Comrade of Bobby Sands: The silence is shameful
“Sinn Féin send our solidarity and support to the Kurdish people. We want you to know, that we will continue to stand firmly with you, as you too stand with us.”
The hunger strikes launched by DTK Co-chair and HDP Hakkari MP Leyla Guven demanding an end to the isolation imposed upon Kurdish People’s Leader Abdullah Ocalan have continued for 5 months. The Kurdish people and peoples of the world who share a similar fate display a spirit of revolutionary solidarity with every chance they get. The Scottish National Party (SNP), the Welsh Plaid Cymru and Ireland’s Sinn Féin. Imam Sis has been on a hunger strike in Newport, Wales for 115 days. Plaid Cymru has embraced his struggle as if their own in this process. The female MPs in the party in particular have supported the process with great fervor since the beginning.
Ireland’s Sinn Féin also showed great support. The reason Sinn Féin is embracing the issue so much is that they have gone through similar processes as the Kurdish people. The young Irish revolutionary Bobby Sands and 9 of his comrades lost their lives in the hunger strike resistance he launched in the Maze Prison on March 1, 1981. Like Leyla Guven was elected to the parliament from prison, Bobby Sands had also been elected to the UK Parliament as he completed the first month of his hunger strike. He lost his life 25 days after he was elected. Member of the European Parliament form Sinn Féin Martina Anderson spoke to the Yeni Ozgur Politika about the indefinite nonalternating hunger strikes aiming to break the isolation imposed upon Kurdish People’s Leader Abdullah Ocalan and demand his freedom.
The Kurdish Freedom Movement and Kurdish people generally have a lot of sympathy for Irish resistance history. How is the Kurdish struggle seen from Ireland? Do you see links and similarities between Kurds and İrish people?
Irish Republicans and the Irish people feel the same shared sense of solidarity toward the Kurdish resistance history, as the Kurdish feel with ourselves in Ireland.
Our struggles are shared and similar – with the ambition to achieve self-determination and the right to democratically decide our own future.
Both of our movements are campaigning for a binding referendum on our constitutional future and our right to self-determination – which will reflect the democratic will of the people.
We feel a deep sense of understanding and shared pain, with the case of Abdullah Ocalan, because the isolation policies being inflicted upon him by the Turkish Erdogan regime, are very similar to those which were used against Irish Republicans during the conflict by the oppressive British occupation forces.
As two anti-establishment, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles; we stand firmly with one another in our struggle for self-determination!
After a long conflict, problems were solved on the peace table for Ireland. The Kurdish movement has been fighting for a peaceful and democratic solution for a long time, but the Turkish state is ignoring it and defines the problem as a ‘security problem’ and therefore has been pushing for a military solution. How do you interpret the 40-year conflict between the Kurdish movement and Turkish state?
Sinn Féin believe that our struggle for self-determination can be achieved through peaceful and democratic efforts, with the peace talks proving pivotal to the end of the conflict in Ireland. However, the struggle for self-determination from Britain is ongoing within the political sphere.
The ongoing conflict in Syria has been used by opposition to rage an onslaught against the Kurdish people, who are defending their autonomy and their rights.
Kurdish fighters in the People’s Protection Units (YPG) are a proven bulwark against the spread of ISIS. They have fought bravely and with conviction, relying on their own meagre resources, to protect civilians within northern Syria and Iraq.
They have also served as the primary force responsible for the liberation of huge areas of land that was previously under the control of ISIS.
We understand that the Turkish state have opposed the Kurdish movements attempts to achieve a legitimate peaceful and democratic solution. In order to achieve a just and lasting peace, the Turkish government must release Kurdish Leader Abdullah Ocalan who is being held in Imrali island prison; a firm supporter, and main architect of peace initiatives.
The Turkish Government must also recognise that any negotiated settlement of the Syrian conflict must include peace and justice for the Kurds, including in Turkey.
The Turkish Government needs to restart the peace process with the Kurds, and respect the rights of all its people as a matter of urgency!
You spent almost 14 years in prison; you and your comrades were treated very badly. You spent a long time in isolation too, when you look at the situation of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan. How do you define ‘isolation’?
I look at isolation as a prison-system tool, inflicted to try and break the spirit of those involved in the struggle for self-determination, during their resistance efforts.
