Kurdish political prisoners of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), in over 121 prisons in Turkey, are on Day 21 of their indefinite hunger strikes to break the isolation of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.
The Kurdish political prisoners began their hunger strike on 27 November 2020, the anniversary of the formation of the PKK, and are organising the hunger strikes on a 5 day rotation. The prisoners presented statements and the demands of their hunger strikes to the governors of each prison in which they are carrying out the political actions. However, the Turkish government is yet to comment on the actions and prison authorities have punished hunger strikers and families for talking to the media about the hunger strikes after telephone conversations between families and the prisoners. There have also been calls from the families of the hunger strikers to join the hunger strikes themselves.
The Kurdish leader and founder of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, has been held on the prison island complex of Imrali Island since he was kidnapped from Nairobi by Turkish military intelligence (MIT) in February 1999 in an operation that formed part of a complex international conspiracy led by the USA.
Öcalan was on a journey to seek a peaceful, political solution to the Kurdish Question after having been forced out of Damascus by threats of a Turkish invasion. He was refused permission to land in Europe and was on his way to South Africa to issue a call for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue when he was kidnapped from the Greek Embassy in Nairobi and flown to Imrali Island where he has been since, mostly held in total isolation.
Abdullah Öcalan has led the PKK’s resistance against the Turkish state’s official policy of forced assimilation of the Kurds since the formation of the PKK in the hamlet of Fis, in the Lice district of Diyarbakir on 27 November 1978. Whilst imprisoned on Imrali Island, Abdullah Öcalan was approached by Turkish state representatives and was the chief negotiator for the Kurdish movement in the peace process with the Turkish state that took place between 2013 and 2015. When the Turkish government terminated the process in April 2015, it simultaneously isolated Öcalan from society and politics.
On 8 November 2018, Kurdish MP Leyla Güven led a hunger strike to break this isolation in an attempt to renew peace talks with the Turkish state to try and bring an end to the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state that has been ongoing since 1984. The hunger strike was joined by over 7,000 PKK and Kurdish political prisoners in Turkish jails and joined by solidarity strikes in Europe. It was to last over 200 days and by the end would have claimed the lives of eight hunger strikers with over 30 more nearing death.
It finally ended with what was considered a victory by the hunger strikers and their supporters, as the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, CPT, visited prisons in Turkey whilst Abdullah Ocalan’s lawyers were able to finally visit Imrali Island prison to see their client and convey a message from the Kurdish leader to the outside world. However, the ending of this political isolation was short lived as the Turkish state continued it’s repressive war policies towards the Kurds and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made it clear that he has turned his back on any political solution to what is arguably Turkeys most important political issue.
The current initiative
As reported, Kurdish political prisoners, however, have recently launched another initiative to break the isolation again, as Turkey is poised – according to a number of reports and commentators – to invade North East Syria again. Kurdish political prisoners, as reported, in over 121 prisons in Turkey have begun hunger strikes since 27 November and are organising the hunger strikes on a five day rotation.
But as the hunger strike in Turkey’s prisons continues into its 21st day, prisoner Mehmet Kurt stated: “If our indefinite and alternating hunger strikes fail to get results, we will switch to an indefinite and non-alternating hunger strike to achieve our aims”. Mehmet Kurt (49), who is held in Kayseri Bünyan No 2 T-Type Closed Prison, also called attention to the increasing violations of rights in prisons in a phone call with his family.
What is becoming clearer, is that this tactic of hunger strike by highly motivated and disciplined political prisoners of PKK, is again, aiming to break the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan at a time when Turkey is reportedly set to invade North East Syria and has stepped up repressive measures against the democratic political will of the Kurds in the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), imprisoning hundreds of party members including MP’s and elected mayors and officials.
As the hunger strike reaches Day 21, the stated aims of the hunger strikers are to break the political isolation of the Kurdish leadership in the person of Abdullah Öcalan so as to help break the deadlock and to begin peaceful political negotiations whilst stopping the potential war in North East Syria and attempting to resolve this long drawn out war between the PKK and the Turkish state. This conflict has been ongoing since 1984, with thousands of deaths and much agony caused on both sides of the conflict.