Behind the Kurdish Hunger Strike in Turkey

Journalist Jake Hess has written this article for the Middle East Research and Information Project on the on going hunger strikes and their political context:

To hear Mazlum Tekdağ’s story is enough to understand why 700 Kurdish political prisoners have gone on hunger strike in Turkey. His father was murdered by the state in front of his Diyarbakır pastry shop in 1993, when Mazlum was just nine years old. His uncle Ali was kidnapped by an army-backed death squad known as JİTEM (the acronym for the Turkish phrase translating, roughly, as Gendarmerie Intelligence and Anti-Terror Unit) two years later. Mazlum never saw his uncle again, but a former JİTEM agent later claimed they tortured him for six months before killing him and burning his body by the side of a road in the Silvan district of Diyarbakır.

Such experiences have moved thousands of Kurds in Turkey to join the armed rebellion of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which has been outlawed since its inception. But Mazlum, along with thousands of others, chose to fight for his people’s rights through the non-violent means of pro-Kurdish political parties, a succession of which have been allowed to operate by the Turkish state before then being shut down. He was first arrested in 2001, when he was 17. Now 28, Mazlum has been in jail for three and a half years, though he has not been convicted of a crime. His trial is deadlocked because Turkish courts refuse to let him or his fellow political prisoners offer their legal defenses in their native Kurdish language. All of them speak fluent Turkish; they are making a political point. Continue reading

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“The AKP’s ‘New Kurdish Strategy’ Is Nothing of the Sort”

An Interview with Selahattin Demirtas

by Jake Hess | published May 2, 2012

Originally published in Middle East Review Online

Selahattin Demirtaş is co-president of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party of Turkey (BDP), the fourth largest political party in the country. The BDP is not formally tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been in armed conflict with the Turkish state since 1984, but it shares the PKK’s core political demands and the two groups likely have many supporters in common. As such, the BDP is a pivotal player in the search for peace. Hopes for a political solution to the decades-old confrontation between the Kurds and the government of Turkey were raised in 2009, when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) launched an initiative known as the “Kurdish” or “democratic opening,” only for the effort to collapse that winter. Talk of democratic reforms and a new approach to the Kurdish issue has resurfaced since the AKP won a third term in the 2011 parliamentary elections, but prospects remain grim as PKK-army clashes and political repression of the Kurdish movement continue. A lawyer by trade, Demirtaş represents the Hakkari province in the Turkish parliament and is a past vice president of the Human Rights Association of Turkey. Jake Hess interviewed him in Washington during a BDP parliamentary delegation visit in April and translated the conversation from Turkish. Continue reading