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More Than 700 Kurdish Prisoners Now On Hunger Strike In Turkey

Turkish soldiers block a street as Kurds demonstrate on September 3 in the center of Beytussebap, about 25 miles from the Iraqi border.
AFP/Getty Images
Turkish soldiers block a street as Kurds demonstrate on September 3 in the center of Beytussebap, about 25 miles from the Iraqi border.

As the war in Syria rages unabated and Turkey struggles to manage an increasingly dire refugee situation and cross-border retaliations, another conflict simmers.

As many as 715 political prisoners across the country have joined a hunger strike in support of the Kurdish cause. Today in Sincan, a high security prison in Ankara, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin appealed to the hunger strikers – some of whom who haven't eaten in 43 days – saying, "For the sake of your own body, your own health, the people who love you and whom you love, stop this action."

The Kurdish hunger strikers have voiced three major demands, CNN reports: "The release of imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, the right to Kurdish language education and the use of Kurdish in Turkish courts."

For more than thirty years, racking up nearly 40,000 casualties, Kurdistan's Workers' Party (PKK) has sought self rule for the Kurdish people, who make up around one-fifth of the country's population. Due to its often brutal guerilla tactics, the PKK is considered a terrorist entity by both Turkey and the United States. Southeast Turkey has experienced a recent uptick in hostilities between the PKK, Turkish forces, and civilians. Recent casualty rates are the highest in over a decade. .

Turkey is no stranger to hunger strikes, with more than 100 prisoners dying in protests that began in the early 2000s. In recent months, the Turkish parliament's Human Rights Commission blasted the country over allegations of torture and mistreatment in prisons.

Turkey's Human Rights Association claims that the hunger strike has now spread to 48 prisons. According to the Daily Star, a rally of around 300 people broke out near a women's prison in Istanbul. The protesters, supporting the ongoing hunger strike, were met with tear gas by Turkish security forces.

But protesters seem unmoved by recent government attempts to quell the outbreak. The hunger strike, like the conflict itself, has no end in sight.

(Sophia Jones is an intern with NPR News.)

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sophia Jones
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