Turkey under pressure over Kurdish hunger
Demirtaş says Turkish government must produce
solutions, Kurdish people will not remain silent
on the ongoing detentions, arrests, military
operations and the denial of the right to
self-defence in mother language.
Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) co-chair
Selahattin Demirtaş during a rally to support
Kurdish inmates conducting a hunger strike in
Batman, Turkey's Kurdish region (northern Kurdistan)
on Oct. 27, 2012. Photo: DHA
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ANKARA/DIYARBAKIR,— The Turkish government is under
increasing pressure over how to tackle a hunger
strike by hundreds of Kurdish prisoners across the
country as the protest nears its eighth week and
their health deteriorates.
Around 700 detainees mostly Kurds at more than 50
prisons are surviving on salted or sweetened water
and vitamins alone in a strike that has gained
momentum since it began with several dozen detainees
Among the strikers are several leaders of the chief
Kurdish party, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party
(BDP). They are accused of ties to the outlawed
rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has for
decades sought autonomy for the Kurds.
"The strikers' situation is deteriorating with every
day," a Human Rights Association (IHD) official told
AFP, saying the inmates had been mistreated but
without providing details.
He said the government needed to act to bring about
an end to the protest, a call that was echoed in the
press and by main opposition leader Kemal
Kilicdaroglu, who implored the strikers to abandon
their action while also addressing the government's
"I am asking the party in power to be more sensitive
to these people's requests," he was quoted as saying
in Friday's English-language Hurriyet Daily News.
Several dozen Kurdish detainees began the strike on
September 12, the anniversary of a military coup in
1980, with a host of demands including the release
of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and an end to Kurdish
'Give up this action'
With the pressure on, Justice Minister Sadullah
Ergin paid an unexpected visit Wednesday, on the eve
of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, to an Ankara
prison where strikers are being held and called on
them to halt their action.
"For the well-being of your body, your health, your
families: give up this action," he said.
He said the conservative Islamist-rooted government
was listening to the strikers and that it could
allow Kurds appearing in court to have the right to
defend themselves in their mother tongue, which is
one of their demands.
But he offered no concessions on another demand: the
authorisation of the use of Kurdish in all public
places. This is a tough demand for the government to
even if there have been big steps forward in recent
years in the area of Kurdish cultural rights as
Turkey bids to join the European Union.
The strikers are also calling for the release of
Ocalan, who has been serving out a life sentence in
a remote island prison since 1999.
On Friday, BDP leaders sought permission from
officials to visit Ocalan.
The party's co-chair Selahattin Demirtas said "a
major step would be taken" toward putting an end to
the hunger strike if they were able to ask Ocalan to
Demirtas said the hunger strikes would come to an
end if his party is allowed to prepare the ground
for negotiations with Ocalan.
"There will be no solution unless a leader of a
people is set free, and mother-tongue education is
allowed," Demirtas was quoted as saying by the
Hurriyet newspaper on Sunday.
Reminding that the death fasts have entered 46th
day, Demirtas said that; “Since the very beginning
of the strike, we have been pointing out that we are
in a critical process and that the Turkish
government will be responsible for potential deaths
if no steps are taken. However, we are now standing
at a point where words fail. Now that neither our
nor the Ministry of Justice’s call can stop the
strike, the government must produce solutions and
take urgent steps instead of asking prisoners to end
the hunger strike. We are taking to the streets to
make sure that these people can live, not die. The
demands they voice are the demands of the Kurdish
Responding to government officials’ statements “BDP
is taking the people to death on streets”, BDP
co-chair criticized Turkish authorities for accusing
the BDP instead of giving ear to hunger strikers.
Demirtas also criticized Interior Minister for
instructing police forces to attack the people
supporting strikers and repeated his call to the
Minister of Justice to take braver steps towards
Imralı, which he underlined as the key point of the
Demirtas pointed out that the Kurdish people will
not remain silent on the ongoing detentions,
arrests, military operations and the denial of the
right to self-defence in mother language.
Demirtas continued remarking that Turkish
authorities are violating the laws for the last one
and a half year by denying Öcalan meeting with his
family and lawyers on the pretext of “defective
coaster”. BDP co-chair also underlined that the
Kurdish problem cannot be resolved unless Öcalan’s
freedom is ensured and called on government
authorities to give an end to this unlawfulness and
to pave the way for dialogue and peace.
Demirtaş ended saying that the resistance of the
Kurdish people will not be defeated by the
operations targeting them.
Reached by AFP, the justice ministry declined to
comment on the possibility of such a visit, which
would be a first, but a source close to the
government said the authorities were doing all they
could to end the hunger strike, adding that none of
the strikers' lives are in danger.
"The government must put an end to Ocalan's
isolation and immediately, without wasting time,
take the necessary steps to end this tragedy,"
columnist Oral Calislar wrote in the Radikal daily.
The strike comes amid a major escalation in fighting
between Kurdish rebels and the army, with no
political solution in sight to a dispute that has
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who
hardened his position on the Kurdish issue following
deadly attacks by the PKK last year, has also said
his government was ready to resume negotiations with
the rebel group that were launched in 2010.
Since 1980 at least 144 prisoners in Turkey have
died in hunger strikes, according to an IHD
statement, 28 of them during the government's brutal
crackdown on an inmate strike against new prison
conditions in 2000.
Since it was established in 1984, the PKK has been fighting the Turkish state,
which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a Kurdish
state in the south east of the country. By 2012, more than 45,000 people have since been
But now its aim is the creation an autonomous region
and more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who
constitute the greatest minority in Turkey. A
large Turkey's Kurdish community, numbering to 23 million,
openly sympathise with PKK rebels.
The PKK wants constitutional recognition for the Kurds, regional
self-governance and Kurdish-language education in schools.
PKK's demands included releasing PKK detainees, lifting the ban on education in
Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey,
reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action
against the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish constitution.
The rebels have scaled back their demands for more
political autonomy for Turkey's estimated 23 million
Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population
as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural
rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish
language and private Kurdish language courses with
the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish
politicians say the measures fall short of their
The PKK is considered as 'terrorist' organization by
Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the
blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which
to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its
political wing on the European Union's terror list.
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