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Twelve Political Prisoners Gave their Lives in a Death Fast in Turkey

When Aygun Ugur, an imprisoned militant from the outlawed Turkish Communist Party/Marxist-Leninist (TKP/ML), died on the 63rd day of a hungerstrike, Turkey was shocked. In a nation which is continually rocked by political crises and rebellion, this summer's death fast by left-wing political prisoners posed the greatest threat to the the Turkish government in recent years. Weeks of public denial and fierce repression could not stop the prisoners, and in the days after Ugur's death, 11 more martyrs were to fall in Europe's most serious political hungerstrike since 10 Irish POW's died in the 1981 IRA/INLA hungerstrike.

This summer's hungerstrike, the climax of more than a year of continued prison resistance in Turkey and Kurdistan, began on May 19, 1996. At the outset, more than 1,500 political prisoners took part, most from militant communist organizations such as the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), the TKP/ML, and others. Kurdish political prisoners, mostly from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), soon joined in as well, and the resistance displayed a great deal of unity among Turkey's fractured radical-left and leftist Kurdish groups as well.

The main impetus for this latest hungerstrike was the order which was issued on May 6, 1996 by the new Turkish Justice Minister Mehmet Agar. Ever since inconclusive parliamentary elections in December 1995 had left Turkey in a state of political stalemate, a shaky coalition government was eventually formed by the two main secular conservative parties, the True Path Party (DYP) and the Motherland Party (ANAP). Mehmet Agar was well known to leftists in Turkey, especially the prisoners, and his career as a policeman and politician was one marked by torture, murder, and bloodshed. Agar had served as police chief in Ankara following the September 9, 1980 military coup, and his tenure there was marked by the death of scores of revolutionaries. In 1990, Agar became police chief in Istanbul, where he continued his reign of terror. According the the DHKC Information Office in Amsterdam, police raids directed by Agar resulted in the deaths of 124 left-wing militants with another 22 tortured to death. Agar was also responsible for the murder of 8 left-wing journalists and the imprisonment of 55 others.

Mehmet Agar's May 6th order announced the establishment of several new special isolation prisons in Eskisehir and other cities, and the planned dispersal of political prisoners to remote areas far away from their families and lawyers. This order marked the highpoint of increased repression against political prisoners in Turkey and Kurdistan.

Turkey has a long history of militant left-wing struggle, especially since the 1970s, and prison resistance has always been an integral part of movement activity. Following the 1980 military coup, when thousands of militants were imprisoned and tortured, there were several waves of hungerstrikes and prison resistance, organized mainly by the urban guerrilla organization Devrimci Sol (now known as the DHKP-C) and the PKK. But the return of "democracy" to Turkey in the 1980s did not mean that prison conditions became any better. Indeed, following the launching of the PKK's armed struggle offensive in Kurdistan in 1984 and the hanging of martial law over all Kurdish provinces in 1987, the repression in the prisons became much worse as the number of political prisoners began to rise.

In the 1990s, prison resistance continued, and one of the largest hungerstrikes in Turkish history began on July 14, 1995, when nearly 10,000 Kurdish political prisoners and prisoners of war began a hungerstrike to demand better prison conditions and to call for an end to the dirty war in Kurdistan. [ PLN Oct. 1995] July 14th is a significant date in history for the PKK movement. It recalls the hungerstrike launched on July 14, 1982 by PKK cadre Hayri Durmus, Kemal Pir, Ali Cicek, and Akif Yilmaz, all of whom fell as martrys in their resistance. A wave of solidarity hungerstrikes by Kurds across Europe and even in America, including clashes with riot police in London and several German cities, helped draw international attention to the war in Kurdistan and to the plight of political prisoners in Turkey. But this hungerstrike ended without achieving any results after 35 days. Four people were martyred in this hungerstrike: Fesih Beyazcicek, Remzi Altinas, Latifa Kaya, and Gulnaz Baghistani; Gulnaz died in Berlin, Germany following a police attack on Kurdish solidarity hungerstrikers.

Prison resistance spread from Kurdistan during the summer of 1995, particularly following the dramatic escape from prison on July 17, 1995 of four DHKC prisoners. Their escape led to a wave of repression against other prisoners and prisoners' families, and resistance to state terror in the prisons eventually took the form of a nationwide prison uprising on September 12, 1995. Both Kurdish and Turkish political prisoners from several left-wing organizations acted together during this resistance. The state responded with heavy force, however, attacking Buca prison in Izmir on September 21, 1995. A raid by soldiers and police on the prison left 3 DHKC prisoners dead and another 60 prisoners seriously wounded.

