Kastama Çiçek (65) is the mother of three hunger strikers in prisons in Turkey who are participating in a mass hunger strike state-wide action. The hunger strike campaign by prisoners – into its 81st day – was launched in order to end the prison isolation conditions of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan in İmrali prison, as well as the ill-treatment of prisoners in Turkey.
Kastama Çiçek spoke to Jin News and shared her perspectives about the ongoing hunger strike campaign that is taking place on a rotational basis. She also talked about the pressures her family has faced since the 1990s. Çiçek called upon the authorities to fulfil the prisoners’ demands.
Two of Kastama Çiçek’s sons lost their lives after they joined the PKK in 1998. “No matter how painful it is, we have to rebel against cruelty. We have to continue with our struggle”, she said.
The indefinite hunger strike action was launched by political prisoners on 27 November 2020. Apart from calling for an end to Öcalan’s prison isolation, the hunger strikers are protesting against the ever worsening conditions of the prisoners. They have noted the severe violations of rights they have been subjected to. The right to get health treatment and the right to communicate has reportedly been severely curtailed, using the pandemic as a cover to effect such changes.
Family members of prisoners are not allowed to visit prisons due to the pandemic restrictions. Despite appeals from the hunger strikers and families of the hunger striking prisoners, as well as civil society and concerned groups, state officials have not responded as yet to the hunger strikers’ demands.
Kastama Çiçek has three surviving sons who are taking part in the hunger strike in prison. Kenan Çiçek, who is in Kırıkkale F-Type Prison, has been in prison for four years. Ferhat Çiçek, who is in Diyarbakır D-Type Prison, has been imprisoned for five years. Beşir Çiçek, who is in Diyarbakır D-Type Prison, has been in prison for six months.
‘I could not forget the cruelty that day’
Kastama Çiçek spoke of the situation she experienced soon after Ocalan had been abducted and imprisoned in Turkey: “At that time, hunger strikes started in prisons because of the international conspiracy. My husband and daughter also participated in the hunger strike. The hunger strike was held in the HADEP building. I went there to see them. Immediately after he left, the nationalists and racists attacked the place. We had to stay there for three days and three nights. Later, the police came and raided the building and attacked us. First, they took the men and tortured them. Then, they attacked and detained the women. We were detained for nine days. There was a pregnant woman present. Dozens of police attacked us, questioning us why we were on a hunger strike. I could not forget the cruelty that day”.
‘We were not free, inside or outside’
The family moved to Adana a few years later and then returned to Diyarbakır about seven years ago. Kastama Çiçek stated that their house, during this time, was raided by the police on several occasions. Kastama continues: “My two sons joined the PKK in 1998 because of the state’s pressure. One of my son’s died after a while. At that time, my husband was in prison. We were not free, inside or outside. After my son was martyred, the pressure of the state increased. They attacked my son’s grave several times”, she said.
‘We are paying the price for calling for peace’
Two years ago, two of my sons were on a hunger strike. Now, my three sons are participating in the hunger strike”, Kastama Çiçek said. She added: “We demand our rights. We are paying the price for calling for peace. For 22 years, Mr. Öcalan has been in isolation. The oppression imposed by the state is intolerable. The hunger strikers insist on their demands being met. I’ve not been able to visit or meet my sons for a year. We encounter many difficulties when I try to visit. We are also subjected to violations of rights. When I used to go to Kırıkkale Prison, I would spend two to three days just travelling to get there. We wrote several letters requesting transfers to a nearby prison. However, we did not get any response”, she said.
‘We support their struggle’
Concerning the current hunger strike action, Kastama Çiçek said: “We support their struggle. We have paid a high price due to the state’s oppression, but we do not regret our actions. We will not give up our struggle. No matter how painful it all is, we have to rebel against cruelty. We have to lay claim to their struggle”.