On 2 September 2012, about sixty Kurds, an Iranic people native to Southwest Asia, that were in Turkish prisons began a hunger strike. These prisoners began this campaign out of a demand to free Mr. Abdullah Ocalan, one of the founding members of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant organization in Turkey. Mr. Ocalan was serving a life sentence and kept in solitary confinement in a prison on an island near Istanbul.
Many Turkish families know the horror of having a loved one simply disappear. From 1991 through 1994, more than one hundred Turkish citizens disappeared after being detained by police. Most, but not all, of the disappeared were Kurds from southeastern Turkey suspected of collaborating with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an independence movement of the historically oppressed Kurds. When families of the missing sought information from police, they were mocked, beaten, and often imprisoned. Many victims were eventually found alongside highways or in unmarked graves
During the 1990s, feminist and queer activist groups campaigned heavily to reform the Turkish Civil Code, which held many provisions that subordinated women such as establishing the supremacy of the husband in the family. In November of 2001, a new Civil Code was adopted that equalized the status of men and women; however, a similar set of laws established in the Turkish Penal Code maintained the gender hierarchy and protected men from serious sentencing if they committed crimes against women.
The Kurdish people are the most populous ethnicity without their own nation-state in the world. The governments of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria have repeatedly disenfranchised and murdered Kurds since the end of World War One, when the Kurds were promised, and later denied, self-rule. In Turkey, where Kurds constitute 20% of the population, the ethnic Turk-dominated government long denied the existence of a Kurdish minority and has pursued an assimilationist agenda designed to quash Kurdish culture.
From late June to early September 1989, nearly 2,000 Turkish prisoners underwent a hunger strike. They protested against an August 1988 decree that instituted very harsh measures within the prison system. The Turkish government imposed the decree after 47 prisoners had escaped. Additionally, in June 1989, prison officials found two unfinished escape tunnels and, as a result, imposed even harsher measures.
Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, Turkey has technically been a secular democracy. Despite this, it has experienced numerous coups and the government has at times proven itself to be highly corrupt.