Life came to a standstill in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey on Oct. 30. Shops and businesses were closed, except for a few bakeries and pharmacies. Buses and other means of public transportation were out of service. Children didn’t go to school.
Protesters in the streets, both in Istanbul and in the Kurdish provinces, were tear-gassed, chased, beaten, and taken into police custody.
Oct. 30 marked the 48th day of hunger strikes by Kurdish political prisoners in Turkey—a critical stage for human life, not to mention lasting disabilities. And the government, instead of taking a step toward a peaceful settlement, continued to fuel the conflict by slandering the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
At a time when millions of Kurds were waiting for a hopeful sign from the government, Prime Minister Erdogan on Oct. 30 declared that he would not give in to the ongoing “blackmailing [of] the government by deaths in prisons.”
The Kurdish prisoners had begun the hunger strikes on Sept. 12. Their demands: the release of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan from solitary confinement; the right of education in Kurdish; and the right to defend themselves in Kurdish during trial.
With new groups joining, the number quickly reached 700, with 8,000 people taking part in hunger strikes outside of prison.
Their demands may seem unusual; they do not, after all, involve an improvement in prison conditions, or the better treatment of inmates. They are more political in nature.
Öcalan’s solitary confinement on Imrali Island in the Marmara Sea continues under even more severe conditions. For 461 days since July 27, 2011, he has not been allowed to see his lawyers, whose formal applications for a visit have been denied for unlawful and nonsensical bureaucratic reasons.
No steps have been taken to resolve the “Kurdish question.” The war in south-eastern Turkey has been going on for 30 years; has claimed some 50,000 lives; has caused the forced evacuation of 3,000 villages, leaving millions homeless and unemployed in nearby towns; and has seen thousands of cases of unsolved murders and missing persons under police/military custody.
No attempt has been made toward a peace-building process by the government; on the contrary, the conflict continues to claim more lives and damage the whole social, political, and economic landscape of Turkey.
The war is not confined to the mountains anymore. It has spread to the cities, and through mass arrests. For the past two years, thousands of human rights activists, municipality workers, lawyers, journalists, intellectuals, students, and trade unionists have been thrown in jail with no solid legal evidence of having committed any offense. The ongoing mass arrests have destroyed the entire setting for a peaceful political struggle by the Kurds and their supporters.
While parliament members have long worked on a new constitution, there’s no indication of any intention to recognize the Kurdish identity as an equal and active part of Turkey’s social and political life.
What’s worse, the government’s language grows more and more insulting when talking about the Kurdish question. The government refuses to enter into any kind of talks with BDP deputies, accusing them of collaborating with the “terrorists.” This, in turn, provokes ultra-nationalist para-military mobs ready to stage lynching attempts in the western provinces of Turkey—which has been happening with greater frequency lately.
BDP deputies are indeed treated like “terrorists” by the police during peaceful demonstrations, where they are beaten, tear-gassed, and hit by pressurized jets of water.
An estimated 10,000 Kurdish prisoners in Turkey, who are denied the right to defend themselves in their mother tongue during trials, are making a call to Turkey and to the world to hear them. They want us to see that they have been left with no choice but to use their own bodies as a means of communication, at the cost of a slow and painful death in the eyes of a totally indifferent Turkish majority.