THE DEATH FAST IN 1996: “WE WILL WIN VICTORY WITH OUR MARTYRS”
A year ago, on May 20, a process began in which the brightest pages of the revolution in our country were written. These were characterised by close connections to the people and decisiveness in the quest for revolution. These pages carried the spirit of self-sacrifice. In these pages were written the traditions created by the DHKP-C. The Death Fast Action of 1996 was, in its ideological and cultural dimensions, and its consequences, an expression of the line of the Party-Front.
The Death Fast of 1996 was the rebellion of a people, together with its heroes, and in the minds of the people a greater and greater wave of revolution arose. It was a wave which from moment to moment, from day to day grew larger. The attacks launched by the oligarchy were answered with counterattacks.
THE OLIGARCHIE’S GOVERNMENT GOES ON THE OFFENSIVE
In March 1996, a long period of “government crisis” came to a head and the ANAYOL government (a coalition of the Anavatan or Motherland Party and the Dogru Yol or True Path Party) set out on its mission to annihilate the revolutionary movement and wage total war on the people.The naming of the contra-guerrilla chief Mehmet Agar as the new justice minister was a clear sign that attacks on the people would be repeated, including in the prisons.
The oligarchy was afraid of revolution. As they were contemplating stepping up the disappearances, massacres and torture which they saw as an antidote to it, two events took place. The first was the anniversary of the Gazi Uprising of March 12, and the second was May 1, 1996. When the oligarchy set in motion its plan of attack for May Day, it received an answer it did not expect. Its attempts to unleash provocations were frustrated in the square in which May Day was celebrated. Despite three deaths, May Day was celebrated without any loss of enthusiasm or participation by the masses.The people showed that it had made its choice through its massive participation and enthusiasm in the square, and this threw the enemy into a panic. They stepped up their attacks. At this point, the revolution and the counterrevolution began to wage war at the highest level. While the task of the revolutionaries to drive back the attacks and organise the people assumed even greater importance, the oligarchy pursued a policy of trying to choke off popular participation and intimidate it in order to secure the regime’s supremacy.
THE FIRST TARGET: THE PRISONERS
At this point the oligarchy opened its tactical offensive by publishing the May 6 decree. With this decree, the high security wing in Eskisehir, which they had earlier had to close because of the resistance of the prisoners, was re-opened. A policy of bans and encouraging betrayals was set in motion. In this way the enemy wanted to destroy the organisations in the prisons which they had never been able to undermine for years and which had turned the prisons into schools of revolution; they wanted to divide the prisoners against each other and pressurise them into betrayals so as to guarantee that they could never be a threat to the system. But an important aspect of this tactic is that it was based on making the prisoners defend themselves against these attacks aimed at their political identity and human dignity. This means that the oligarchy’s tactic was to use repression in order to intimidate the revolutionaries inside the prisons and the people outside who supported them.
Now it was a matter of what answer the revolutionaries would give to this tactic, and what their own tactics would be. It was clear that at this point the prisoners had come to the forefront of the common struggle, and choosing the correct tactic would determine success. Furthermore, the reply to the state’s attacks should be made in such a way as to expose the fascist nature of these attacks to the people, to neutralise the enemy’s counterpropaganda and to breathe life into the people’s resistance to fascism.
In this phase, it was determined that the revolutionary tactic of the Party-Front, as a form of general resistance to the oligarchy, would be to carry out an indefinite hunger strike in all prisons. The indefinite hunger strike is a form of resistance that lasts for a long time, acts as a form of propaganda and at the same time exposes the enemy’s attacks step by step and triggers off the people’s reaction to these attacks. So the Party-Front suggested the indefinite hunger strike to other groups. The result of the discussion: on May 20, nine revolutionary movements embarked on an indefinite hunger strike.
