Kurdish prisoners end hunger strike after Ocalan call
Anakara — Thousands of inmates in Turkish prisons ended their mass hunger strike on Sunday, heeding a call by militant Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan over whose jail conditions they were protesting.
The action had grown to involve about 3,000 people held in different prisons, since the first hunger strike was launched last November by a detained MP from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) over Ocalan’s isolation in prison.
After the militant leader was allowed to see legal representatives for the first time in eight years in May, Ocalan told his lawyers the hunger strikes “had achieved their goal” and called for them to end.
“After the call ... we are ending our hunger strikes,” the prisoners’ representative, Deniz Kaya, said.
Ocalan, the co-founder of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has been held on Imrali island off Istanbul since 1999.
The first visit by his lawyers took place on May 2. After Turkish authorities lifted an official ban on lawyers’ visits to Ocalan, a second trip by two of his lawyers was made on May 22.
The hunger strike was initially launched by the MP Leyla Guven while she was in custody, although she was later released. Other detainees then followed suit. Eight people also killed themselves over the issue, according to the HDP.
Guven, announcing the end of her hunger strike, said in a statement that although the action was successful, “our struggle against isolation and our struggle for social peace will continue in all areas”.
“With this resistance, Turkey’s peoples, Turkey’s democracy has won,” Guven later told reporters in Diyarbakir in the Kurdish-majority southeast.
Three other HDP MPs said they would also end their hunger strike.
Ocalan’s PKK, blacklisted by Ankara and its Western allies as a terror group, has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 during which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
Ocalan was caught in February 1999 in Kenya and jailed several months later after he was found guilty of treason, separatism and murder. Despite almost complete isolation, he is still a key figure of the Kurdish insurgency and the movement generally in the region.
His lawyers said Ocalan indicated he would “play a positive role” in Syria in confronting the issues there “including the Kurdish issue” if he was given the chance.
Ocalan previously said in a message following the May 2 visit that “Turkey’s sensitivities” should be taken into account in Syria, where the US-backed Kurdish YPG militia is battling the Islamic State group.
Turkey says the YPG is a “terrorist offshoot” of the PKK.
Guven said Ocalan’s voice being heard was “very important for Turkey’s democratisation and peace in the Middle East”.
The visits come just weeks before a controversial re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election, which was lost by the ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 31. Experts say Kurdish votes played a significant role in Erdogan’s party loss and he is hoping for their support in the repeat vote on June 23.
But Turkish justice minister Abdulhamit Gul said on Friday the lawyers’ visits “had nothing to do with a peace process” and “no link to the Istanbul elections”. Ocalan had called for a ceasefire in 2013 to allow peace talks a chance to reach a negotiated settlement.
However, fighting between Turkey and the PKK intensified after the collapse of the ceasefire in the summer of 2015, dashing hopes for a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Ocalan’s lawyers said the rebel chief said the permission given for these meetings “did not mean the existence of a negotiation process”.
Ocalan noted that Turkey fundamentally needed “democratic negotiations and honourable peace”, adding through his lawyers that the authorities’ reaction to his comments would be clear “within 30-40 days”.