Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hunger Strike, 50th day--and year anniversary of Mamoste's Arrest

We spent the Bayram holiday on the Mediterranean in the village of Kaş—swimming, kayaking, canyoning, and eating seafood. We always enjoy food on vacations (and every other day for that matter, we’re plumping up like Thanksgiving Turkeys, or Bayram sheep) and it was with an odd pang of unease that we gorged ourselves silly as the papers across the street seemed to accuse us with headlines about the hunger strikers.

65 prisoners began their hunger strike on September 12th, the anniversary of the military coup that began decades of purges, disappearances, and assassinations by the Turkish state.  Since the 12th, an estimated 600 people have joined them, with more strikers announced every day (the number varies, sources are notoriously unreliable; the Bayram holiday has made exact numbers difficult to ascertain—at least according to the channel, NTV. Reuters claim 800. Most people say around 700).

Their demands are simple.

1. That solitary confinement (tecrit) be lifted for Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali Island (the island where his prison is located). They’re on good constitutional ground with this one—Öcalan hasn’t been permitted to meet with his lawers for a year and a half. The government has offered some rather silly excuses—‘the weather is not safe for the boatride over’ or ‘the boats are broken’, but no one, of course, is buying. Cengiz Çandar today wrote in the Radikal on Monday that an AKP official told him this:

‘We are aware of the influence of Imrali on the Kurds, but we are the ones who brought about this situation. In other words, the State did it to itself. Since he was captured in 1999 Öcalan has been managing his organization from prison—we recognized the possibility. This is a situation you would see nowhere else on earth. Thanks to us, his managed to increase his influence over his people. Now, for months no one has heard a peep from that island and the world hasn’t ended. That means that the influence he gained (thanks to us) is weakening.’

In other words, the isolation is meant to break any influence Öcalan still holds over the Kurds.

2. That Kurds (and everyone) be allowed to defend themselves in their mother tongue before the court. In their petition to the government, the BDP writes:

‘From today, with over 8000 people in prison for over three years on trial in the KCK investigations, and with our requests for a defense in the mother tongue not only refused but counted for nothing, the judicial process has come to a standstill….The efforts of civil organizations have been ignored and our pleas in the legislature have failed to draw any attention, and so hundreds of prisoners are forced to submit their bodies to hunger and death.

I witnessed the repeated refusals for a defense in Kurdish this July while visiting the trials in Silivri—the court was stubborn, defiant, and seemed bent on hurrying the trial to a predetermined end.

3. As indicated in the above quote from the BDP’s petition, the strikers are also demanding public education in Kurdish.

The first two requests have been met with some positive signs—but so far they have remained only signs. Just today (October 30th) IMC news reports that the government has once more refused permission for Öcalan to meet his lawyers while at the same time the Ministry of Justice tries to circumvent the whole problem by claiming that there never was any solitary confinement. He could meet anyone he wanted, apparently, but they had to apply through the proper channels like everyone else.  Well they do and they’re refused, guys. That’s the issue.

Today—I am writing on the 30th, the BDP’s co-chairman Demirtaş called for civil protest throughout the country today. Businesses were not to open their doors, children and teachers were not to go to school, life was to come to a stop—an attempt to have a Kurdish spring like the Arab one.  And life did come to a stop—all over the Southeast thousands went to the street and marched in support of the hunger strikers. We have been anxiously watching reports coming in from the cities of Van, Muş, Mazgirt, Tunceli, Agrı, Doğubeyazit, Şirnak, Antalya, Adana, and of course, Diyarbekir showing marchers filling the streets only to be attacked by police with tear gas, water cannons, and in a clip from Diyarbekir, a line of tanks. A friend in Diyarbekir said that, despite living in a city where protests are the norm, he had never seen anything so comprehensive. The city was paralyzed.
Photo: Van ve Yüksekova'da Onbinler Yürüyor

Van merkez ile Hakkari'nin Yüksekova ilçesinde onbinlerce kişi barikatları aşarak, yürüyüşe geçti. 

Kepenklerin yüzde yüz kapalı olduğu Van'da  il binamızın önünde açılan çadırın önünde biraraya gelen onbinlerce kişi polis barikatlarını aşarak, yürüyüşe geçti. Kültür Merkezi yolundan Akköprü Mahallesi'ne doğru yürüyüşe geçen onbinlerce yurttaşın yürüyüşü devam ederken, polisler ise kitlenin sayısının artması ve yürüyüşün başlaması üzerine barikatları kaldırmak zorunda kaldı. Kitle Akköprü Mahallesi'nde araçlarla Van F Tipi Cezaevi önüne doğru hareket edecek. Kitlenin yürüyüşü sürüyor. 