THE RESISTANCE DEMANDS A RECKONING IN THE STREETS, TO BEGINN WITH
Especially through the efforts of the families, the indefinite hunger strike was placed on the agenda and protest actions became widespread. But the justice minister Mehmet Agar and his government carried on with their plans and ignored the resistance. There was virtually a curfew. All actions at press conferences or telegrams of protests given by leaders of democratic mass organisations were without exception attacked and people were arrested, and the least democratic reaction was, when it was discovered, stamped out through repression and torture. The oligarchy persisted in this tactic and put it into practice.
On June 3, 1996, the increasing ruthlessness of the political powers that be was shown by the attacks unleashed against a sit-down protest by the families of disappeared, martyrs and prisoners outside the Galatasaray high school, a protest which had been taking place over a period of months. Another indication was an attack on a press conference held at the same time by public service workers. At the same time, the press and the foreign media which came to the HABITAT II conference held in Turkey at the time were subjected to the same kind of ruthless attack.
But the families of the prisoners were determined that they would publicise their demands in spite of the attacks. After every attack they went back on the streets. A week later they were dragged away outside the Galatasaray high school and arrested. Not just in Istanbul and Ankara but everywhere in the country, increasing support was expressed through hunger strikes and press conferences.
But the powers that be were determined to crush the increasing mass participation in resistance that had shown itself at Gazi and on May Day, and to inflict a heavy blow against the revolutionary movement and to win the battle of wills. In this conflict the prisoners also had to accept the need to wage a bitter struggle with all the readiness for self-sacrifice and determination they could muster. Otherwise it would be impossible to win the struggle.
Outside the prisons, where at this time the struggle and open clashes were becoming more significant, reformism decided to abandon its tactical postures which up to that time had only shown itself in press statements anyway, and it went out of its way to show that it did not stand on the side of the revolutionaries. It was clear that the revolutionaries in their struggle would have to be even more determined and hold a position that could overcome the enemy’s will, and they had to step up their action in this way.
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO WIN WITHOUT PAYING A PRICE
The Party-Front in its resistance programme started with this assumption. It was conscious that the enemy would not easily give up waging its total attacks and this process would inevitably exact a price. This struggle could not be won unless one accepted the need to escalate the fight against the enemy. The name of this struggle in the prisons was the Death Fast. And the Party-Front based its action programme mainly upon the Death Fast.
The enemy’s determination became even clearer in the following days. In the phase in which the questions about the enemy’s policies and tactics were being answered, the Party-Front’s prisoners put forward the idea of the Death Fast for discussion. In the first talks some groups were in favour, others were against it. Apart from the TIKB (Revolutionary Communists’ Union of Turkey), which finally went its own separate way, the other groups which had originally been against the Death Fast began to move towards joining it. This showed that the struggle via the Death Fast resistance and the martyrs developed the armed and unarmed war which the Party-Front had been waging, and this influenced the pportunists in many ways, and the ideological direction of the Party-Front forced them to take part in the Death Fast..
That many of these groups had earlier called the Death Fast a form of suicide or adventurism and so on and had now agreed to it is of course positive at one level, but it also showed the ideological shapelessness of the groups that now came to take part in the Death Fast.
ANAYOL NOW GAVE WAY TO REFAHYOL. THE RECKONING CONTINUES
While the prisoners were discussing the Death Fast, the oligarchy tried to resolve its crisis by forming a new government. The enemy used this as an opportunity to try and break the determination of the Death Fast prisoners. They sent the message. “A new government is being formed. End your hunger strike.”
But for the prisoners, this war was a reckoning with fascism. And in this reckoning, the smallest retreat would give the enemy courage to step up attacks and this would open the door to defeat. It was a revolutionary responsibility, at a time when the struggle with the enemy was at its highest level, to influence the process in favour of the revolution. And this war must be won at any price.
On the 41st day of the indefinite hunger strike it became clear which organisations would take part in the Death Fast. The DHKP-C, TKP (ML), [Communist Party of Turkey (Marxist-Leninist], the TKEP-Leninist [Communist Labour Party of Turkey-Leninist], the TKP/ML [Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist-Leninist], the MLKP [Marxist-Leninist Communist Party], the TDP [Revolutionary Party of Turkey] and Direnis Hareketi [Resistance Movement] were to take part in the Death Fast as of the 45th day.
