A poem for the hunger strikers

As we wait to hear the report from his lawyers’ second visit to Ocalan, I thought I would share this poem. Whatever happens, we need to build on the momentum that the hunger strikers have generated.

To the hunger strikers

 

When it ends, as end it must

I hope – believe – believe and trust

That everyone whose hearts you’ve moved

Can hear the message that you’ve proved:

That all who’d better worlds create

Must stand against the fascist state,

And knowing you can do no more

Take up the banner that you bore

For Jin Jiyan and Azade

For freedom for humanity.

 

And when it ends, as end it will

I hope my friends are living still.

My friends we need you even more

To build the world you’re dying for!

 

Sarah Glynn, Dundee

Also on this album, made by our amazing comrades in Wales.

 

150 Days

150 days. For 14 Kurdish men and women in Strasbourg, for Imam Şiş in Wales, 150 days without food. From the short days of December to the long evenings of early summer. And still their demand is not met. Ocalan, their imprisoned leader, saw his brother – the first time in 2 years. But only once. He saw his lawyers – the first time in nearly 8 years. But there is no guarantee that they can meet again. While the hunger strikers recognise their achievement, the strike goes on.

But there has been another achievement – harder to notice because more gradual. An achievement that cannot be annulled at the whim of the Turkish government. The Kurdish freedom movement has gained a new strength. We can see it in the protests of the prisoners’ mothers, where every act of state repression steels Kurdish resolve. And we can see it outwith Turkey too. Despite mainstream indifference to a cause that muddies geopolitical ambitions, truth is leaking out.

The hunger strikers have raised their standard high so that it is impossible to ignore. But they cannot do much more. Now it is up to us – to the growing numbers who have been moved by their cause – to take up that standard and carry it forward.

(To find out more about the Kurdish hunger strike, which was started by Leyla Guven 189 days ago and now includes over 7000 people, and get a link to a letter you can send to help, click here.)

In Wales with Imam Şiş

Newport, Gwent, has become an extraordinary hive of activity for the Kurdish cause. At its heart is a man who is wasting away after 140 days on hunger strike, but whose enthusiasm for creating a better world shines out of twinkling eyes. When I finally got to meet Imam Şiş last Wednesday, he was sitting up in his bed beneath a PKK flag, with Persian violin music coming out of his laptop and a big stack of books on the table beside him. His weight loss made him appear much younger than his 32 years. We discussed the harassment that the community and supporters have had from the police, and how the Kurds have insisted on their right to fly that PKK flag, and he asked after the hunger strikers I had visited in Strasbourg. Although he has the warmest of smiles, he observed that he can get angry when solicitous friends try to force him to take food or attempt to slip nutrients into his water. And he protested – as a visiting photographer took photographs – that all this is not about him, but about the cause.

The next day was May Day, and local campaigners had arranged to hold a candlelit vigil for the hunger strikers on the steps of the National Museum in Cardiff. Speakers included Plaid Welsh Assembly Member, Bethan Sayid, and there were messages from Labour members – all interrupted by loudspeaker announcements by museum security against the use of naked flames. I said a few words of solidarity from Scotland, and there was a speech in Welsh that compared Imam’s action to the candle flame in the speaker’s hand. But all our speeches were tame compared to the call to action that Imam had written to be read out at the vigil and at the rally on Saturday.

I saw Imam again briefly back at the Newport Community Centre that night, and was shocked to learn the next day that his condition had suddenly become critical, and no more visitors were being allowed. The Welsh solidarity action had already surpassed similar action elsewhere – including getting a motion of support agreed in the Welsh Assembly – but now activity acquired a new urgency. At the official level, Plaid Cymru wrote to the Welsh Minister for International Affairs, and the next day a letter was sent to UK Foreign Minister, Jeremy Hunt. (Of course, he is hardly the person to whom one would choose to intrust one’s future, but he is the person with power to intervene.) Activists had already planned a good turnout for the Saturday May Day march, where Imam’s speech was read at the rally, and ‘boycott Turkish holidays’ pickets were already being organised for different spots around the UK. We contributed a bit of leafleting and street speaking in Dundee as part of this.

The campaign has brought together members of the Kurdish community and left activists of all kinds. Imam is a member of Plaid, and was already well known for his involvement in other socialist campaigns. The movement around Ocalan calls for Kurdish cultural freedom, but it is also a vibrant force for left internationalism. And, as Imam reminded everyone in his speech, ‘Every day that goes by without struggle is a service to the ruling classes of the capitalist system.’

