The Impact of Prisoner Hunger Strike on Daily Life of Turkey’s Kurds

15/11/2012 RUDAW –  By ZEKKI OZMEN – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The ongoing hunger strike by Kurdish prisoners has had an effect on Turkish politics, but now Kurds in Turkey are wondering how big its social impact is.

Mehmet Zaray, a restaurant owner from Sirnak, said that there has been a noticeable change at wedding ceremonies. “There were 30 weddings in Cizre last week, but only three of them celebrated really loudly,” he said. “At the other weddings, no musical instruments were used and no songs were sung. They just served food.” The hunger strike by Kurdish prisoners is now more than two months old. The strike began on Oct. 12 across 63 Turkish prisons. Initially a protest by 72 prisoners, hundreds have now joined the strike, including some prominent Kurdish politicians and artists. Rezan Tovjin, a writer from Diyarbakir, said that she wasn’t sure people in Diyarbakir were reacting properly to support the hunger strike. “This is due to the ignorance of the people in charge,” she said, adding that extending the strike beyond the prisons or shutting down shops was the responsibility of officials.  

“There has not been the slightest change in the way people drink, eat, attend restaurants or go to the bazaar,” Tovin said. “The situation here will not change unless some hunger strikers die.” Jihan Sozveren, a resident of Diyarbakir, said that the hunger strike has not changed daily life in the city. The teahouses are full of people, the restaurants are functioning normally and the bars are as active as before. “The parents of the hunger strikers are crying for their children. Their pain is so great that words cannot describe it,” said Sozveren. Maruf Hassan Oglu, a resident of Mersin province, said that the hunger strike has not affected anything except for the families of the strikers. “But some families have cancelled their weddings or other happy celebrations, and some others have carried out their wedding without music.”

According to Oglu, the strike will not impact the policies of the Turkish government. “I think if 10 Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MPs had gone on a hunger strike inside Turkish Parliament, instead of the prisoners, this issue would have been solved long ago.”

Oglu mentioned two of the demands of the prisoners – that the sanctions on imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abudullah Ocalan be eased, and that people be given the right to defend themselves in Kurdish in court – and said these would have been granted if BDP MPs were the ones striking.

“The MPs should have gone on a hunger strike, not the prisoners,” he said. “The world would have listened then.” Aziz Tunc, a resident of Sirnak city, described the hunger strike as a “mistake.” “Kurds have armed men, politicians, diaspora abroad and power,” he said. “Why would we resort to such a method? What right do we have to starve these people to death?” “Had the politicians carried out their duties properly, this would not have happened and wouldn’t have been necessary,” Tunc added. He also said that this would not have any effect on the policies of the Turkish government. “The death of hundreds of Kurdish prisoners would not mean much to the Turks. Those inside the prisons think that life outside has changed, but life goes on normally and people continue to eat, laugh and drink as always,” he said.