Yüksekova'da Onbinler Yürüyor 

Yaşamın durduğu Hakkari'nin Yüksekova ilçesinde İlçe binamız ile Oslo Oteli önünde biraraya gelen onbinlerce kişi, Eski Cezaevi Kavşağı'na doğru yürüyüşe geçti. PKK ve Konfederalizm bayraklarını açan onbinlerce kişi, sık sık "Biji Serok Apo", "İntikam" sloganları atıyor. İlçe halkını akın ettiği yürüyüş sonrası basın açıklaması yapılacak.
The protests in Van

In Diyarbekir
In Istanbul as well—where in Okmeydani police attacked protester, even tossing a gas bomb into a tent with several mothers of strikers holding a hunger strike of their own in solidarity.  (Emine Akdoğan, reports Bianet, has one daughter in the mountains and one daughter, Şehnaz, in prison. Şehnaz told her what she was about to do on her last visit to the prison. ‘What could I do but support her decision? We went to Bakırköy for the Bayram holiday and were met there with a Bayram meal of gas bombs.’ The reporter adds that moments later the tent where Emine spoke to her was ‘dispersed’ by tear gas)

The Turkish media channels report things as if the police responded only after being attacked by Molotov cocktails and rocks.  Oh, I am sure this happened, but wonders what exactly one needed a line of tanks for against some kids with rocks? And really, why does anyone believe the police need any provoking when we have seen countless reports of torture and abuse of people from all walks of life at police hands?  (The woman beaten by cops in Izmir, the man in Istanbul kicked by a team of cops as he writhed on the ground, the girl band tortured in Istanbul. Here's a documentary on the topic featuring pictures of political prisoners on hunger strike killed with flame throwers by Turkish guards.)

And as for police attacks being a response—a video on one of the main Turkish channels show protesters standing in front of a building and being warned that if they don’t move in five minutes, police will ‘intervene’.  No one was throwing a damn thing. In the meantime, the Prime Minister calls the BDP who started the hunger strike ‘terrorist barons’ and says that they themselves feast on lamb while their pawns are forced to starve themselves to death. To prove his point, he shows a picture of BDP party members at a banquet in the town of Kızıltepe near Mardin, but the correspondent reporting never mentions that the picture was taken in July, some three months before the hunger strike was even conceived. Reuters leads with Erdogan’s deliberate misinformation as if it were fact.  Just yesterday, Turkey’s Independence Day, Erdoğan forbade celebrators to march in Ankara. When they tried anyway, police responded with billy clubs and tear gas—and the victims were mostly old Kemalists, well dressed women and old men, members of Parliament and local governors. Erdoğan called them terrorists, too.

The  hunger strikers are entering a critical point—four days ago, it was reported that four women on hunger strike in Siirt are moribund—their stomachs no longer accept fluid. Meanwhile, Amnesty reports that guards in Tekirdağ prisoners are ill-treating the hunger strikers while those in Silivri and Şakran are putting them in solitary confinement. There are also reports that they are restricting strikers access to vital liquids, vitamins, and salts. False media reports are popping up everywhere that the hunger strikes are ending—only to be disproven later. 

Things look grim. And this whole situation hangs over our family like a dark cloud. Over thousands of families.

Turkey has a history with hunger strikes. In2000, over 800 prisoners in the F type prisons (like Kandıra where my father in law was first held) began unto death hunger strikes to protest inhumane conditions. The strikes ended when police stormed the cells—30 prisoners died. Many are wondering if this is what Erdoğan plans.

There is a petition you can sign to make your voice heard. However lightly.....

Here...Petition for Hunger Strikers

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


It’s Friday. My sixth graders and I are going out to the football field. Their eyes are full of colors.

We’re going to write poetry.

‘I hate poetry,’ a girl announces. ‘It’s stupid.’

One of my clever boys smirks and asks, ‘Why are we going outside to do this, I mean, I’m not complaining mind you, but we could have done it in the class room just as easily.’

I gather them together and tell them to look up.

For a second there’s complete silence. You’ll never see such a sky, such Fall blue, not in Istanbul. It’s like we’re on a mountain in Bingöl, in Arizona—far from every house and car and smokestack in the world. A thousand white gulls pass in a swirl of wings.

‘Run,’ I tell the kids. ‘We’re going to run until we can’t run anymore and then we are going to sit down and look around and write about what we see.’

They write magic.

Some never sit. There’s a little blond girl who runs and runs, let’s her maroon jacket fall down to her elbows. She’s exhausted but won’t stop. Sometimes someone chases her, sometimes they don’t. A boy shows me a poem he’s written about her.

‘I see a girl running. Running and running and running.  Now she runs like a tired zombie. Falls. Her yellow hair on green grass.  She gets up. Red leaves on green leaves. We are lying on green grass. Green trashcans, green notebooks, green pines.’

Their heads are full of Carl Sandburg and Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. (They all agree Williams has a stupid name.) On the play ground, one girl writes while hanging from a rope swing. ‘The sky is blue, I hang in the air and I just don’t care! I just don’t care! I just don’t care!’ One little boy says, ‘I think I’ve written something strange.’ I read what he’s scribbled diagonally across the page, ‘My white sneakers run on green grass, like the white birds on blue sky. White shoes running on heaven.’

 Another boy, the smallest of all, writes eleven poems in a row. About the red maple, about the yellow sycamore, about the sky, about the Fall, about the service busses, about us running around and around and laughing and falling and writing, about how boring school is. He’s on fire.