Sarah Glynn

Solidarity with the activists occupying the offices of Amnesty International in London

Through Amnesty’s window

Never in recent history have we been in greater need of an organisation that will stand up for those abused by power. But if that organisation is to have credibility, then it must support all those whose human rights are being trampled on, and not ignore – or appear to ignore – the rights of any ethnic group. This is not only damaging to that group of people. It also undermines the organisation as a whole, affecting everyone that it seeks to help.

Amnesty is well aware of human rights abuses in Turkey, which have even targeted their own representatives, but they seem to have a persistent blind spot when it comes to Turkey’s systematic repression of the Kurds. They have said nothing about the denial of Abdullah Ocalan’s basic human rights to visits from his family and his lawyers, and nothing about the over 7000 Kurds on hunger strike to protest this situation, many of whom are political prisoners who face extra hard conditions as punishment for their protest.

We therefore give our wholehearted support to the Kurdish activists and supporters who have occupied Amnesty International’s headquarters in London to draw attention to the issues that Amnesty persistently ignores. And we are shocked to learn of the mistreatment of the protestors by Amnesty representatives. We are shocked that Amnesty has claimed to the protestors that they were not aware of Ocalan’s isolation or of the prisoners on hunger strike, and we are shocked by the physical treatment that the protestors have received.

The occupying activists included three people who have been on hunger striker for 43 days, but that didn’t stop Amnesty from denying them water, fresh air, and access to the toilets. One of the occupiers, a young Kurdish refugee observed that he had spent almost three years in Turkish prisons, but even there, before and after regular torture, they were allowed to use the toilet. The conditions in the Amnesty office have proved so damaging that two of the three long-term hunger strikers have had to be taken away by ambulance.

No organisation should mistreat people as Amnesty has done, but when this mistreatment comes from an organisation that exists to defend human rights, it demonstrates how far removed they are from their purported mission.

It is not just our official international institutions that are broken, established independent organisations are failing too. Yet again we see demonstrated the old truth that if we want to see change, we must make it happen ourselves.

SINCE I WROTE THIS POST LAST NIGHT, AMNESTY HAS SENT IN THE POLICE AND 21 PEOPLE, INCLUDING HUNGER STRIKERS AND PEOPLE WHO HAVE ESCAPED FROM POLICE BRUTALITY IN THEIR HOME COUNTRIES ARE DISTRIBUTED IN POLICE STATIONS ACROSS LONDON

See video here

 

Ken Loach sends solidarity to Kurdish hunger strikers

As reported in today’s Sunday National

Film director Ken Loach, who has previously been outspoken in support of the London Kurdish Film Festival and the Kobane International Film Festival sends solidarity and support to the Kurdish hunger strikers.

His message, below, is jointly signed by screenwriter Paul Laverty and Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan committee member, Sarah Glynn

We want to express solidarity with over 7000 Kurdish hunger strikers and their demand that the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan be allowed his basic human right to visits by his family and his lawyers.

For so many to be driven to hunger strikes for basic human rights is a collective act of principled courage.  It puts to shame all those states who refuse to enforce International law and end the brutal oppression suffered by Ocalan. 

The importance of Ocalan is recognised by the trade union movement. The Durham Miners’ Gala chose ‘Freedom for Ocalan’ as their international campaign in 2018. Ocalan’s ideas on grassroots democracy, multiculturalism, and women’s rights are central to the inspiring social changes being carried out in the predominantly Kurdish autonomous region of Northern Syria. He has repeatedly urged a peaceful and respectful settlement for the Kurds in Turkey, and, like Mandela in South Africa, is key to any future peace settlement. 

Regardless of political allegiance, denial of a prisoner’s basic human rights can never be acceptable. 

Yet again, our political institutions have failed, and it is left to ordinary people to take the lead in international solidarity. 

Ken Loach, Paul Laverty, Sarah Glynn

Before it’s too late…

Each time I visit the hunger strikers in Strasbourg they are visibly weaker. Now, after 113 days without food, they spend almost the whole time in bed, though sleep is difficult and lack of real rest is itself a serious problem. They don’t like to talk about their health, but they are all suffering multiple pains and discomfort, as well as the fear that their heart could give up at any time, and they are extra-sensitive to sound and light. My friend, Kardo, continues to have problems with his eyes, so that he has to be separated off from the rest of the makeshift dormitory by a thick curtain to keep out the light, and the pain his eyes give him can be intense. For some of the hunger strikers, the only outwardly visible sign is their significant loss of weight, but Kerem Solhan looks fragile, his head wrapped in a shawl, and Yuksel Koç seems to have aged many years since I first met him just over 10 weeks ago, and has acquired new round glasses that, as Kardo observed, make him look like Gandhi. The stress is also telling on all those who provide them with daily support.

