The death fast that is taking place in Turkish prisons has claimed the lives of, it is thought, fifty prisoners or more – mainly through the terror methods adopted by the fascist Turkish state to try to bring it to an end. The death fasters, and the reaction of the Turkish state to them, has had the effect of drawing the attention of the world to the situation in Turkey – a country that, being ruled by imperialist puppets, is designated as ‘democratic’ in the warped terminology of the ‘international community’ – i.e., international imperialism.
Precisely because Turkey is ruled by a government that jumps to comply with every imperialist whim, Turkish living standards are low, workers’ rights are negligible and public discontent is extremely high. The use of the usual methods of divide and rule – incitement of national chauvinism and religious bigotry – despite its undoubted usefulness to the Turkish comprador class in maintaining its hold on the Turkish people – simply is not enough, which is why this class has to resort to a considerable extent to methods of open terror to keep the exploited and suffering masses in check. In fact in the early 1980s civilian government was briefly overthrown and replaced by a military dictatorship, while parliament was dissolved and all party leaders and parliamentarians were imprisoned.
As Day-Mer, a Turkish mass organisation active in the UK, explains, the period of military dictatorship represented open season for efforts on the part of the Turkish ruling class to exterminate the leadership of the working-class and progressive movements:
“Following the military coup, 650,000 people were arrested; 230,000 were put on trial, 98,404 for political activities; 65,000 were sentenced. 517 people were sentenced to death; 49 were hanged, including a 17-year old boy, Erdal Eren. 300 others were assassinated in the streets. 171 detainees died under torture. 30,000 workers were sacked and 388,000 people had their passport applications refused; 30,000 escaped from Turkey illegally as political refugees. 14,000 were stripped of citizenship rights. 23,667 trade unions, associations and parties were closed down. 3,854 teachers, 120 university lecturers and 47 judges were sacked. 300 journalists were attacked physically by fascists and
the police: many were killed.”
Within a short time, the Turkish government, and no doubt its imperialist backers, were satisfied that they had sufficiently exterminated the opposition to be able to risk a return to apparently civilian rule. Nevertheless they took the precaution of preserving the powers of the military junta – the National Security Council – which remain in force to this day behind the façade of Turkey’s ‘democratically-elected’ ‘civilian’ governments.
Killing and terrorising those who participate in a movement, however, does not put an end to the movement itself if the conditions which gave rise to it continue to provoke resistance, as the Turkish rulers very soon found. The poverty and insecurity of the masses of Turkish people, who are poorly paid, have virtually no free social benefits, and suffer high levels of unemployment and under-employment – exacerbated by inflation running at 70-80% that forces them to fight even to do no more than maintain the meagre purchasing power of their wages – ensure that the movement of resistance continues to grow, whatever the terror inflicted upon it. So long as such a huge proportion of the wealth produced by the labour of the Turkish people is squandered on (a) the payment of tribute to imperialism in various forms (e.g., debt servicing and payment of dividends), (b) gigantic military spending, and (c) maintaining a lavish lifestyle for a tiny class of compradors and those of their hangers-on whom they need to maintain their power, so long will the Turkish people continually rebel. And, of course, this means that, ‘civilian’ government or no, harsh repression continues against all opponents of the regime.
There are today in Turkey no fewer than 12,000 political prisoners languishing in the jails of ‘democratic’ Turkey. By imprisoning so many revolutionaries, however, the Turkish regime has created a rod for its own back. The sheer number of those imprisoned has led to the prisons becoming hotbeds and breeding grounds for revolutionary activists. The Turkish authorities tried to prevent this from happening by subjecting prisoners to torture and beatings – routine in Turkish prisons – but to no avail. They therefore consulted their fellow ‘democrats’, their US imperialist masters, who supplied them with plans for building new ‘F-type’ prisons, where large numbers of prisoners can be held in total isolation from each other, either in solitary confinement or in cells of no more than three prisoners. As Day-Mer points out, the introduction of these prisons, which have been built surreptitiously over the last 3-4 years, “
has a two-fold aim: to make it easier for prison and state authorities to torture and kill the main political leaders; and to break the solidarity and morale of all prisoners, rendering them so damaged physically and/or psychologically that on their release they are unable to continue to fight back”
(Press Release, 12 December 2000).
