UK's The Guardian: Pro-government media
have ignored Kurdish hunger strikes in Turkey
LONDON, Political inmates' strike enters
48th day as PKK and allies condemn Ankara over
denied civil rights and armed conflict. While many
have hailed Turkey as a democratic role model since
the start of the Arab spring, the country's
treatment of its large Kurdish minority begs the
question of whether such praise is justified.
While the indefinite-irreversible hunger strikes of
the imprisoned members of Kurdistan Workers' Party
(PKK) and Kurdistan Freedom of Woman Party (PAJK),
which were launched on 12 September to force the
government to "instantly and without condition"
provide the circumstances of Kurdistan Workers'
Party (PKK) Leader Abdullah Ocalan's freedom, health
and security, lift the bans and obstacles over
mother tongue and meet/respect the democratic rights
of Kurdish people, are spreading day after day in
Turkey prisons, the international media is finally
setting eyes on the hunger strikers. Today is the
45th day of the hunger strikes and the acts is going
on with over 781 hunger strikers in 58 prisons.
One of the most sold papers of England, the Guardian
prepared an article over these acts. In the article
it is said, "The government refuses to talk to
legally elected [pro-Kurdish BDP] parliamentarians
because of their alleged ties to 'terrorists', but
says it is ready to talk to convicted terrorists in
jail. Where is the logic in that?" The article is as
Political inmates' strike enters 46th day as PKK and
allies condemn Ankara over denied civil rights and
armed conflict. While many have hailed Turkey as a
democratic role model since the start of the Arab
spring, the country's treatment of its large Kurdish
minority begs the question of whether such praise is
After months of increasing violence and the ever
more hawkish stance of the AKP government, the
Kurdish issue seems to have reached an impasse.
Around 690 inmates in prisons across the country are
taking part in a hunger strike, which was started on
12 September by 65 prisoners convicted of belonging
to the outlawed Kurdish parties, the PKK and PAJK.
According to the Human Rights Association of Turkey
(IHD), there have been reports that the hunger
strikers have been beaten, isolated and denied
vitamin B1, salt and sugar water.
The hunger strikers are demanding Kurdish language
rights in education and in court, and an end to the
solitary confinement of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan,
who is imprisoned on an island. While the prime
minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has recently hinted
at the possibility of restarting talks with Öcalan,
the AKP has not yet commented on the hunger strike,
and pro-government media have ignored the topic. For
Asiye Kolçak, deputy chairwoman of the Istanbul
headquarters of the pro-Kurdish BDP, the hunger
strikes are the result of a political impasse: "For
over 30 years, all possible political means have
been exhausted, but without success.
The AKP continues its politics of assimilation and
denial of Kurdish civil rights." According to a
Crisis Group Europe report published in September,
more than 700 people have died on all sides of the
armed struggle in the last 14 months. Many fear that
the Kurdish issue has reached a dangerous stalemate.
"We are at a dead end," said Sezgin Tanrikulu,
deputy chairman of the main opposition party CHP and
former president of the Diyarbakir Bar Association.
Citing the decrease in inter-ethnic marriages in
Turkey, Tanrikulu fears that the divide between
Turks and Kurds might become unbridgeable: "Violence
continues unabated, people on both sides keep dying
- doesn't this show that the current strategy is a
failure? What we need is reconciliation. Dialogue
has to be reopened."
Koray Çaliskan of the Istanbul Bosporus University
believes that the so-called "democratic opening", an
ill-fated attempt at rapprochement launched at the
end of 2008, has failed: "This is no opening, but
rather democratic closure," he said. Referring to
Erdogan's repeated public assertions that he would
not debate with the BDP in parliament, he said: "The
government refuses to talk to legally elected
[pro-Kurdish BDP] parliamentarians because of their
alleged ties to 'terrorists', but says it is ready
to talk to convicted terrorists in jail. Where is
the logic in that?"
He added that the demands made by hunger strikers
were not only reasonable, but legally justifiable:
"If an Italian needs to go to court in Turkey, the
state is legally required to provide a translator.
It should be the same for Kurdish citizens. And what
are Kurds supposed to do with elective Kurdish
classes? Turks should take those. Kurds already know
their native language and simply demand equal
education rights," he added, referring to the
country's constitution, which enforces Turkish as
the sole language to be used in schools. Kolçak said
that more than 8,000 BDP politicians and activists
were in jail - of whom 4,000 were arrested in 2011
under arbitrary terrorism charges - including MPs
and serving Kurdish mayors.
Tanrikulu said: "The AKP made Kurds believe that
they would find a solution. But the trust in the
government is gone." He does not believe that the
all-party parliamentary committee set up in October
2011 to draft a more democratic constitution will
resolve things: "In such violent times and in such a
tense atmosphere, it will be hard to find viable
compromise. First we need to end this polarisation
between all factions." Tanrikulu continued: "I do
not agree with exploiting human bodies for political
but now is not the time to discuss this. Now is the
time to end it. The government and the Ministry of
Justice have to take the initiative; it's in their
hands to come to an agreement."
The Turkey Medical Association warns that time is of
crucial importance. According to lawyers who visit
the hunger strikers, several are now in a critical
condition and the Ministry of Justice has refused to
grant doctors permission to check on fasting
inmates. The ministry was not available for comment.
Turkey has a history of "death fasts": in 1996, 12
inmates died during hunger strikes protesting
against isolation cells in high-security prisons,
while a fast against the cells between 2000 and 2007
claimed 122 lives.
"What will happen when the first hunger strikers die
in prison now?" Çaliskan asked. "One MP has joined
the death fast already. What happens should he die?
Which Middle Eastern country will be able to hold up
Turkey as an example for democracy then?"
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