On doctor’s orders, my talks with Kardo were limited to 10-15 minutes. On Saturday I saw him twice, but he was suffering from a night of pain from his eyes. Despite the protection of dark glasses and his curtained bed, he kept closing his eyes to rest them, which made it harder for him to concentrate. But we managed to talk, among other things, about the difficulties for the Kurds in Turkey to rise up against the crushing brutality of the regime, and about support, and lack of support, from outwith the Kurdish community. I updated him on what was happening in the UK and he dictated a short message to be read out on Sunday’s demonstration in Cardiff.

On Sunday, I only had one brief visit, but Kardo managed to speak without his dark glasses, from the gloom of his curtained bed, and that old smile returned as he talked about the importance of living a revolutionary life even if you don’t succeed in your aims, and recalled his excitement at seeing the changes brought to the Arab women by the SDF’s liberation of Manbij. He observed that he used to think that Kurds were the most oppressed people until he saw those Arab women, and he described his own joy as they discovered their new freedom, and one overcame her initial fear sufficiently not only to speak up but to argue back at him.

Visitors came to see the hunger strikers from different places, including their families. Yuksal introduced me to his wife, and there was a big delegation of Kurds and their friends from Italy. While supporters boost the morale, it is getting harder for the hunger strikers to spend much time with them. And, ass well as the predictable pain of street noises to people in their extra-sensitive condition, I was told that some local Turks drive by in cars blaring out Turkish nationalist songs.

Meanwhile, in the big official buildings at the other side of the city, ministers and officials make speeches and shuffle papers. Sometimes, in response to intense behind the scenes lobbying, mention is made of the Kurdish question – even supportive statements produced – but none of this results in action. And so, we wait to see how Erdoğan responds to an election wounding in which Kurdish votes played a conspicuous part.

The chances of Turkey conceding to the hunger strikers’ have never been high, but, although they are insistent on realising their demands, the hunger strikes also have another aim and another measure of success, and that is the strengthening of their movement, both within the Kurdish community and beyond.

This desperate action is a response to their failure to get noticed through more conventional means, but the ability of the wider world to ignore even this vast demonstration of selfless determination is shocking, if perhaps no longer surprising. In the UK, the concerted efforts of activists inspired by the Welsh Kurdish hunger striker, Imam Şiş, have begun to force the issue into the mainstream political consciousness, but we will need to do a lot more to breach the walls of national self-interest and move out from the obsession with Brexit, if we want the Kurds to receive the attention their action and case deserve.

We need more people out on the streets as they were in Cardiff yesterday, but we can also begin to achieve something from the comfort of our homes by sending letters to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and writing to MPs and newspaper letters pages.

Sarah Glynn

(My drawings show the hunger strikers 6 weeks ago.)

Below are links to all the articles I have published recently about the hunger strike and the situation in Turkey. (Updated 14 May)

STUC supports Kurdish hunger strikers Common Space 18 April 2019

Ken Loach backs 7000 Kurdish protestors on hunger strike The National 14 April 2019

Kurdish solidarity protest at Scottish Parliament marks Ocalan’s 70th birthday Common Space 4 April 2019

‘Turkish thumbs down to Erdogan, thanks to Kurdish election strategy’ Common Space 1 April 2019

Write a letter in support of the Kurdish hunger strikers Common Space 29 March 2019

‘The plight of Kurdish hunger strikers grows – we must not ignore them’ The National 24 March 2019

As the hunger strike rolls on, let’s join the Kurds in a celebration of resistance Common Space 21 March 2019

‘MP remains committed to Kurdish struggle amidst 121 day hunger strike’ The National 8 March 2019

‘Meeting the Kurdish hunger strikers in Strasbourg has restored my belief in humanity’ Morning Star 28 February 2019

Kurdish hunger strike first hand account: 70 days without food and still smiling Common Space 26 February 2019

‘Yesterday Mandela, tomorrow Ocalan’ Common Space 15 February 2019

‘The Kurdish hunger strikers in Strasbourg who would die for their love of life’ The National 10 February 2019

‘Hunger strikers tell the world of Turkish torture of jailed Kurdish leader’ The National 3 February 2019

‘Interviews with Kurdish hunger strikers’ Common Space 30 January 2019

‘First meeting with the Kurdish hunger strikers in Strasbourg’ Common Space 25 January 2019