In an attempt to resist transfer to F-type prisons, political prisoners throughout Turkey decided to resort to the death fast as a means of forcing the Turkish government to abandon its plans. On 20 October 2000, 204 prisoners went on hunger strike. In response thousands of people took to the streets, facing mass arrest and brutal suppression, in support of the strikers in towns as diverse as Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. Trade unions, democratic organisations, intellectuals, major political parties, everybody with the slightest concern for democracy and justice raised their voices to condemn the proposed use of F-type prisons.
The Turkish government, however, egged on by its US imperialist masters, was deaf to the demands of the Turkish people. It resorted to a combination of ruthless violence and glib lies to achieve its aims. Under cover of the pretence of wanting to ‘save’ the hunger strikers, the Turkish military stormed 20 prisons across Turkey on 19 December, using bombs, Sikorski helicopters, tear gas and nerve gas, to effect the forcible removal of prisoners to F-type jails. The following is an eye-witness account of what took place, given by hunger striker, Ayla Ozcan:
“… We woke to the sound of an explosion at around 5 a.m. on December 19. One of our friends shouted ‘Friends! The operation is taking place!’ We all rushed to put our clothes on. When I looked outside from the window I saw the special military units on the roofs. They were wearing gas masks and their long-range rifles were directed at the dormitory. Before we put our clothes on, they opened fire on us and we took cover. We soaked all the towels we could find. Then they started to dig into the ceiling
from various places.
“Meanwhile they were swearing at us. ‘We came here to kill you,’ they were saying. They continued to dig into the ceiling. From outside, from the roofs, they were continually throwing blast bombs. After opening several holes in the ceiling, the bombardment with gas bombs began. We were choking and trying to gasp for air. While covering our mouths and noses with the wet towels to neutralise the effect of the gas, we were breaking the windows of our dormitory to get some fresh air. The rain of gas bombs was continuing. We moved from the centre of the dormitory towards the windows to get some air. Some of our friends fainted because of the gas.
“Those who came to carry out a massacre were continuously shouting through a megaphone ‘Surrender, otherwise we will kill you all!’ Our reply to this was our marches, slogans and tilisis (a Turkish women’s tradition during weddings and funerals: a kind of loud trilling noise). Until noon we were continuously having gas bombs and nerve-gas bombs thrown at us. Approximately 700 to 1,000 bombs were thrown at us. We, on the other hand, had nothing to retaliate with. Our best response was our marches and slogans. The enemy was belittled with every passing second.
“They were continuing to throw bombs, swearing at us and opening fire from the windows. They opened holes in the ceiling at 10 different places and they continuously carried out surprise attacks from these holes by using bombs. These bombs were dropped on us and started to burn us. While we were trying to put the fire out we were also inhaling gas. Meanwhile the special teams tried to land in the exercise yard from the roof by using ropes but did not succeed.
“They were continuously throwing blast bombs and opening fire from the roofs. Since I am a Death Fast fighter my friends were trying to protect me. At around noon they started to throw nerve gas and fire bombs at us. Most of us choked and lost consciousness.
“The flames started to cover the dormitory. Those who had not yet fainted continued to shout slogans and sing marches. The fire spread all over the dormitory. We all moved towards the door, we had to get out. The door could not be opened at first. Everywhere was shrouded in smoke and fire. Because of the effect of the gas, some of us lost consciousness while attempting to reach the door. I fell too. Some of my comrades fell over me. I could not breathe and because of the fire it was hot. When I caught my breath, I stood up with great effort. I could walk forward a step or two. Then one of my comrades pushed me out of the door. The threshold was as hot as hell. Nothing could be seen because of the smoke.
“The fire surrounded us. I barely remember being pushed outside. In the fresh air I gasped. While trying to walk down the stairs my legs were trembling. Most of my comrades were in the same situation. We were in shock because of the nerve gas and we could not realise certain things. When I was downstairs some of my comrades were trying to put out fires burning them by using water. The hair, hands and backs of most of us were burnt. When one of our comrades said ‘Some of us could not get out, they are still burning upstairs’, many of our comrades headed towards the stairs.
