Thirty eight years have passed since the July 1982 death fasts that were undertaken in prisons in Turkey to protest against the 12 September 1980 military coup and the dehumanising conditions of Diyarbakir prison. The death fasts were led by Kemal Pir, Hayri Durmuş, Ali Çiçek and Akif Yılmaz, founding members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Kemal Pir was one of the founders of the PKK. With PKK fellow members Hayri Durmuş, Akif Yılmaz and Ali Çiçek, he announced on 14 July 1982 the beginning of the death fasts.
Kemal Pir, aged 30, died on the 55th day of his death fast, after losing his eye-sight. Pir continues to be honoured as an embodiment of the radical and internationalist spirit of the movement and a bridge for the struggling Turkish and Kurdish people.
Born in 1952 in the village of Güzeloluk in the Torul district of Gümüşhane as a child from a peasant family, he went on to study at the Faculty of Language, History and Geography at the University of Hacettepe during the early 1970’s. Influenced by the revolutionary movement led by Abdullah Öcalan, he left the university.
Speaking at his 1981 court trial, he declared: “I looked to support anti-system movements in order to destroy the system. There were revolutionary and communist movements. There was also a national liberation movement in Kurdistan. I saw victory in its future: it still exists. I believe in it. That’s why I joined this movement. I got to know Abdullah Öcalan there. I am not a nationalist. I am against nationalist thought”.
After he was asked by the head of the prison: “Don’t you love life, Kemal?”, he replied: “We love life so much, we are prepared to die for it”.