Kurdistan: Victory, but no solution
Despite the ending of the prisoners’ hunger-strikes, the Kurdish question remains unresolved, writes Esen Uslu
Kurdish pershmerga: young lining up
mass hunger-strike staged by hundreds of Kurdish prisoners ended on
the 68th day of the campaign, on November 18, when committees in 37
prisons decided to end the strike on the basis of the call issued by
Abdullah Öcalan, jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK),
that reached the prisons the night before.
the penultimate day the infamously mishap-prone shuttle ship from the
mainland to the island prison of İmralı finally managed the
passage, and the usual ‘unfavourable weather and sea conditions’
suddenly disappeared too, allowing comrade Öcalan’s brother to
visit him for the first time in months. Öcalan was expecting a visit
from the solicitor representing him, as previously agreed during the
negotiations. However, after a protest against the government’s
last-minute tricks, he agreed to see his brother and hand over to him
his hand-written note calling on the prisoners to end their strike.
Öcalan appealed to the prisoners in these terms:
who staged the hunger-strike undertook the tasks and responsibilities
of those who are free. Those who are free should not shift the burden
of their own tasks and responsibilities onto the shoulders of
prisoners who have been suffering under very difficult conditions for
a long time, who are sick and weakened behind those thick walls.
While I do not consider the hunger-strike as an appropriate type of
action, I believe if such a course of action becomes inevitable it
should be carried out by those who are free, and should not be left
to the prisoners.
an action the hunger-strike is extremely powerful. It has reached its
target and achieved its main aim. They should end the hunger-strike
at once without any hesitation.
here I extend my personal greetings to each of the hunger-strikers,
particularly to those who started the action in the first and second
appeal was supported by the speeches of the prominent figures of the
BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), who had themselves started
hunger-strikes in front of the prisons in support of the prisoners’
action. The guerrilla command based in the Qandil mountains echoed
comrade Öcalan’s call as their own. Overnight prisoners considered
the appeal and ended the strike, issuing the following statement:
regard our leadership’s call - “it has reached its target and
achieved its main aim. They should end the hunger-strike at once
without any hesitation” - as our base line, and end our action on
November 18 2012. We will carefully observe any approach to our
leadership, and the concrete outcome of the process of negotiations.
immediate medical treatment was administered to the first and second
group of hunger strikers - two of the protestors were by now in a
critical condition. However, the hunger-strike has ended without loss
of life - although two fatalities have resulted from the
interventions of police or fascist gangs against the support actions
organised in almost every province of Turkey.
may be remembered, the prisoners launched their hunger strike on the
basis of three demands: end the isolation imposed on comrade Öcalan;
end the ban on prisoners speaking Kurdish at their trials; and end
the ban on mother-tongue education.
first step towards resolving the impasse came from the government,
which hastily introduced a bill removing the discretionary power of
judges to prevent defendants using Kurdish in their own defence.
Through this bill the state was conceding to one of the demands of
the Kurdish prisoners, while maintaining to the end that it would not
give in to their ‘blackmail’.
government then opened up talks with comrade Öcalan after a break of
a year, combining this with bitter denunciation of the so-called Oslo
process, where it had maintained separate talks with comrade Öcalan,
as well as the guerrilla leadership. But when a family visit was
arranged, comrade Öcalan was adamant that members of his family were
not the appropriate people to convey messages to his organisation. He
was determined to maintain contact through a solicitor. The
government side conceded, but argued that the solicitor should be one
it deemed acceptable. In the end an interim solution was found.
was agreed that the third demand, on mother-tongue education, would
be considered in forthcoming discussions over the new constitution.
But the main demand - that is, an end to the isolation imposed on
comrade Öcalan - was won through the sheer determination of the
we should not consider the outcome as a victory pure and simple, as
if it was a question of who blinked first. In the Middle East a
period of two months can be quite a long time - and the period of
more than a year, during which comrade Öcalan’s isolation was
maintained, was indeed a long time.
the players in the region remain the same, their relative strength
and positioning have changed. A year ago, the so-called Arab spring
was expected to sweep the Middle East, and the regimes of Syria and
Jordan were not expected to survive.
a bloody civil war, the Syrian Ba’athist regime is yet to be
toppled, and is still able to manoeuvre between the various
communities. The Assad regime has conceded a swathe of land along the
Turkish border to the control of Kurdish groups. But it was able to
regroup against the Free Syrian Army, while maintaining a relative
peace in Kurdish areas. Of course, it is realistic enough not to
attempt to hold onto those areas if it can stay in power while a
prolonged process of reform agreed with the ‘international
community’ is implemented.
the other hand, the Assad regime knows that, given the opportunity,
FSO forces and the local Kurdish administration would become involved
in a power struggle that would inevitably escalate into armed
conflict. The first salvoes of these future battles were heard just
as the hunger-strike was ending.
has issued an ultimatum to Damascus, warning it that any Syrian air
force flight towards the Turkish border would be considered hostile
once it reached a certain zone and would be met with the appropriate
response. However, Syria has bombed the border towns held by Kurdish
forces with impunity, even though the attacks were so close to
Turkish territory that people just over the border have been killed
and maimed too. So Turkey’s warning is designed to placate its own
majority population, while Kurds are left to suffer.
for its part, the Iraqi Kurdish regional government has come face to
face with Syrian forces on the border, the Baghdad government has
tried to impose its own line to end the conflict, and has attempted
to occupy some border posts.
more dangerously, acting in response to Iranian instigations, the
Shia-dominated government is preparing new constitutional
arrangements. Consequently the Kurdish president of Iraq has left his
post and sought safety within the Kurdish zone. The dispute is
allegedly over who controls the oilfields of Kirkuk and Mosul, but
the Iraqis are in reality desperately trying to link up with coastal
Shia communities in Syria and Lebanon. Under such conditions the only
viable option for the Kurdish regional government is to maintain a
good or working relationship with Turkey. The destabilisation of
Lebanon and Jordan, as well as the Israeli attack on Gaza, are also
part of the rapidly changing mix in the region.
the spring and summer the PKK adopted a new, rather strange stance
for a guerrilla movement: instead of hit and run tactics, they
decided to occupy liberated zones within Turkey. During the increased
military action and air raids following the collapse of the Oslo
process, while the hunger-strikes were going on, almost 900
guerrillas were killed. That is an extremely heavy toll, but it has
not ended the will and determination of Kurdish youth to answer the
call from the mountains.
strengthened will and morale resulting from the hunger-strike victory
and the successful mass mobilisation in support of that action will
be put to the test in negotiations over the coming months - nothing
will be easily gained by the Kurds nor easily conceded by the Turkish
government. The recent period has produced a victory for the Kurdish
hunger-strikers and Abdullah Öcalan, but still sterner tests are
awaiting all of us in the Middle East.