Sarah Glynn: First meeting with the Kurdish hunger strikers in Strasbourg

Ben Wray

Sarah Glynn, committee member of Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan, has travelled to Strasbourg with a Scottish delegation, where supporters of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan are on hunger strike

THE first thing that struck me were their smiles. These were people that had eaten nothing except some sugar and salt water and tea for forty days, but, as they explained, although their bodies were feeling the strain, their moral was only growing stronger.

And today that moral was given a boost as they had learned that Leyla Guven, the Kurdish MP who had begun the strike from her prison cell in Turkey 79 days ago, had just been released. They recognised this as a response to the pressure of over 250 hunger strikers and their growing support, but stressed that this was not what the hunger strike was about. They have one simple demand, and that is that Turkey ends the isolation of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is now entering his 20th year in prison. Until that goal is achieved they will not be deflected from their action. And Leyla herself, despite her critical condition, is firm that her own hunger strike continues.

Read more: Why are 162 Kurdish political prisoners on hunger strike?

We arrived at Strasbourg last night – myself, Sarah from Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan, and Fiona Napier from Aberdeen Trades Council – and went straight to the Kurdish community Centre. Here eleven men and three women have been on hunger strike specifically to demand that the European institutions move beyond fine words and put real pressure on Turkey to comply with its own constitution and international standards of human rights. 

We were back there this morning and have spent the day talking to the strikers and watching the different delegations coming in to show support, including a group of women from the French Communist Party and a group of men from Germany. One of the visitors I recognised from meeting him in Northern Syria, where he has a leading role in the Cizre district administration.

We have taken lots of video, which we are looking forward to sharing with CommonSpace readers once we have been able to upload it, but I wanted to pen this quickly to try and give a sense of what it is like here among, what I can only describe as, true revolutionaries. 

Read more: Activists aim to bring solidarity from Scotland to Kurdish hunger strikers in Strasbourg

For me, this visit has special resonance as one of the hunger strikers here is a friend (Kardo) who I first met in Syria in May, and then saw again at the Kurdish National Congress in Brussels in December. I am trying to understand how my friend has been able to put his life on the line in this way. As Kardo explains it, he made the decision to be a professional revolutionary, which means abandoning any kind of personal life. There is simply too much to do. And like everyone here, he emphasises the massive importance of Ocalan as a political thinker and inspiration, and as the leader who, if he is allowed, can bring peace for the Kurds.

I will be writing a lot more – about Kardo, and about the others hunger strikers we have met and talked to, including Ocalan’s niece, Dilek, who told us how her uncle enabled her to go to university and eventually become an MP – but I want to get this off now in the hope that you will be able to see it before the week end.

Picture: Sarah Glynn

CommonSpace Forum 31 January: 100 years on – Will the Clyde run Red again?