Hundreds of Kurdish prisoners are currently taking part in a hunger strike which they have declared will be indefinite.
If nothing is done to meet the demands of these hunger strikers, it is feared the situation could rapidly take the country to the brink of chaos as renewed conflict would become inevitable if the action were to end in fatalities.
It is therefore essential that the Turkish government acts responsibly and responds positively to what are legitimate demands made by the hunger strikers.
The hunger strike began on 12thSeptember with nine women in Diyabakir prison. Since then, hundreds more Kurdish political prisoners have joined the action, and it is now reported that 600 prisoners are currently on an indefinite hunger strike.
The majority of those who have joined this action are members of the Peace and Democracy Party, BDP, including elected politicians and officials; they are responsible citizens striving to do the best for their communities who have found themselves detained and jailed on the basis of largely spurious allegations.
The prisoners’ demands appear simple and reasonable: the right to education and legal defence in their mother tongue, Kurdish, and the start of direct peace talks to resolve the outstanding conflict by peaceful, constitutional means and with the full participation of imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan in these talks.
There is evidence that the Kurdish citizens regard Ocalan as their political leader and they have chosen him to speak for them. Ocalan himself has shown that he is ready to reach agreement; he has put forward many constructive proposals as a basis for negotiation.
It is high time that Turkey changes its approach to the Kurds and ceased its attempts to demonise the Kurdish people, their organisations and their leaders. Kurds should not be seen as enemies in a war but as partners in the pursuit of peace and prosperity. They want to help build a modern, democratic Turkey.
If the Turkish government were to recognise this and go some way to meeting the demands of the people currently on hunger strike, it would make Turkey stronger in the long term and enable it to become a true role model that could point the way forward for the Middle East.
It can hardly be surprising that it is from inside Turkey’s notorious prisons that this drastic action, which is never lightly taken, has been initiated. For nearly four years, the world has looked on aghast as Kurds have been imprisoned in their thousands. Ostensibly, this is part of a counter-terrorism strategy to safeguard the unity of the country allegedly threatened by guerrilla violence. In reality, Turkey’s anti-terror laws have been used as a grossly disproportionate tool to punish, isolate, and silence the Kurdish community.
Those people who are courageous enough to criticise Turkey’s overtly military approach to the Kurdish conflict, or to argue for the right to speak their own language in school or to be recognised as Kurdish, are the ones who have suffered most.
It is essential to see some positive steps by the Turkish Government to resolve this outstanding conflict in a spirit of justice, democratic inclusiveness and respect for the rights of all its citizens without fear or favour.
It is impossible to believe that Turkey will opt to remain inactive while a great human tragedy unfolds. The individuals who have made their decision to join this hunger strike are demonstrating supreme dedication and commitment to a cause that is unquestionably just and right.
They have been forced into this action by a sense of desperation that there are no other avenues open to them when faced with a situation where elected politicians are criminalised and leaders of their community are harassed, detained and sent to court to face grotesque show trials.
These repressive measures shame Turkey and represent a dangerous political course of action that is now threatening to bring calamity on the country. All Turkey’s citizens, Turks and Kurds equally, will suffer as will future generations if the conflict and animosities are permitted to linger on and escalate.
The death of just one hunger striker would be far more than a human tragedy for the individuals concerned and the families who watch on anxiously. It would be a political disaster of epic proportions for Turkey and would represent an utter failure of public policy.
It is time for a magnanimous gesture by Turkey to make a move towards addressing some of the legitimate demands of these desperate prisoners.Tags: Asia, Europe
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This post was written by David Morgan