‘I know why we’re out here!’ the girl who hates poetry says. ‘When you’re outside like this you’re feelings just bubble out! You can’t stop writing!’

Or running. The blond girl still can’t stop.

Whatever they do this coming week, we’ve had a burst of joy today. The 23 of them and me.

The school is getting ready for the October 29th holiday. The administration has selected a theme, ‘The eyes of Atatürk.’ In various places around the school hang pictures of the eyes of the Republic’s founder. Only the eyes, big and blue and staring at you wherever you go.  We will have a ceremony celebrating those staring eyes and none of the students will come (but not because they’re not learning to worship this man—simply because they’d still rather play). We teachers will come because we have to. Songs will be sung in his honor, dances danced, purple prose speeches made.

October 29th marks more than the anniversary of the Republic’s founding. It’s the day that Delal and I took a ferry to the Emniyet (the national security office) to find out if we could see her father. The police. The paranoia. The undercover agents. A black day. He’d just been arrested. We had no idea what would happen. The red Turkish flag was everywhere. No one questioned. The right wing papers were screaming ‘TERRORIST!’ It was the first time I really understood,  gut understood, why my in-laws found it so threatening.

The hunger strike that started weeks ago is on its 40th day—63 people have been striking since the beginning, 420 more have joined—political prisoners all, and not just in Istanbul, but all over the country.  The 63 are growing weak. Some are starting to vomit and show signs of disease.  An article in the Radikal say it’s no longer a hunger strike but a death watch.  And strangely, the government is taking notice. They are allowing stories about it in the papers (the Hürriyet says, ‘President Gül is unsettled by the direction things are moving’). People debate it in talk shows on TV. President Gül says talks with the strikers are possible. Even talks with the PKK are possible.  They may consider the strikers demands which include an end to solitary confinement for Abdullah Öcalan, being able to defend themselves in Kurdish, and general education in the mother tongue. (We don’t know the details because the prisoners are boycotting visits—strangely, the journalists are too. Not one paper, it seems, has sent anyone to find out first hand what is happening inside. Rumors are flying about Kurdish being allowed in the courtroom.)  There are signs for hope.

And yet at the same time, the random repression continues. A journalist, Hatice Duman, is sentenced to life in prison. Never mind that Necati Abay, tried in the very same case, was released. And the prime minister promises no compromise during a speech in Elazığ. He says, ‘We will not negotiate with terrorists! We will even talk to Yezidis (a Kurdish sect) as long as they are not terrorists.’  ‘Even’ with Yezidis.  Notice the wording. And the very same Radikal newspaper devotes three pages to a historian named ‘Ismail Küçükkaya’ who says that Turkey has never been multicultural, and then goes on to insult Kurds in particular.

‘Turkey is not a mosaic,’ he writes, ‘Because those other elements have never developed themselves. When I say this, you might counter with ‘The fascist Turkey never opened schools!’ But actually the problem is not with schools but with the elite. Kurdish leaders are not real leaders. They are not Iraqi Kurd. Put one of those guys across from them and let them see what real governing is!’

Never mind the extrajudicial killings, jailings and legal executions of hundreds of Kurdish intellectuals. How can you develop anything from a grave?

But at the same time, things are being discussed that have never been discussed before. For the first time since I’ve been here. On TV the other night, a commentator said the words ‘Armenian Genocide’ without the hitherto obligatory ‘so-called’.

At night, the smell of livestock and manure wafts through our apartment. The feast of the sacrifice is fast approaching when Muslims celebrate the sparing of Isaac by God. Instead of his son, Abraham kills a lamb.

The papers are full of people arguing one way or the other for the holiday. Editorials, articles. ‘How can we explain this to our children?’ City folk find it cruel and barbaric, this sacrificing of animals. I don’t see it—maybe I’m not used to the blood flowing right in front of my eyes, but it’s done behind the scenes every day. We like our meat already cut and packaged—no reminders of where it comes from. But so what? What, really, is the big deal?  But nothing is without political import here. The old guard does not like the reminder of religion or blood. The new boys in power want everyone to know that this is a MUSLIM country with MUSLIM holidays. The faithful will perform the sacrifice and give away the meat—ideally. The non-believers will go somewhere and have a drink just to show they can. We non-Muslims might hit the streets just to see what’s going on—or head to the beach while the warm weather lasts to take advantage of the days off.

I helped sacrifice a goat last year. It was in Dede’s dream—with his grandchildren he would sacrifice and animal at a holy place and give away the meat. They painted blood on our foreheads to mark as belonging to his house—Mala Memli.

All I know is that the goat meat kavurma we ate on Mt. Silbus tasted good.

That day the sky was blue too. Like the spirit of the mountain named for an Armenian saint of light had cleaned it just for us. We danced the halay with strangers and lit candles to the gods.

The better question to ask at this Kurban Bayram is this:

Many of Turkey’s own sons and daughters lie on the altar now—are they going to strike or spare them?