KURDISH RIGHTS ACTIVIST and my dear friend, Imam Sis, has been on hunger strike for 93 days since 17th December 2018. I have spent the last four weeks living alongside him in the Kurdish Community Centre in Newport, Wales. He is prepared to die for this cause - of that I have absolutely no doubt.
He is in solidarity with a Kurdish woman MP, Leyla Güven, who has been on hunger strike for over 130 days and is nearing death. There are now hundreds of Kurdish hunger strikers who have been over 50 days on hunger strike and thousands more in Turkish prisons who have recently joined. In London, three Kurdish activists have recently begun an all out, indefinite hunger strike, too, in solidarity with the demands of Leyla Güven and Imam Sis.
The central demand of Leyla Güven and the global Kurdish hunger strike is simple. It is that the Turkish authorities restart regular visits of the family and legal teams of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan who has been imprisoned on a Robben Island-type prison island since 15th February 1999, isolated from the world. He has not had access to his legal team since 2011.
The reason for this desperate action is that Turkey has turned its back on trying to find a peaceful, political solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey and has returned to even more brutal military and political repression. The Kurds have suffered systematic forced assimilation and oppression from the Turkish state since its inception in 1923 after the Lausanne Agreement.
President Erdogan, after assuming total power in Turkey, has embarked on what the sister party of the Labour Party in Turkey, the HDP, calls a ‘political genocide’ with thousands of ordinary Kurdish activists, including elected MPs and mayors, dragged into prison. Turkey has truly become a ‘republic of fear’.
Even ordinary Kurds going on holiday to Turkey face the danger of imprisonment, if found to have any posts or tweets that the racist authorities deem to be indicative of a Kurdish identity. Many of my friends are now in jail in Turkey for nothing more than ‘being Kurdish’.
So, when Leyla Güven, elected MP for Hakkari, was jailed for criticising Turkey’s illegal invasion of the Kurdish city of Afrin, she decided that enough was enough. She wanted to steer Turkey away from violence and repression against the Kurds and try to force a political, peaceful solution.
So Leyla Güven went on hunger strike, firstly, in Diyarbakir prison, the notorious torture chamber that has a history of murder and torture against Kurds. But it’s also a prison that has a history of Kurdish resistance. So it was a very meaningful act for the Kurds as it was the legendary Kurdish revolutionary and co-founder of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), Mazlum Dogan, who burned himself in Diyarbakir prison on 21st March, 1982, on the Kurdish new year, Newroz, awakening the Kurdish people from years of assimilation and slumber to resisting Turkey’s genocidal policies.
The Turkish authorities, recognising the symbolism with Mazlum Dogan and the historic Kurdish hunger strike that followed, released Leyla Güven but she immediately stated that she was not on hunger strike for her own release but to break the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan.
Jeremy Corbyn stated in September 2016: “I have always said, if there is to be a peace process and solution, Öcalan must be free and at the table. We will maintain our work in this regard. The Trade Union Congress, the umbrella structure of all unions in the UK, has made a very important decision. A huge campaign is being run for the freedom of the Kurdish people and Öcalan. This is a significant development.”
Time is running out and Leyla Güven and Imam Sis could die soon. The time for words has passed - what our comrades need now is action! Please support the Kurdish hunger strikers’ demands and put pressure on the UK government to act to force Turkey to comply with international law.
Secretary, Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign