ON Wednesday News Line visited the hunger strikers at the Kurdish Assembly in Haringey.
It was the 27th day of their indefinite strike having joined with thousands around the world who have taken on this struggle to demand the end to the isolation of the Kurdish People’s leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been incarcerated on the Turkish Imrali Island Prison since 15 February 1999.
For many years, Ocalan has been held in unlawful prison conditions as the sole prisoner in the island prison which the UN defines as a form of torture. He has not been allowed a visit by his lawyers since July 2011.
He was allowed a brief 15 minute visit by his brother on 12 January 2019 for the first time since September 2016, a grave violation of his most basic human rights.
Leyla Guven MP was elected to the Turkish Parliament in June 2018 while in prison; she had been arrested in January of that year for her political activities. She began a hunger strike on November 8 2018 demanding an end to Ocalan’s isolation.
Thousands of political prisoners across Turkey have also begun indefinite hunger strikes and solidarity hunger strikes have since begun in Erbil, Strasbourg, some German cities and Canada.
Iman Sis from Newport, Wales has been on indefinite hunger strike since 17 December 2018. The Welsh assembly recently passed a motion in the Senedd to support Sis and the Kurdish Hunger Strikers’ demands and committed the Welsh Government to send a letter to the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and to visit Imrali Island to check on the conditions of the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
Three hunger strikers in Haringey joined them on March 14. They are Ali Boyraz, Nahide Zengin and Mehmet Sait Yilmaz. They are on indefinite strike and 20 supporters join them every five days.
Alaadin, told News Line: ‘Three people in London are on hunger strike, in order to insist on the release of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder and leader of the Kurdish PKK, to be removed from solitary confinement in prison.
‘The Kurdish MP Leyla Guven has now been on hunger strike for over 120 days and there are now thousands on hunger strike in prisons across Turkey
‘There are Kurdish people on sympathy hunger strike in Iraq, Germany, Canada and Wales. There it is the 115th day. There is huge support in Wales. Imam was very active as a socialist and member of Plaid Cymru. The Welsh parliament is the first to have anything to do with hunger strikes.
‘On Wednesday in the House of Commons, there was a debate about Turkey’s treatment of Kurds. The three hunger strikers attended in the gallery. The Labour MP for Brighton, Lloyd Russell-Moyle started the debate and questioned Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Minister, on the hunger strike. An MP from each of the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the DUP parties also participated.
‘Hunt said that Turkey can be a good ally in NATO but the issue of the hunger strikes could be raised.
‘Some MPs do think that British imperialism played a role in the dividing of Kurdish lands leaving Kurds scattered in four different countries; Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.’
Alaadin gave some of the background to the struggle, ‘Abullah Ocalan was arrested on the 15th February 1999, after he took a decision to stop the policy of armed struggle for Kurdish rights, and instead struggle in a political way.
‘He founded the PKK with a group of students, who struggled for rights for the Kurdish people in Turkey, initially through armed struggle for 30 years. Over 40,000 people died.
‘After the policy change, the PKK was developed as a political party, with Ocalan promoting an ideology called Democratic Confederalism.
‘This promoted a policy of peace and negotiation. Despite this change in policy, the PKK was proscribed as a “terrorist” organisation by the US, UK and UN.
‘The whole Kurdish movement is much bigger, and Kurdish parties exist in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. In Turkey, the oppression of the Kurds has been the greatest.
‘They have no rights to speak their language or maintain their cultural traditions. The HDP, the People’s Democratic Party is the third largest party in Turkey with six million votes. The co-chair of the HDP was arrested in the crackdown in 2016.
‘In Syria, there is a Kurdish autonomous region which has existed since 2011 covering around a quarter of Syria. The YPG is the military wing. The YPJ is the women’s wing. The SDF party contains Kurds and socialists, and secularists and feminists and other groups like ecologists.
‘It is built from the grass roots. Northern Syria is a Kurdish autonomous region.
‘In Iraq, there is a Kurdish Regional Government Federation, a bit like a devolved Scotland. Irbil is the main city. The president of Iraq is always a Kurd.
‘The aim of the Kurdish movement is not to have an independent state. The ideology is not to have a nation state. We try to solve the problems in that country without talking about borders.
‘We are trying to gain democratic rights for everyone in that country and have Democratic Autonomy. This is a Kurdish way of organising themselves, but not as an independent state.’
In Turkey and formerly Syria, the Kurdish language was denied, and there were no cultural rights. In Turkey, the names of villages were changed to Turkish names.
In Iran, the Kurds have never been denied their language and identity. There is no autonomous region. They can be elected in Iranian parties.
Zerdest took over the translation of a conversation with Ali Boyraz, who is on hunger strike. He spent 20 years in Turkish prisons, and his brother and sister were killed by the Turkish state.
He told News Line: ‘The problem is a societal one, of social responsibility. There are 10,000 Kurdish prisoners in Turkish prisons, on hunger strike.
‘Their crime is that they stand up to the regime for their rights. Activists of the HDP stand for election.
‘There is a lot of oppression in Turkish cities. If three people gather together, the security forces move in with machine guns and arrest them.
‘154 days ago, the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) Member of Parliament, Leyla Guven started a hunger strike in prison. She had been imprisoned for opposing the regime and from there she was elected MP.
‘She is protesting at the solitary confinement of Abdullah Ocalan in prison, and the oppression of the Kurds and other minorities. She was released while on this strike and continues it at home. After this, the families of many Kurdish prisoners have joined the hunger strike.
‘Nazil Yagiz, has been on hunger strike in Erbil for140 days. As an individual I joined the hunger strikes. It is the only thing I can do. The “democratic” states support the Turkish regime.
‘As a community, we cannot accept the isolation of Ocalan and the thousands of campaigners.
‘The whole Kurdish region of Turkey is like a military encampment, under military rule; from police, panzers, and low flying helicopters and F-16 planes. All these weapons are bought from Western states.
‘There are a lot of killings in some Kurdish cities. For example Cizre was demolished over the last 40 years with the killing of 40 to 60,000 Kurds.
‘They bombed Sirnak with F-16s and tanks rolled into the city in 2016 and levelled it.
‘There have been aerial bombardment of Kurdish areas by UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) supplied by Israel. Erdogan and Netanyahu are partners in killing Kurds. The Kurds and Palestinians and Tamil people feel the same pain in their hearts.’
There is a protest today: Solidarity with Kurdish Hunger Strikers Saturday April 13 at 2.00pm at Downing Street.