Resistance and repression continued, however, and soon Urmaniye prison in Istanbul became the focus. On December 13, 1995, the police and army attacked rebellious inmates, even using helicopters, leaving 1 dead and scores more wounded. But prisoners successfully barricaded themselves and held off the state forces until another, more deadly state attack on January 4, 1996 left yet another 3 DHKC prisoners dead. By this point, a rather large movement outside the prisons had formed and began taking to the streets to demand an end to torture and death in Turkish prisons. Following the January 4th massacre, Turkish targets across Germany were firebombed, and thousands of people in Turkey took to the streets in protest. At the funeral for two of the DHKC martyrs, riot police in Istanbul made some 4,000 arrests, injuring scores of people. World-wide attention became focused on the situation in Turkey's prisons following this, largely due to the murder by police of Emin Goktepe. Emin, a journalist for the leftist daily "Evrensel," was dragged away by police during the funeral procession in Istanbul. His battered corpse was found in a ditch a few days later. Turkish police at first denied they had any knowledge of Emin's murder, but overwhelming evidence soon proved to the world that Emin was the latest in a series of "disappearances" and murders of leftist journalists in Turkey. Bowing to pressure from the European Parliament, several Istanbul police officers were indicted for Emin's murder this spring.

It was against this background of continued intense repression that the May 19th hungerstrike was launched. Prisoners demanded that the May 6th order be rescinded, that all special isolation prisons be closed down, and they also demanded an end to the attacks on family members and lawyers which have become so routine in Turkey and Kurdistan. The collapse of the DYP-ANAP right-wing coalition in May changed the situation slightly, however. A new coalition, made up of former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller's DYP party and the Islamic Refah Party, removed Agar and named Refah member Sevket Kazan to be the new Justice Minister. At this point, PKK prisoners halted their hungerstrike, apparently fooled by promises of reform. But the prisoners from the Turkish left continued and indeed escalated their resistance.

The analysis by the DHKC and others proved correct, as Kazan promised to continue with the state attacks on revolutionary prisoners and to push through the new restrictions and special prisons. The hungerstike became a death fast, with hundreds of prisoners vowing to perish before they would cease their resistance. State repression was heightened, and a media black-out was ordered by the Refah government, reminiscent of the German state's repressive measures during the RAF hungerstrike in the autumn of 1977. But Turkey's political prisoners are very well-organized and resourceful, and they managed to smuggle a video tape of the prison conditions and the death fast to the outside. When these images were broadcast to Turkey and the world, the government could no longer deny the resistance which was underway. Rallies by prisoners' families and supporters grew. Riots broke out in the Gazi district of Istanbul and other areas as well. The state vowed never to negotiate with "terrorists," but when Aygun Ugur fell on July 21st, the situation changed. In the following days, more prisoners died, and yet the resistance continued. By now, the bourgeois left were shocked, and even pro-state media began to question the inhumane stance of the new regime. Sedat Ergin, a leading newspaper commentator in Ankara, noted that the fast had become a "direct challenge" to Prime Minister Erbakan's new Islamic government. On July 25th, with 8 strikers already dead, the Kurdish PKK prisoners announced that they too would join the death fast. The Kurdistan Parliament in Exile in Europe issued a declaration in support of the hungerstrikers. With social discontent and protest mounting, the media black-out having failed to keep a lid on the situation, famed author Yasar Kemal and other noted human rights activists attempted to mediate between the prisoners and the state. On Saturday, July 28, 1996, the prisoners announced that the death fast was over when the government gave in to all their demands.

The government stated it would close down the Eskisehir prison in central Anatolia, it would stop the dispersal of prisoners to remote locations, end the attacks on family members and lawyers, and seek to improve prison conditions. After 69 days of determined resistance and the death of 12 prisoners, the hungerstrike by Turkish revolutionaries ended in victory. But Turkey is still a country in turmoil. As the urban underclasses continue to rise up in the cities in the west and the Kurdish liberation struggles gains in strength in the east, state repression will continue, and this summer's hungerstrike will certainly not be the last in the struggle for socialism and freedom in Turkey and Kurdistan.

For more information on the liberation struggle in Turkey and Kurdistan, visit the DHKP-C homepage on the Internet:, or write to Arm The Spirit, P.O. Box 6326, Stn. A, Toronto, Ont., M5W 1P7 Canada. E-mail: Arm The Spirit's homepage:

The following martyrs fell during the 69-day hungerstrike:

Aygun Ugur (TKP/ML),

Altan Berdan Kerimgiller (DHKP-C),

Olginc Ozkeskin (DHKP-C), Huseyin Demircioglu (MLKP),

Ali Ayata, (TKP/ML),

Mujdat Yanat (DHKP-C), Tahsin Yilmaz (TIKB),

Ayse Idil Erkmen (DHKP-C), Hicabi Kucuk (TIKB),

Yemliha Kaya (DHKP-C),

Osman Akgun (TIKB)

Hayati Can (TKP/ML)

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