On the anniversary of the death fast initiated by Kurdish prisoners in 1982 to protest the inhumane treatment in the notorious Diyarbakır (Amed) Prison, Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has paid tribute to the four inmates who lost their lives during the protest.
The 1982 death fast, considered a turning point after the 1980 military coup, “still guide the path of real struggle and victory today,” the HDP said and added, “Any coup and oppressive policy is doomed to defeat in the face of faith and will.”
According to official figures, 650,000 people were arrested, and 230,000 people were tried by military courts after the military coup. At least 300 people lost their lives in prisons.
The Diyarbakır Military Prison, where thousands of Kurds, including Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) executives, were held, ranked among the “world’s top 10 most notorious jails” due to the torture practices in the early 1980s.
Numerous protests were staged against the inhuman treatment in the prison during that time. The first mass death fast in Turkey, which is considered a milestone in the country’s history, began on 14 July 1982, following the self-immolation of PKK’s Mazlum Doğan in March of the same year, and subsequently four other inmates setting themselves on fire in their cells in May.
Due to the increased torture by the prison administration and the denial of prisoners’ right to political defence in court, many inmates participated in the death fast, which was announced by Mehmet Hayri Durmuş in the courtroom.
As a result of the protest, Durmuş lost his life on the 61st day of the fast, while Kemal Pir died on the 53rd day, Akif Yılmaz on the 63rd day, and Ali Çiçek on the 65th day.
However, the death fast succeeded in putting an end to the inhuman torture practices in the prison.
Recently, the letters written by Durmuş during his imprisonment were compiled into a book by Serxwebûn Publications, 41 years later.
Below, you can read a translation of Durmuş’s letter to his family dated 25 November 1980:
“As a person who understands the responsibilities and duties in every part of the world, I, too, have joined the fight for the liberation of my people and the independence of my country. I have actively participated in this struggle from 1973 to 1979. On 30 November 1979, during an operation conducted by the Turkish police and army, I was captured and taken as a prisoner. Currently, I find myself in Diyarbakır Military Prison alongside hundreds of comrades.
I have been actively engaged in the struggle for 7 years with all my faith and determination. This period may seem long to you, but for a political figure who has dedicated everything to the revolution, it is a small fraction of time. Since the first day I engaged in the struggle, I knew very well that the liberation of countries and peoples does not happen in a few months or a few years. Through the struggle, I also learned very well that the liberation of a country like Kurdistan and the welfare of our people are the tasks of generations.
Therefore, like all my comrades, I was filled with the determination to fight. I wanted to continue my struggle actively for many more years, until the end of my life, but I was captured and imprisoned. I am saddened by this, but as I witness or hear about how my people, my comrades were crushed under the feet of Turkish militarism, how they were cowardly killed in raids and tortured, my hatred and anger only increase. My loyalty and faith in the revolution grow even stronger. Despite being in prison, I will not separate myself from my comrades and the interests of my people. Over the past seven years, I have tried to be useful to my people using all my skills, knowledge, and abilities.
Yes, we have suffered great losses and we still do. But neither the Turkish army, nor traitors, nor their imperialist manipulators can destroy the PKK; they cannot extinguish the spirit of resistance in our people. The struggle for independence and freedom, led by the PKK, will ultimately achieve victory. Like many of my comrades I have remained loyal and will continue to remain loyal to the glorious cause of our people and the PKK, and its principles…”
*a death fast is an extremely strict, water-only hunger strike with no supplements like sugar and salt, typically taken in hunger strikes.