Thousands of Kurdish activists have ended their hunger strikes after their leader, Abdullah Öcalan was allowed two visits from his legal team in May after 8 years of not having any visits from lawyers. Through his lawyers, Öcalan was able to communicate a message to the activists. He thanked them for their resistance and asked them to end their hunger strikes, some of which had begun 200 days ago. The hunger strikes were launched in November by Kurdish activists in Turkey and were joined by activists across the Kurdish territories and Europe. The strikes sought an end to the imprisonment and isolation of Öcalan who has been on the Imrali island prison since 1999.
Leyla Güven, a member of parliament from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and co-chair of the Democratic Society Congress, started the action on November 7, 2018 while in Amed (Diyarbakır) prison. Earlier that year, on January 22, Güven was arrested and imprisoned for criticizing the Turkish army’s invasion of Afrin in northern Syria, as well as for other comments she made regarding Kurdistan. She was released on January 25, 2019 but continued her hunger strike from her home.
In March, three deputies from her party, Dersim Dağ, Tayyip Temel and Murat Sarısaç, joined the action and began an indefinite hunger strike at the HDP offices in Amed.
On May 26, the HDP deputies along with the Peace Mothers, who have been actively supporting the hunger strikers, held a press conference to announce the end to their hunger strikes. They also communicated a message from Leyla Güven, the “symbol and leader of this resistance” as Temel described her. She was hospitalized after ending her fast.
Güven wrote “Our hunger strike resistance has achieved its goal. But our struggle against isolation and our struggle for social peace will continue in all areas. This struggle must lead to an honorable peace. I individually thank to everyone who stood by me. I would like to thank to everyone who became our voice, who believed in us and did not lose hope under this fascistic atmosphere of oppression…the Mothers for Peace and all women who did not leave the streets despite all attacks and repression. Hope is more precious than victory; we hope, we succeed.”
In her message she also highlighted the importance of the political leadership of Öcalan. After the May 2 meeting that Öcalan had with his lawyers, a 7-point declaration was released which was his suggestions for solutions to the conflict between the Kurdish people and the Turkish state. Güven stated that it “is the concrete expression of the contribution Mr. Öcalan offers to Turkey’s democracy” and that an end to his isolation “will benefit all people of Turkey, as much as Kurds”.
The bulk of the hunger strikers were waging their struggle from within Turkish prisons, symbolic of the deep repression against Kurdish resistance movements. Thousands of political prisoners from the banned PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), the PAJK (Kurdistan Free Women’s Party), and the HDP joined the action against the imprisonment and isolation of Öcalan and to raise awareness to the plight of the Kurdish people. Last month, 30 prisoners began a death fast to intensify the immediacy of their demands.
The PKK-PAJK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party – Kurdistan Free Women’s Party) Prisons Committee released a statement on behalf of the the 7 thousand PKK and PAJK prisoners, commending the valiant efforts of the strikers and vowing that though the hunger strikes and death fasts have been concluded, the resistance is by no means over. They vowed, “our resistance move is not over, on the contrary, it has entered a new phase. This phase is to end Leader Apo’s captivity conditions and to resolve the Kurdish issue through the democratization of Turkey. We believe that all our people and our allies will raise the struggle wherever they are with this awareness, and will smash fascism whatever the price may be to crown the resistance move with victory. And we state that there is no other path but resistance. What will allow a victory is only resistance. On this basis we salute all comrades, all our people and allies in this dignified resistance stance once again, with respect.”
The Executive Committee of the PKK also saluted the heroic resistance of the hunger strikers and of the 30 who went on a death fast. They also remembered the 9 martyrs whose lives were lost during the hunger strike struggle: Zülküf Gezen, Ayten Beçet, Zehra Sağlam, Media Çınar, Yonca Akıcı, Sıraç Yüksek, Mahsum Pamay, Ümit Acar and Uğur Şakar.
The Internationalist Commune of Rojava also celebrated the victory of the hunger strikers but caution that “Nothing has changed in the rapprochement of the Turkish state and imperialism towards the revolution.”
The easing of restrictions on Abdullah Öcalan is seen by some as a political move in order for the ruling party Justice and Development party (AKP), to gain Kurdish support in the re-run elections for the mayorship of Istanbul on June 23. On March 31, local elections were held and the AKP lost to secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP). In May, the Supreme Election Council announced that the results would be nullified and there would be fresh elections. Opposition parties denounced the move and claimed that the election council was pressurized by the ruling party to reverse the results.