‘Why are 162 Kurdish political prisoners on hunger strike’ Common Space 9 January 2019

An urgent appeal from my hunger striking friend, Dr Kardo Bokanî, to his friends and colleagues

The letter below is from my friend Kardo Bokanî, who taught political philosophy at University College Dublin. He has asked me to send it out for him because, after 66 days without food, he no longer has the mental concentration needed to organise this, and his eyesight has also been affected. I have visited Kardo and the other hunger strikers in Strasbourg, and came away feeling that if the rest of us shared just a fraction of their integrity and commitment, the world would be a much better place. I have just read the most recent report on their deteriorating health, and it’s terrifying. I hope that, after you have read Kardo’s letter, you will want to add your name to our open letter to the Council of Europe and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, in support of the Hungers strikers’ very simple, human rights-based demand. They are calling on these institutions to act to make Turkey, which is a member of the Council of Europe, end the isolation of imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and allow him visits from his family and lawyers, in line with European Human Rights law, the UN Mandela Rules on minimum rights for political prisoners, and Turkey’s own constitution.

This letter is written from academics in Europe, but if you don’t fall into that category, you can still show your support by ensuring more people learn about what is happening. And letters to parliamentary representatives can help. It is an appalling indictment of our political system and mainstream media that these selfless political activists have felt the need to put their lives on the line in order to try and get their message heard. But we can at least help amplify it.

If you would like to add your name to our letter, please email me at scottishsolidaritywithkurdistan@outlook.com, along with the name of your academic institution if you have one. And please share this appeal widely. I would like to get the letter off by next Monday (25th February) at the latest.

Thank you

Sarah Glynn

HERE IS KARDO BOKANÎ’S LETTER:

Dear friends and colleagues,

Dear academics, intellectuals and philosophers,

I write from the Kurdish hunger strike in Strasbourg to ask you for your support in our demand that the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who has been held in solitary confinement for the last twenty years, be allowed his basic human rights.

I am an Irish citizen, and with 13 other political activists, including a lawyer, a former MP, a politician, an intellectual and a journalist, I have been on indefinite hunger strike in Strasbourg since 17 December. We based ourselves here because it is the home of the Council of Europe. There are now over 300 Kurds on indefinite hunger strike in different places, many of them political prisoners in Turkey. The hunger strikes were begun by imprisoned MP, Leyla Güven on 7 November. The aim of our action is to end the inhumane isolation that the Turkish state has imposed on Ocalan. We demand that he be allowed his right to regular visits by his family members and lawyers, as required by international law on human rights and Turkey’s own constitution.

Ocalan is not an ordinary political prisoner. First, he is a political figure revered by millions of Kurds as their rightful leader, who has dedicated his life to Kurdish emancipation from the brutal, internal colonialism practised by Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Second, he is a political theorist whose philosophy gave shape to what we see now in Northern Syria (Rojava); a democratic, multi-cultural and feminist society that has been admired by progressive forces throughout the world. Third, he has been the most vocal politician in Turkey urging for peace and a democratic solution to the Kurdish conflict. To silence a political figure such as Ocalan is to silence the most vital voice for peace in Turkey.

You may rightfully ask, why would you put your life in danger? The answer is straightforward: Europe’s indifference towards the Kurdish issue in general and the Ocalan case in particular, has left us with no alternative. The continued failures of European institutions, such as the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the Council of Europe, to carry out their duty are forcing us, as European citizens, to embark on this fatal course. Their failure to act points to a crisis of democracy and loss of humane values, and they will be responsible for any fatality. Ultimately, the European institutions need to do much more than support our simple demand, but what we ask should be a practical, attainable first step.

So long as our demand is not met, we will not end our strike. The prospect of death does not scare us away from our protest. We understand that we, as humans, are accountable for the world we live in. We, together, have the power to decide what that world looks like. We choose not to accept the global retreat from democracy. We choose to push back against the deafening silence and indifference to inhumanity.

As a young political philosopher who taught at University College Dublin (UCD), and on behalf of more than 300 hunger strikers, I call upon you to urge the European institutions to hear the call of their citizens – who may perish at any moment in Strasbourg – and to fulfil their responsibility, set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, to help lift the isolation imposed on Ocalan before it is too late.

Kardo Bokanî

Strasbourg

18 February 2019

Scotland says, ‘Freedom for Öcalan is Freedom for Us All’

These photographs were taken last week in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee. They include an MP (SNP), a former MSP (Labour), a city councillor and many trade unionists – and a whole lot of other people from all backgrounds who want to show their support.

