatolia and in about 10 years they controlled the entirety of Anatolia. But after the 1st Crusade Byzantines regained most populous parts of Anatolia etc. 1300 is the beginning of what was then a minor border Turkish principality under a certain Osman/Ottman, one of many such small states, but facing Constantinople on the Asiatic side.

      • piotr
        November 13, 2012, 5:26 pm

        A correction: Norman were NEITHER native Saxons NOR various Celtic people, I hope that the grammar of that sentence can be corrected by our highly intelligent readers.

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