It could be said that Asia Minor has old-age amnesia. Once cradle of civilization, this region has lost its memory for almost a century now. No one remembers Karamanlis, Pontus Greeks or Smyrnean Armenians who has once created the backbone of the society as well as Ionian Greeks. Now another ancient people of Asia Minor is being added to the dust of time: Kurds.
Recently I’ve read several articles talking about both revitalization and deterioration of Kurdish language and culture in Turkey as Asia Minor is called for the last 80 something years. Acceptance of Kurdish culture by “authorities” albeit slow had resulted in increase of cultural output in Kurdish language whereas hundred years old denial shook the roots by assimilating many Kurdish cultural idiosyncrasies into Turkish or vice versa. In fact Kurdish language itself is being assimilated into Turkish: increasing number of Kurds now use Turkish words when they speak Kurdish. In a way one might say Kurds are being suffocated linguistically through TV series and primetime news.
Kurds are literally being starved to death as well. To protest the solitary confinement of their leader Abdullah Ocalan, against discrimination and to demand basic human rights thousands of political prisoners have started a hunger strike 39 days ago. Yesterday we have received news that (at least) one of the strikers has lost his hearing and about to lose his sight. Severe impediments to their health and deaths are imminent.
Nineties were the last most harsh period against Kurds. The end of that era was marked by an attack by Turkish military to 20 different prisons killing 30 inmates on December 19th, 2000. This action ironically code named “operation back to life” was a reaction to hunger strikes that had started on October 29th same year. Now like sad deja vu, we are going through the same process again. But this time around there is a whole-scale war waged on Kurdish politics. There are over 7000 (some resources say closer to 8000) political prisoners related to BDP, KCK or PKK in Turkish jails with majority being under arrest as a result of KCK operations. Overwhelming majority of those are not convicted. Just being held captive pending trial- which might take years to finalize in the maze we call Turkish judiciary system.
These prisoners even lack most basic rights of visitation. If allowed they are humiliated in front of their relatives. What is worse is their relatives are also humiliated in prisoners’ presence by military guardians. Most have forfeited their rights of visitation to protest that fact. Letters are torn in front of both prisoners and visitors. And as of last week all communication between the Kurds in custody and the outside world is completely broken. A hunger strike initiated by a small group of women in Diyarbakir prison spread over the country and today over 350 prisoners joined in for “the right to use their Kurdish mother tongue in the public sphere, including court and the removal of obstacles preventing imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan from negotiating in peace talks with the Turkish state.” Today the mayor-elect of Siirt province, Selim Sadak has joined in the hunger strike to support his comrades in jail.
What is more humiliating is the ignorance of Turkish media. None of the mainstream press installations picked up the story. One might claim that most of Turkish public is not even aware of the hunger strike. The government threatens and then charges the journalists with terrorism if they report human rights issues, especially about the Kurdish minority.
Even today Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a public speech (in his daily buncombe that went on and on forever) argued that all Kurds against Turkey (read Turkish oppression) including legal Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MP’s and members are believers of “Zoroaster” (he means infidels) and all are terrorists. The small window of tolerance against opposition by the government is increasingly narrowing.
But if somehow by will of grace the International media won’t pick up the news the lives of all hunger strikers will end in vain since they are determined to do so. Kurdish political movement might be in dire straits in Turkey but that doesn’t mean they will give up the fight they fight for thirty years with determination.