26 July 2001 Edition
Sinn Féin calls for resolution of Turkish Hunger Strike
Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has called on the Turkish government to engage with representatives of those on hunger strike to achieve a resolution to the protest, which has already claimed 29 lives.
Ó Caolain was speaking after the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle, meeting last weekend, unanimously backed a motion proposed by him on the issue calling on the Dublin government to use its influence as a member of the UN Security Council to lobby the Turkish government to achieve a resolution.
Ó Caolain said: ``It is imperative that action is taken now to ensure that no more lives are lost in this hunger strike. The Sinn Féin leadership believes that the demands of the prisoners are just and should be met.
``I am calling on the Irish government, through its membership of the UN Security Council and as a member state of the European Union to raise this matter both with the Turkish government and internationally to achieve a positive resolution.''
Also on this issue, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, speaking on Wednesday after a protest outside the EU offices In Belfast to highlight the plight of the hunger strikers, spoke of his alarm that the crisis had been largely ignored by the world's media. He called on the Turkish government to act to resolve the situation and on EU member states to impress on the Turkish government that its application would not be considered until such time as the hunger strike has been resolved. Like Ó Caoláin, he stressed that Sinn Féin would continue to pursue the matter with the Dublin government.
Boycott Turkish resorts
JIM GIBNEY was national organiser of the National Anti-H-Block/Armagh Committee during the 1981 hunger strike in Ireland. Last week, 20 years later, he attended a meeting to highlight a remarkably similar and equally harrowing struggle in Turkey. Thirty prisoners died in an attack on a prison in December and a further 29 prisoners and relatives have died on hunger strike. The following is his reaction to their plight.
Turkey is roughly 1,500 miles from Ireland. It is widely viewed as a popular holiday destination. Common parlance has it that the beer and food are cheap, the beaches are great, the sun always shines and the people are friendly.
But that is not the Turkey I and a few hundred people experienced in the Roddy's club in Belfast last Wednesday night. Turkey's sun-kissed seductive veil slipped and we saw another, more sinister, darker side that is largely unknown to the people of Ireland.
Last October, political prisoners in Turkish gaols started a hunger strike. To date, 29 young men and women, prisoners and their supporters have died. Two were teenage sisters. Many more are seriously ill. Alongside this, the state's forces have tried to ruthlessly crush the will of some 10,000 political prisoners. That story unfolded through video and photographic exhibition at the Roddy's meeting.
The meeting was organised by Jim `Flash' McVeigh and Alec McCrory, both just recently back from separate trips to Turkey's capital, Istanbul. Both men are former H-Block prisoners.
They brought back a harrowing tale of state oppression in the prisons and on the streets that has been met by heroic resistance inside and out. Their story reminded all of us of the epic struggle here for political status between 1976 and 1981. Indeed, for me throughout the two-hour meeting, the images shown on the Turkish video and photographic exhibition were strikingly similar to those from the H-Blocks and Armagh Women's prison during that time.
Turkish prisoners on hunger strike bore an uncanny resemblance to Raymond McCartney and Brendan Hughes when they were on hunger strike in the H-Blocks in October 1980: gaunt, bearded and defiant.
A remarkable, yet unbearably tragic and sad feature, of the Turkish hunger strike is the deaths on hunger strike of relatives and supporters of the prisoners. In a poor working class area on the outskirts of Istanbul, there is a number of what are popularly known as `Death Fast Houses'. They are so called because in them people hunger strike in support of the prisoners. Already eight people have died. Among them have been the mother of a prisoner and a sister.
In recent days, reports from Istanbul indicate that the military have thrown a cordon around the district and they are harassing anyone entering and leaving it. The people are fearful that the military will attack them and the prisoners have threatened that if they do attack then they will immolate themselves inside the gaol. This is not an idle threat as a number of prisoners have burnt themselves to death in protest before.
The video from Turkey, which contained remarkable and disturbing footage, lasted for just over half and hour. Essentially, it told the story of the violent attack last December by Turkey's military forces on one of ten prisons holding political prisoners. Three thousand troops and police, armed to the teeth, were used in the assault.
The purpose behind the attack was to move the prisoners from their accommodation that was dormitory and communal, with the prisoners running their own lives, to cellular and isolation conditions where prison warders would dictate how the prisoners live.
In our terms, it is the equivalent of the time when the British government introduced criminalisation in March 1976, closed the Cages of Long Kesh, which housed republicans and loyalists, and opened the notorious H-Blocks. The Turkish prisons are known as `F' Type'.
The military bombarded the prisoners, men and women, with live rounds, tear and nerve gas bombs and stun grenades. They set fire to the prisoners' belongings to smoke them out. When they captured them they handcuffed them singularly and in groups, dragged them down flights of stairs, battoned them and kicked them.
The soldiers who led this attack were fortified with all the paraphernalia a military state can give them. They wore heavy protective clothing, crash helmets, and gas masks.
On display, inside this prison, in the midst of this fearsome attack was the naked power of an uncaring oppressive regime. I thought of Pinochet's Chile.
But yet watching the prisoners reaction to this assault you could also see what Laurence McKeown and Brian Campbell dramatically capture in their soon to be released film about the H-Blocks, `H3': the violent power of the state, no matter how ruthlessly exercised, was nonetheless dispensed nervously by the guards, with no certainty to the outcome.
During wing shifts in the H-Blocks, naked prisoners were beaten into a squat position over a mirror on the ground; they were made run a gauntlet of baton wielding warders, they were kicked and then thrown into empty, cold cells and starved of adequate food. Yet when it was over they sang republican songs defiantly and continued their protest for political status.
I watched the Turkish prisoners' reaction to the violence from the military. Their faces, their eyes, showed no fear. While their attackers were safe inside their body armour, the defenceless prisoners emerged triumphant. In the H-Blocks, republican prisoners defiantly sang songs. In this Turkish prison the prisoners held up clenched fists and shouted victory slogans.
When the raid was over, 30 prisoners, many of them hunger strikers, were dead, hundreds more were badly injured. Film footage from the morgue, where the dead prisoners were taken for autopsies, showed that their killers savagely mutilated them before killing them, a telling sign that those with power fear the powerless, even at the point where they appear to overwhelm them.
I wondered could the armed guardians of this regime debase themselves any further? And then I thought of Slobadan Milosivic facing trial in the
International Court of Justice and wondered why no one has demanded that his Turkish equivalent face a similar trial for abusing these prisoners.
The debate that followed the video concentrated on what the people of Belfast and Ireland could do to support the Turkish prisoners. It was agreed to contact the European Union Commissioner in Belfast and oppose Turkey's entry into the EU, to hold a picket outside the EU's office in Belfast to highlight this demand; to organise pickets outside travel agencies promoting Turkey as a holiday resort and calling on people to boycott Turkey; to send messages of protest to the Turkish government and messages of solidarity to the prisoners.
In 1980-'81, the British government tried and failed to block news about the hunger strikes getting out to the international community. The Turkish government is trying to do the same today.
In this, the 20th anniversary of the H-Block hunger strikes, republicans all over Ireland must mobilise as wide as possible political opinion in support of the Turkish prisoners.
The Turkish government must be forced to concede the prisoners' demands or face political isolation as an inhuman regime unworthy of respect.