However, their failing is that they do not realise that within our resistance efforts, we cannot be broken.
This was best defined by Bobby Sands MP, in his writings from prison isolation in 1981, whereby he wrote “They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman/Irishwoman who doesn’t want to be broken”. The same applies to our comrades in Kurdistan.
Or as another Irish Republican volunteer, Mairéad Farrell once wrote, “Your mind is your strongest weapon because they cannot control your mind, they cannot get inside it – and that, is their failure”.
Kurdish people are well aware of the hunger strike of Bobby Sands and his comrades. You were in prison during that time, and witnessed that period closely. What do you have to say about ‘hunger strikes’ as a method of resistance and protest? / Leyla Guven is leading the hunger strikes in Kurdistan, Turkish prisons and Europe. How do you evaluate the role of a Kurdish woman leading such an action?
The Kurdish people stood with Irish Republicans during the hunger strikes of 1981. We too, stand with the Kurdish people on hunger strike across numerous prisons today. Embarking on hunger strike and giving up your life, in the struggle for self-determination – suffering to ensure that future generations may live in justice and peace – that is the ultimate sacrifice.
I have visited Leyla Guven MP, who is leading the hunger strikes in Kurdistan, Turkish prisons and Europe, recently at her home in Kurdistan, upon her release from prison, following a previous visit with the HDP in Kurdistan when Leyla was still in prison. She was released from prison as a result of international pressure, but only under tight conditions and her health is continuing to deteriorate.
Leyla currently remains on hunger strike from home, showing courage and conviction and the strength of her character and her role has been integral as a leadership figure in the resistance. Sinn Féin send our continued solidarity to Leyla Guven and to those on hunger strike for the end of the isolation of Kurdish political leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has now been detained for 20 years.
Blessed are those who hunger for justice!
As a woman who has spent all her life in struggle, what does the Kurdish women’s struggle in a region like the Middle East mean to you?
There can be no freedom without the freedom of women. Throughout the struggle in Ireland, Irish Republican women, like the Kurdish women’s struggle, played an active role in revolution and resistance. The Kurdish women’s struggle means a lot to me, as they continue to resist the Turkish policy of criminalisation. Kurdish women like Leyla Guven, similar to Irish Republican women in the struggle, contribute in changing the perception of countless people of the invaluable contribution of women to the cause. Constance Markievicz, the first Irish Republican abstentionist MP once stated, “The first step on the road to freedom is to realise ourselves as Irishwomen. Not as Irish or merely as women, but as Irishwomen – doubly enslaved and with a double battle to fight”. The same applies to the inspirational Kurdish women’s struggle.
I will share with you the words of an Irish Rebel song.
“A woman’s place is in the revolution!
When men behind the wire it rolled up and down our street,
You were planning Revolution with your children at your feet.
When the images of Ireland as a woman have all gone,
It is the women of the movement that keep it moving on!”
Leyla Guven and other hunger strikers’ health situation are at a critical stage. The Turkish State is continuing to ignore the request of the hunger strikers. European governments are silent too. How do you evaluate the silence against such a basic demand? How did you feel during your visit to Leyla Guven?
Leyla’s condition is critical, yet her courage and conviction to her very core remains unbreakable and I took strength from that when I visited her. The silence against their basic demands, by both the Turkish State but also European institutions is shameful! There is no justification for being silent in the face of such injustice – to do so, is to side with the Oppressor. Sinn Féin are proud to stand firmly with the Kurdish struggle, and will continue to do so! We have raised awareness to the case of Abdullah Ocalan, Leyla Guven and the wider ongoing hungerstrike – in the European Parliament in Brussels and Dublin, in Westminster in London, in the Dáil in Dublin, and across local solidarity vigils throughout Ireland.
Finally, do you have a message to Kurdish people?
Sinn Féin send our solidarity and support to the Kurdish people. We want you to know, that we will continue to stand firmly with you, as you too stand with us.
I hope the Kurdish people to gain strength from the knowledge that the struggle for self-determination is intergenerational. Padraig Pearse once stated that “If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed”.
In the words of Bobby Sands MP, “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children”
Long Live International Solidarity!
Tiocfaidh Ar Lá [Our day will come].