On 18 May, demonstrations were held in several cities around Wales and England calling on holidaymakers to boycott tourism in Turkey.
Kurdish Solidarity Cymru and the Kurdistan Solidarity Network say that tourism in Turkey supports the repressive military policies of the Turkish state.
Kurdish activists have repeatedly called for holiday-makers to boycott Turkey in protest at the state’s crimes against Kurdish communities. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian regime destroyed Kurdish-majority cities within Turkey’s borders in 2015, carried out massacres and displaced thousands. Turkey also has the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world.
In 2016, Erdoğan’s regime jailed and sacked mayors (and high-profile politicians) from the leftist, feminist and pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and replaced them with state appointees. Following the most recent local elections in 2019, many HDP candidates won back their seats. But the Turkish state has already opened criminal investigations against some of them and in other areas has ruled the candidates cannot take office. In six areas, this has led to HDP mayors being replaced by mayors from Erdoğan’s party.
Support the hunger strikers
The demonstrations were called by Kurdish Solidarity Cymru in solidarity with Kurdish hunger striker Ilhan (Imam) Sis. Newport resident Sis has been on hunger strike for over 150 days.
NEWPORT, Wales — Imam Sis has been on hunger strike since December 17. He says he’s just one of 7,000 strikers across Europe and Turkey taking such measures on behalf of the Kurdish cause. Their first step: Force Turkey to allow friends and lawyers to visit Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned founder of the PKK.
For many Kurds, Ocalan’s 20-year imprisonment symbolizes their fight for liberation, and how they’ve been wronged by the Turkish government. But Turkey, the U.S., the EU and other Western nations see it differently and consider the PKK a terrorist organization, even after many of its members fought under a different name on the frontlines of the U.S.-led war against ISIS.
“I feel like a slave”, Sis said, “We have a very rich culture. But not recognition. I do not accept this. I will not accept this.”
Hunger strikes have been a protest tactic for over 100 years. Mahatma Gandhi famously fasted 17 times throughout his bid to liberate India from colonial rule. In Northern Ireland, Bobby Sands, of the Irish paramilitary group the IRA, died hunger striking — but his death inspired a wave of protests in solidarity with the IRA’s fight against British rule.
Sis believes his hunger strike has already been successful. Last week, Theresa May, when asked about the strike, called it “a big issue.” And on Thursday, Turkey announced that they would break Ocalan’s isolation and allow his lawyers to visit him.
But they’ve only had one meeting in seven years and 810 appeals. It’s unclear if this recent movement will be enough for Sis to end his hunger strike.
While his friends support the cause, some of them see the protest differently. “Every single day is a new challenge for him, and for us,” said Welat Raven, a friend. “Even today, in the morning when I see him, I was going to say, today you have the whole day to fight. How do you feel? But you can’t say this because you don’t want to make him lose even one calorie.”
VICE News spent the day with Sis, Britain’s longest hunger striker, to see how his strike affects him and those who care about him.
Facebook is apparently in the middle of a huge purge, targeting Kurdish rights activists. The social media platform has banned various groups and suspended administrators’ personal accounts for supposedly ‘breaching community standards’ or ‘using hate speech’.
The Canary has been following the case of Kurdish hunger strikers closely in recent months. There are currently thousands of hunger strikers – and a number of ‘death strikers‘ – who are demanding an end to Turkey’s illegal isolation of imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Banned for supporting the hunger strikers?Many other Kurdistan solidarity campaigners have reported to The Canary that they have been temporarily suspended, or that their posts have been removed without any explanation why. By apparently silencing these activists, Facebook is effectively shutting down campaigns. And it’s therefore helping to censor the internet.