A WORLD TO WIN    #22   (1996)


New Upsurge of Struggle in Turkey's Dungeons

After a prolonged period when the squabbling Turkish ruling classes were unable to produce even a semblance of a government, the latest coalition was immediately put to a severe test by an upsurge of struggle from within Turkey's ­dungeons.

Since the spring 1995 storm of mass rebellions that shook working class areas around Istanbul, like Gazi Mahallesi and others, a new spirit of militant protest and struggle has been growing in Turkey. Struggle also sharpened amongst the thousands of political prisoners against the desperate "reform" programmes of the state.

Political prisoners in Buca Prison (Izmir) stood up to foil this attack in September 1995, and three were martyred. A few months later, in January 1996, prisoners at Umraniye in Istanbul courageously fought the state's armed forces inside the prison in defence of their revolutionary identity, and four more people were killed.

In the spring of 1996, the new Islamic-led government coalition sped up the restructuring programmes to crush this growing resistance inside (and outside) Turkey's dungeons under the guise of new "reforms".

The prisoners' response was swift and widespread. By 20 May 1996, about 1500 revolutionary political prisoners had jointly launched an unlimited hunger strike to beat back this new clampdown by the state. Some 41 prisons in 38 different cities were affected by the struggle.

On 3 July 1996, 159 ­political prisoners who had been on unlimited hunger strike decided to go over to a hunger strike until death, demanding that state tactics to create repenters and collaborators be abandoned, that the "tabutluk" prisons (with tiny coffin-like single cells), especially Eskis'ehir, be closed. They also demanded an end to all attacks and intimidation against the prisoners' families and an end to state torture, executions and "disappearing" of people, as well as the right to legal defence and ­medical care. Their call also ­included an end to state­ ­terror against the labouring ­people, first and foremost the Kurdish people, and an end to all barbarism in Erzurum and Diyarbakir prisons in the eastern part of the country, in Kurdistan.

On 13 July, 62 more ­prisoners joined the strike "until death", bringing the total number participating to 221. Outside the prisons, support began to grow in leaps. Street-fighting took place in several cities as well as confrontations ­between prisoners' mothers and the police, and the struggle spread quickly to student campuses. In Gazi, the youth went on the offensive, attacking the police.

With the deaths of many impending and with the explosive support swelling outside, the accelerating struggle amongst the ­prisoners forced the Turkish Government to manoeuvre and retreat. After twelve hunger strikers had died, the state backed down on some of its repressive reforms, particularly the transfer of more political prisoners to the hated Eskis'ehir "prison of death". (The martyrs were from a range of revolutionary left groups, including the Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist-Leninist, a participant of RIM.) Some 20 others were critically ill and in mortal danger in the following days, either in a coma or suffering from blindness and irreparable organ damage.

The moment it announced its agreement to some of the demands in ­order to calm public opinion in Turkey and inter­nationally, the Turkish ­regime ­began to mistreat striking ­prisoners who were transferred to hospitals. Police interfered with their medical treatment and used some forms of torture. While forced to carry out some aspects of the 27 July agreement in and around prisons in the big cities, the state stepped up its reform clampdown in Turkey's smaller prisons, and meted out especially harsh treatment in the eastern prisons of Kurdistan, including in Diyarbakir and Erzurum.

At the end of September, the Turkish state carried out yet another massacre in Kurdistan, as it tried to both bring the situation under its control in the prisons and launch a new counter-insurgency operation against the PKK and the Kurdish people, after the PKK ended its cease-fire: 10 prisoners in Diyarbakir were killed and two dozen more injured, while many others were transferred.