Translated by Attila Tuygan and Rehan Nişanyan
Special to the Armenian Weekly
For the past five months, Mahmut Konuk has been staging sit-ins in front of the Çankaya Community Health Center in Ankara, as well as participating in a wide range of other protest actions in Turkey’s capital.
Mahmut Konuk was born on Jan. 1, 1957, in Kurtalan. His father, Abdurrahman (originally Khosrof/Xosrof), is an Islamized, Kurdified Armenian; his mother, Nefiye, is Kurdish. His grandfather’s name is Vartan; his grandmother’s is Nergis.
He completed his elementary and secondary education in Kurtalan, and graduated from the Health Sciences High School in Van. In 1975, he started to work as a sanitarian in Çukurca, Hakkari. That’s where he was first exiled—from the county of Çukurca to the district of Bağışlı. In 1978, he found out that he and his family were being investigated as “Armenians” by the Kurtalan “Political Police.”
He was detained for a total of 33 days in Sason and Siirt after the Sept. 12, 1980 fascist coup d’état by the military. Comparing it with the severe torture his friends had been subjected to, he refrained from describing the abuse he experienced as “torture.” In May 1981, he was again exiled—from Sason to the subdistrict of Fındık, Eruh.
He graduated from the Gazi School of Journalism.
He participated in the movement for the unionization of government employees. He became one of the founding members of the union Tüm Sağlık-Sen and carried out work throughout its ranks. Because of a speech he gave, he was sentenced to one year in jail and fine of 100 million Turkish Lira by the Istanbul State Security Court (DGM) No. 1, for “violating article 8/1 (separatism) of the Anti-Terror Law No. 3713.”
He became one of the founders and the first central executive committee members of SES (Health and Social Workers’ Union). He wrote a book titled Türkiye Yüksek Ihtisas Hastanesinde Neler Oluyor? (What Is Happening in the Turkish Higher Specialization Hospital?) with the help and support of a group of union members.
He was incarcerated on Oct. 21, 1997 in Ulucanlar prison and completed his sentence on Oct. 21, 1998. He was subjected to more than 20 exiles during his working life. On Aug. 13, 1993, the decision for his exile from the Higher Specialization Hospital to the Nallıhan State Hospital was made within one business day, and he was notified within the same day by the ministry. Also, when he worked in the Municipality of Çankaya, led by mayor Muzaffer Eryılmaz of CHP [the Kemalist Republican People’s Party], he was “moved” nine times within five months because of his “struggle against privatization.”
In his statement on the day of Hrant Dink’s murder (Jan. 19, 2007), he said, “From now on, I will continue from the point where Hrant has left, and talk about the Armenian Genocide.”
A year later, as an activist and the spokesperson of “Ankara Düşünceye Özgürlük Girişimi” (Ankara Freedom of Thought Initiative), formed by a group of intellectuals, he took part in activities of solidarity with all opponents of the regime who were being tried for the expression of their thoughts. He participated in many panels, forums, conferences, press releases, and interviews about various taboo subject-matters; also, he edited some of the booklets of the panels.
On April 24-25, 2010, he became one of the organizers of the international conference held in Ankara titled “From Where Hrant Left: Before and After 1915, Denial and Confrontation,” and edited the conference book. He was also one of the organizers and editors of the conferences “İsmail Beşikçi and Freedom of Expression,” “Looking at Hrant Dink Murder from 2015 Perspective,” and “Religion: Theory-Practice, Yesterday-Today.” He took part in various activities on issues such as the Wealth Tax, 6-7 September Pogrom, Pontian Genocide, and the Circassian Genocide.
He has been a member of Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) for 25 years. He served on the board of directors of its Ankara branch for two terms. He founded the “Peoples’ Commission” in IHD’s Ankara branch and worked in the “Prisons Commission.” There are 926 sick prisoners in the Turkish prisons, and 330 of them are seriously ill. To draw attention to the plight of these prisoners (lifeless bodies are removed daily from the prisons), Mahmut Konuk has been actively involved in “Freedom to Sick Prisoners” initiative, which is on its 154th week as of July 10.
Mahmut Konuk was fired from his job with a midnight ‘decree having force of law’ (KHK) numbered 677, published on Nov. 22, 2016. Thus, his labor of 40 years was usurped. He has been fighting to go back to work by staging sit-ins and issuing press statements every Monday since Feb. 27, in front of Çankaya Community Health Center situated in Dikmen Caddesi No: 390 Keklik Pınarı, Dikmen, Ankara, from which had been dismissed. Although his companions, laborer friends, and intellectuals have never left him alone in his struggle, he terms these sit-in actions “Solitary and Free as a Tree.”
On other days of the week, he participates in the activities of KESK and affiliated unions to support Cemal Yildirim, in front of the Financial Accounting Department in Ulus (also joined by Zeynep Yerli in the past eight weeks) and to support dismissed public servants who are protesting in front of the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, and the General Directorate of Renewable Energy; the hunger strike started eight months ago by Semih Özakça, Nuriye Gülme, Veli Saçilik, and by Acun Karadağ, Esra Özakça and Mehmet Dersulu in front of the Human Rights Monument on Yüksel Street. He terms these mutual activities as “Brotherly like a Forest.”
He published a booklet titled “Bir Çoban Ateşi Ya Da Olympos’tan Çalinmiş Bir Tutam Köz” (A Sheppard’s Fire, or Embers Stolen from Olympus) in which he tells of his struggles and expresses himself. He looks at life from a perspective of Socialism, and believes that the most important problems in trade unions, nongovernmental organizations, and in political life are “corruption, bureaucratization, and alienation.” The clauses under the headings “Measures Against Bureaucracy and Alienation” and “Measures Against Formation by Employer State” of the regulations of the unions Tüm Sağlık-Sen and SES were formulated by him.
Mahmut Konuk opposes the division between “footwork” and “mindwork,” and thinks that such a division in labor leads to alienation. He believes in the unity of theory and practice: i.e., praxis. He prepares the flyers and statements of the conference he is organizing, distributes them, as well as presents one of the seminars. He does not want to be only a “thinker” or only a “doer,” but prefers to be both. Therefore, he does not underestimate the “footwork” on the streets. And, finally, he believes that no idea can exist long if it does not pour out into the streets. On the street is where he feels most free.
Freedom is on the street!