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Hunger strikes called off after Ocalan sees lawyers – 'resistance has prevailed'

HUNGER-STRIKING in Turkish prisons celebrated a huge victory for democracy today as they called off their action after seven months following a statement from jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) parliamentarian Leyla Guven, who started the hunger-strike campaign in November in protest at Mr Ocalan being held in isolation, declared that “resistance has prevailed” as she hailed the collective action by 7,000 largely Kurdish political prisoners in Turkish jails.

However, she warned that her “fight against the isolation continues,” despite having ended her fast.

The Hakkari MP was taken to hospital after abandoning her action after 200 days without food.

She paid tribute to the Peace Mothers and those who had lost their lives during the struggle – Zulkuf Gezen, Medya Cinar, Yonca Akici, Sirac Yusek, Mahsum Pamay, Umit Acar and Uhur Sakar – describing them as “the real heroes and owners of this process.”

Ms Guven said she “would like to thank the Peace Mothers and all women who did not leave the streets despite all the attacks and repression. Hope is more precious than victory,” adding: “We hope, we succeed.”

The HDP MP was seen as the symbol of the resistance, spearheading the campaign which drew support from across the world and put pressure on international institutions and the Turkish state.

Her daughter Sabiha Temikzan thanked all who supported the hunger strikers, especially the Peace Mothers who led sit-in protests outside the prisons, continuing their resistance despite many being detained and suffering brutal attacks by the authorities.

The white headscarves worn by the Peace Mothers became an icon of the hunger strikes as they flooded the streets in towns and cities across Turkey.

“You did it … you did it because you were right and that’s why it is so powerful,” Ms Temizkan said. “Your white headscarves slapped the faces of the oppressors. This victory will be trouble to those who didn’t believe in it.”

News of the end of the hunger strikes sparked scenes of joy and celebration, along with a sense of hope and relief.

Supporters had waited patiently for information after Mr Ocalan’s lawyers visited him in his prison cell on Imrali, an island in the sea of Marmara, last Wednesday. 

It was anticipated, and hoped, that the hunger strikes would be called off.

Finally, after days of speculation, lawyers held a press conference at an Istanbul hotel where they detailed their discussions with Mr Ocalan and read a short statement on his behalf.

They stressed the PKK leader’s view that the meetings with his legal team – who had been been blocked from seeing him for eight years – did not mean the beginning of a negotiation process.

However, he reinforced the seven points that were outlined in his previous statement, issued following the lawyers’ visit to Imrali on May 2. 

Mr Ocalan expressed his desire to play a positive role in negotiations in Syria, including on the Kurdish issue, which could be achieved while also maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity, according to the statement.

The Kurdish leader said his ideas and suggestions could solve the problems in Syria and emphasised that the rights of Kurds and other communities should be constitutionally secured.

While a number of topics were discussed, the lawyers said, it was the hunger strikes and death fasts that were the most critical issue.

Mr Ocalan expressed his gratitude for the will and dedication of the hunger strikers, who had taken an “honourable stance.” And he paid special tribute to the important role of the Peace Mothers.

However, he declared that the action had achieved its goal and called for the end of the hunger strikes and death fasts.

“If talks were not held in the future, it could be protested by a political struggle,” the lawyers explained, adding that Mr Ocalan had warned that future hunger strikes and death fasts should be avoided.

“He said the main thing is a culture of democratic political struggle and that it is more important for the strikers to be physically, spiritually and mentally healthy,” the statement read.

In a brief letter, Mr Ocalan said he expected the protests to come to an end.

Ms Guven watched the press conference from her bed and was joined in the room by representatives of the Peace Mothers before she released her own statement announcing an end to her hunger strike.

She vowed to continue her struggle against Mr Ocalan’s isolation, warning that the Middle East, including Kurdistan, is “an absolute battlefield, like a burning fireball.

“In this battlefield, access to a free life is prevented by the imposition of the political and cultural denial of the Kurds as well as the policies based on submission,” she said.

Ms Guven argued that the ideas of Mr Ocalan were a solution for the problems faced by the whole of the Middle East, as the “Rojava experience continues to shake the world,” a reference to the democratic Kurdish enclave in northern Syria.

“The most important actor for the democratic solution of the Kurdish question in the Middle East is Mr Ocalan,” she said.

The opposition politician said the isolation of the PKK leader is the isolation of society and causes “shame on humanity.

“Our only chance is being revolutionary,” she insisted. “Because only revolutionism can prevent this shame and it can stand against the intolerable things and the oppression.”

Ms Guven explained that she had started her hunger strike on her own initiative and had vowed to continue until Mr Ocalan’s isolation had ended.

“I believe it’s absolutely crucial, not only for the Kurds but for all the peoples living in this land, that the opinions of Mr Ocalan … [in terms of the importance of peace talks] … are available for the public,” she said.

“We were most hurt and we felt the most heavy pain in our hearts with the martyrdom of our comrades who sacrificed their lives to make us live, becoming screams to break the silence, even with their own lives,” she said paying tribute to nine people who committed suicide during the resistance campaign.

“At this point, resistance opened a door towards breaking the absolute isolation,” she said, highlighting the recent lawyers meetings and a brief visit from Mr Ocalan’s brother Mehmet earlier this year.

“However, we will continue our active struggle in different ways to completely eliminate the isolation. The burden of responsibility is now on our shoulders, on the shoulders of those who carry out active democratic politics. If politics cannot produce solutions, it only creates new problems,” she said.

“While I promise to act with this responsibility and awareness, today, I end my hunger strike action. I would like to point out that our hunger strike resistance has achieved its goal. 

“But our struggle against isolation and our struggle for social peace will continue in all areas. This struggle must lead to an honourable peace.”

She thanked all of those who “became our voice and did not lose hope under this fascistic atmosphere of oppression.” 

HDP co-chairs Pervin Buldan and Sezai Temelli said in a statement: “Great determination was shown for peace and democracy.”

The HDP and human rights organisations are monitoring the situation to ensure that the hunger strikers receive immediate medical attention, they said.

”We will further intensify our efforts to make democratic politics more successful, to keep the struggle for democracy, freedom and peace more determined and organised.”

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