ISTANBUL - Members of the Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) have joined more than 700 Turkish citizens on the 60th day of a hunger strike aimed at drawing attention to the imprisonment of Kurds linked to an alleged terrorist organization.
Some 65 prisoners linked to the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), which Turkey, the European Union and United States define as a terrorist outfit, started a hunger strike on Sept. 12 and have since passed the critical 40-day threshold. Hundreds of supporters, mostly other inmates, have since joined the hunger strike.
The striking prisoners of the KCK, a branch of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), have three central demands of the Turkish government: the release of Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the PKK, who has been in solitary confinement since 1999; the right to defend themselves in court in the Kurdish language, and the right to study in Kurdish.
BDP lawmakers joined the hunger strike to show public support of the prisoner’s civil rights. “No concrete steps have been taken up to now, although four days have passed and our friends are approaching death with each moment. Our friends will not end their hunger strike without observing concrete steps,” BDP lawmaker Ozdal Ucer said before beginning his own hunger strike on Friday.
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin has drafted a legal arrangement that could pave the way for Kurdish to be used in courts. He said during a recent press conference that the draft would be sent for review to Parliament and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Prime Minister, who blames the BDP and PKK for manipulating the strikers, has not yet made comment on Ergin’s proposal.
Turkish President Abdullah Gül has invited Ergin to a meeting to discuss the situation. “There are signs of dialogue in the country," he said. "That’s why the wrongheaded methods of confrontation will never help resolve the problems. With this in mind, I call on everybody to give up these actions.”
Meanwhile, BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas met last week with the delegation of the European Commission to Turkey on Thursday to discuss the matter. But still, the hunger strikes have received scant international coverage, possibily because the focus in the region has been on the crisis in Syria.
Meanwhile, the situation in Syria has quietly heightened Kurdish-Turkish tensions as the PKK has increased its political and military influence in Syria’s Kurdish areas as part of its longstanding fight for autonomy.