The 15th of February was the 20th anniversary of Abdullah Öcalan’s abduction by the CIA and imprisonment in a Turkish jail. Öcalan’s ideas are central to the feminist, secular, grassroots democracy being developed in the autonomous Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, and his involvement is key to peace in Turkey and the wider area. His significance to the Kurdish struggle is demonstrated by the over 300 Kurds currently on indefinite hunger strike to demand that Turkey complies with basic human rights and allows him visits by his family and his lawyer. You can read more about Öcalan and his importance here.

“Öcalan is a prisoner who is becoming mythical, as Mandela in the twentieth century, so he in the twenty-first. He expresses a series of concepts that in the 21st century are increasingly becoming the building blocks for the political construction of a new world.” Antonio Negri

 

Actions for Öcalan on the 20th anniversary of his imprisonment

Please show your support on the street or from your own home!

Thursday, Edinburgh, March called by Edinburgh Kurdish Community Centre going from Princes Street outside Waverley Station to the Turkish consulate and on to Holyrood. Gather at 11am

Friday, Dundee, Stall with megaphone and leaflets in the city centre. 1-2pm

Saturday, Glasgow, Buchanan Steps, from 1pm

You can also demonstrate your support by sending us a photograph of yourself holding a sign that reads ‘Freedom for Öcalan is freedom for us all’. (You can send it to scottishsolidaritywithkurdistan@outlook.com,  or through our Facebook page.) Here is a pdf copy of the sign: FREEDOM FOR OCALAN

We intend to make a collage of everyone’s pictures, but please share on Facebook and Twitter too (#FreedomForÖcalan).

THE WORLD CAMPAIGNED FOR THE RELEASE OF NELSON MANDELA. NOW WE MUST TAKE ACTION TO SUPPORT THE CALL FOR FREEDOM FOR ÖCALAN.

This is a call that has been taken up by Unite, the GMB, and other unions, and endorsed by the TUC and STUC. Its importance was recognised by last year’s Durham Miners’ Gala – the biggest trade union gathering in the UK – when they chose it as their international cause.

The republic of Turkey is founded on an ethnic Turkish nationalism that allows no room for the expression of other identities. The large Kurdish minority have found themselves subject to brutal attempts at Turkification, which have outlawed their language and culture and repeatedly subjected them to devastating collective punishments. In 1978, a group of Kurds felt that the wider leftist movements, of which they were part, failed to understand the importance of this cultural suppression, and they established their own Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), under Öcalan’s leadership.

On 15th February 20 years ago, Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was abducted, with the help of the CIA, and brought back to Turkey, where he was condemned to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey ended the death penalty in order to be considered for EU membership. For 20 years he has been held on the closely-guarded island prison of Imrali. He has used that time to develop the ideas that have inspired the feminist, multicultural, grassroots democracy in the autonomous Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, and to try and negotiate a peaceful and respectful future for the Kurds in Turkey. But in recent years he has been kept in total isolation, denied even the visits of his family and his lawyers.

The PKK has morphed from a Marxist-Leninist separatist movement to a force for local autonomy and cultural freedom, but it is still seen as unacceptable by the Turkish state. While the PKK, like Mandela, has fought a guerrilla struggle, their ideas have also been pursued through constitutional politics. However, even the predominantly-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), which keeps firmly within the legal framework, has faced constant harassment and violent physical attacks – and has seen most of its MPs and mayors arrested.

For millions of Kurds, Öcalan is not only their acknowledged leader, but a vital symbol of their desire for freedom. For everyone who hopes for a better world, he should be acknowledged as the driving force behind the inspiring social and political changes taking place in predominantly-Kurdish Northern Syria. And he is widely recognised as the person who has the support, the will and the ability to negotiate a peaceful settlement, when the Turkish government agrees to engage.

The importance given to Öcalan is reflected in the more than 300 people now on hunger strike to press their call for the end to his isolation. This modest demand simply requires Turkey to follow its own constitution and allow visits from his family and lawyers. These visits are also required by international human rights law, which regards isolation as a form of torture.

This hunger strike was led by HDP MP Leyla Güven, who, on Friday, reaches her 100th day without food. The 14 hunger strikers in Strasbourg and Imam Sis in Wales will then have reached day 61. Most of the hunger strikers are political prisoners who are treated extra harshly. All these people are putting their lives on the line because other forms of campaigning have left the world unmoved.

If you want to give support to the hunger strikers’ basic call for human rights, please check out some suggested actions here.