Kurds in Turkey fast for language rights and the release of Abdullah Ocalan, 2012

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Timing
Time Period:  
2 September
2012
to
18 November
2012
Location and Goals
Country: 
Turkey
Location City/State/Province: 
Diyarbakir
Location Description: 
Protests happened across the nation, but primarily in Dyarbakir
Goals: 
To get the release of Mr. Abudllah Ocalan and to integrate the Kurdish language into Turkish courts and schools.
 

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. In addition to this demand, the prisoners on hunger strike were campaigning for the government to allow the use of the Kurdish language more in public life, such as in courts and schools.

The campaigners’ demands were controversial. Many Turks consider Mr. Ocalan Turkey’s number one terrorist. Because the campaigners asked the government to release him, they faced a lot of resistance.

Nonetheless, this campaign grew quickly. As the prisoners continued their hunger strike, people throughout Turkey organized small actions in solidarity and support of those on the hunger strike. Groups in countless towns and schools led small 1-2 day vigils or hunger strikes to demonstrate their support.

On 17 September 2012, protesters in solidarity with the hunger strikers closed their mouths off with black lace to symbolize support for those refusing to eat. They carried signs that supported the demands of the campaigners.

The number of prisoners on the hunger strike expanded greatly. By November 2012, nearly 700 prisoners and many Kurdish citizens had joined the fast, demanding the release of Mr. Ocalan. A few high-ranking Kurdish politicians of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democratic Party (BDP) had joined in the hunger strike, as well. The inmates throughout the Turkish penal system limited themselves to a diet consisting only of water, sugar, tea, and salt. All of these campaigners worked with the hopes that the Turkish government would begin to negotiate with the Kurds. 


On 16 November 2012, hundreds of Turkish citizens gathered next to the prison in Diyarbakir, a large Turkish city, for a two-day strike. A large number of police officers maintained a presence in the city, arresting over 100 protesters. To overcome the police blockades, young children dragged barricades out of the way of the protesters. Police brutality rose to an extreme, with officers arbitrarily beating people and sending tear gas into houses that were making noise in support of the hunger strike.

On 17 November 2012, the hundreds of citizens tried to continue their protest. The police took over the streets of Diyarbakir. The Kurdish people declared this day the day of resistance.

On 18 November 2012, the hunger strike ended. Mr. Ocalan had his brother, Mehmet, tell strikers to end the hunger strike, for it had accomplished its goal, according to him. Immediately, the prisoners ended their strike.

Following the end of the strike, the campaigners gained the right to speak Kurdish in court. There was no official confirmation of an end to Ocalan’s solitary confinement, and he remained in prison.

Research Notes
Sources: 
BBC News Europe, “Kurdish prisoners end hunger strike after Ocalan appeal,” BBC News, 18 November 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20386073

Watson, Ivan and Guy Tuysuz, “Jailed leaders call for end of Kurdish Hunger Strike,” CNN News, 19 November, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/17/world/europe/turkey-kurdish-uprising

Krajeski, Jenna, "After the Hunger Strike," The New Yorker, 29 November 2012, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/11/after-the-kurdish-hunger-strike-in-turkish-prisons.html

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Aileen Eisenberg, 18/05/2013