Hunger-strik­ing pair are sym­bols of Tur­key purge

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

An Ankara aca­demic and teacher who have been on hunger strike for over four months af­ter be­ing sacked in the wake of Tur­key’s failed coup have emerged as sym­bols of the big­gest purge in the coun­try’s his­tory. Aca­demic Nuriye Gul­men and teacher Semih Oza­kca were fired by a gov­ern­ment de­cree un­der the state of emer­gency im­posed af­ter the July 15 coup bid last year. They then held daily demon­stra­tions in the heart of Ankara wear­ing vests with the sim­ple words: “I want my job back,” win­ning na­tional and in­ter­na­tional me­dia at­ten­tion.

On March 9, they went on a hunger strike to chal­lenge their dis­missal and were jailed in May on ter­ror charges. The pair are now over four months into their hunger strike, only con­sum­ing salty or sug­ary wa­ter, herbal teas and vi­ta­min B1. “We know that at this stage of a hunger strike, there is a risk of death,” their lawyer Sel­cuk Koza­ga­cli told AFP, adding they were suf­fer­ing hear­ing and eye­sight prob­lems while their mus­cles were very weak.

‘No lux­ury of time’

But Gul­men and Oza­kca are just two of more than 100,000 peo­ple sacked by the Turk­ish state af­ter the at­tempt to over­throw Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan. Un­der the state of emer­gency im­posed a few days af­ter the failed coup, Turk­ish author­i­ties fired judges, civil ser­vants, teach­ers and aca­demics, ac­cus­ing them of be­ing sup­port­ers of the Mus­lim cleric Fethul­lah Gulen. Ankara ac­cuses Gulen, who lives in self-im­posed ex­ile in Penn­syl­va­nia, of or­der­ing the failed putsch. Gulen strongly de­nies the charges.

Turk­ish of­fi­cials say the ac­tions are needed to ex­punge the in­flu­ence of Gulen’s move­ment and any other banned or­ga­ni­za­tions from the state sec­tor. Any­one who feels un­fairly treated can ap­peal to a com­mis­sion that be­gins its work next week, al­though it re­mains unclear how it will be able to ex­am­ine so many cases. Op­po­nents of Er­do­gan say the emer­gency pow­ers are be­ing used to purge any­one who has been crit­i­cal in­clud­ing those, like Gul­men and Oza­kca, who deny any links to Gulen but have a his­tory of left­wing ac­tivism.

In a re­port pub­lished in May, rights group Amnesty In­ter­na­tional crit­i­cized the “ar­bi­trary” and “po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated” dis­missals. But Turk­ish of­fi­cials have ex­pressed im­pa­tience with the in­ter­est in the pair’s case, ar­gu­ing they were jailed for mem­ber­ship of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Party-Front (DHKP-C), an out­lawed Marx­ist group that has car­ried out spo­radic at­tacks. The pair deny any link to banned groups. Koza­ga­cli said that since the 80th day of their hunger strike, they have not had a med­i­cal check-up. They re­jected the med­i­cal team sent by the prison ad­min­is­tra­tion af­ter the doc­tor threat­ened to force-feed them if they lost con­scious­ness. “Their sit­u­a­tion, their health and other needs are be­ing fol­lowed very closely,” Jus­tice Min­is­ter Bekir Bozdag said ear­lier this month. “End this hunger strike,” Bozdag said, adding: “This is not the way to seek rights.” Their trial be­gins on Sept 14. “We can­not wait for that date, we do not have the lux­ury of time,” lawyer Koza­ga­cli told AFP.

But it is not just those sacked af­fected by the purges: Their fam­i­lies and part­ners are also im­pacted. A Euro­pean diplo­matic source es­ti­mated “around a mil­lion peo­ple are di­rectly or in­di­rectly af­fected by the purges”. In­deed, once sacked, the fired in­di­vid­ual loses their in­come as well as their so­cial se­cu­rity for them and close rel­a­tives, Amnesty said. The pow­er­ful teach­ers’ union Egitim-Sen is able to pro­vide 1,200 Turk­ish li­ras ($336) a month for its sacked mem­bers.

But this is hardly enough to make ends meet and those sacked find it im­pos­si­ble to find new work. Acun Karadag, one of over 33,000 sacked teach­ers, protests ev­ery day in sup­port of Gul­men and Oza­kca. — AFP

ANKARA: Turk­ish plain­clothes po­lice of­fi­cers de­tain pro­test­ers dur­ing a demon­stra­tion in sup­port of two hunger-strik­ers on July 10, 2017.— AFP

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