“I saw Ebru Dincer sitting on the stairs completely burnt. She could not speak and her hands, face, hair and most parts of her body were burnt. Then our comrades Hacer Arikan, Birsen Kars and Gulizar Kesici were taken out of the flames with great effort. There were still some of our comrades inside. Comrade Gulser Tuzcu was on fire in the doorway. Our comrades tried to pull her out but failed. Everyone was running from one place to another. Finally, two of our comrades re-entered the dormitory to search for the others. When they returned empty-handed, their faces, hair and hands were burnt too. When we went downstairs we realised that Nilufer, Seyhan, Ozlem, Sefinur, and the First Team Death Fast fighter, Gulseren Ozturk, were not among us. They were left in the blaze. While our comrades were being burnt alive, the murderers were enthusiastically filming their crimes. They had water hoses, but they were not deploying them on the burning dormitory.
“Those who supposedly came for ‘return to life’ [a reference to the government lie that the purpose of the assault on the prisons was to rescue people being forced against their will to go on the death fast] made their real intention very clear. They came to kill or make us all surrender.”
If anybody is in any doubt about whether it was really necessary to put up resistance against transfer to F-type prisons, the fascist Turkish state has been quick to put their minds at rest by resorting straight away to the superior facilities these prisons offer for torture and intimidation. According to another source, on 22 December, when lawyers visited prisoners who had been transferred there, they found that after being driven by the means detailed above from their former prisons
“the survivors were brought to the F-Types and tortured again. The hair of the prisoners was shaved. In the cells they were not given clothes or any belongings … they only had a sheet to cover themselves.
“The heating system of the prison was not switched on. Amid enormous harassment, they are kept hungry, thirsty and naked”.
In addition, a Belgian fact-finding mission to Istanbul, comprising Belgian lawyers, MPs and doctors, ascertained that the prisoners captured by the army during the December 19 assault were then tortured by beating and kicking. They were transported to the F-types in a brutal, humiliating and inhumane way, which included leaving them naked and soldiers urinating on them. Lawyers and doctors seeking to visit the prisoners have been refused access and have themselves been subjected to intimidation and humiliation. The Belgian delegation, despite a request from the Belgian Foreign Minister, M Michel, was refused permission to visit the prisoners either in the new prisons or in hospital.
If the Turkish state claimed – utterly fraudulently – that the purpose of their assault was to save people from the death fast, it certainly has not succeeded in that aim. Since the assault over 800 more prisoners have joined the death fast, though they know they can expect no mercy. Of the first wave of death fast prisoners, about 100 are now very close to death – if they have not already been killed during the prison assault, where they were particularly singled out by the military for harsh treatment.
Response of the ‘international community’
Despite the Turkish state’s open demonstration of its fundamentally fascistic nature, we hear no deafening cry of outrage from the ‘international community’, as imperialism likes to style itself. Where is the UN? Where are the associations for the defence of human rights? Where is the international press? The answer is that they have stayed at home, because their imperialist paymasters don’t pay them to report the crimes of imperialism’s puppets.
This is particularly the case because imperialism needs Turkey in the imperialist fold, as an important base for its operations to maintain control of the oil of the Middle East. Turkey, for instance, was used as a launch pad for the bombers that bombed Iraq. To consolidate the imperialist alliance with Turkey, European imperialism is anxious to incorporate Turkey in the European Union. The way it continues so flagrantly to flout the rules of this ‘democratic’ club is a severe embarrassment to its sponsors. Their continued willingness to encourage Turkish membership, together with the resolutely blind eye that they turn towards the fascist crimes it commits on a daily basis against its suffering proletariat, is yet another strong indication of the reactionary nature of the whole European Union project. It has no purpose but to strengthen European imperialism, and if strengthening European imperialism requires clutching a fascist beast to its bosom, then that’s what it will do. The proletariat and progressive people all over the world, especially in the imperialist countries, have a duty to expose and condemn the crimes committed by the Turkish fascist regime and to support the struggle of the prisoners for their dignity and freedom from harassment, torture and isolation.