THE WAR OF THE VOLUNTEERS
The Party-Front’s fighters were almost beside themselves with excitement. Twelve years after the heroic hunger strike of 1984, it was being done again, but on an even bigger scale. In dozens of prisons, hundreds of Party-Front fighters opted voluntarily to take part in the Death Fast. Together with the other groups, 161 volunteers took part in the first Death Fast team. In this dignified struggle they were right at the front. Apart from the Party-Front prisoners, the other groups were unanimously in favour of ending the indefinite hunger strike on the 55th day. The Party-Front fighters continued the indefinite hunger strike until the second Death Fast team began its hunger strike. On the 65th day the third Death Fast team was to start the Death Fast as a sign of continued determination. The main slogan for the Death.
Fast Action was declared to be “We will win victory with our martyrs”. Yes, this slogan reflected the political core and character of the Death Fast Action. This action was a war of wills with the enemy conducted at the highest level. For the enemy, the force that is most feared is a person who accepts death. And once again this action showed the invincibility of the revolutionary will in people who are prepared to accept death. Every fallen revolutionary was a victory and a new barricade against attacks directed at the people. In this action, victory was achieved through the martyrs.
On July 3 the indefinite hunger strike reached its highest level through the Death Fast. In the traditions arising from the 1984 hunger strike, a historical process was entered. The war sharpened, one ran step by step toward the enemy. From this point, the enemy was being defeated cell by cell, the victory was being achieved with the martyrs. Again the enemy showed determination. some on the left who could not analyse fascism and its policies properly now saw the true face of the Refah Party. Refah wanted to prove itself to imperialism and the oligarchy by striking a blow at the revolutionaries. So its spokesmen claimed, “They will not die.” “The prisoners emptied out the canteen and stockpiled food supplies.” “They are eating secretly.” Refah engaged in demagogy in order to weaken support for the prisoners. Every moment of the action was a clash, a war of nerves..
Yes, in those days public opinion was shaken by the obituaries of prisoners, but not from the prisons where this might have been expected, but from other jails where it was not expected. Five prisoners who supported the resistance of the revolutionary prisoners with their own solidarity hunger strike were murdered in Usak prison by civil fascist prisoners acting in concert with the prison administration. These prisoners wrecked the demagogy and policy of the rulers and contra-guerrillas by their action in support of the Death Fast. The rulers had said, “The ordinary prisoners have no problems, it is OK for them. The political prisoners are engaging in actions to stir up unrest.” The massacre in Usak prison was a blatant example of the perversity of the contra-guerrillas and the threat they pose to the people.
THE SECOND DEATH FAST TEAM IN THE FIRING LINE
On July 13, 58 prisoners took part in the second Death Fast team. The Death Fast was being continued with great steadfastness together with supporting hunger strikers in the prisons. With the second Death Fast team everyone saw that their steadfastness was becoming greater and more obvious.
In the same days, the prisoners announced that they were ready to undergo blood and urine tests to expose as lies the claims of the enemy that they were eating. But the enemy did not have the courage to agree. If they had done that, all the lies that had been told would have been shown for what they were. In fact the oligarchy knew the revolutionaries well, they knew the prisoners from DEVRIMCI SOL and the DHKP-C especially well. The lie that “they are eating secretly” was produced in the first place to deceive public opinion, and secondly it represented the egoism and lack of faith of the bourgeoisie who said, “They will not die,” “They cannot die.”
THE CALL BY THE REFORMISTS AND INTELLEDTUALS FOR A “PAUSE”
Unfortunately the reformists in this process operated according to the same pattern as the bourgeoisie and its entire sensitivity showed itself in the words, “End the action, you may not die.” The moment in which they became most sensitive was the moment when the second Death Fast team began its action! The sign of their sensitivity was the appeal, “Give up the action.” It was obvious that in terms of their lack of faith the reformists were on the same track as the bourgeoisie. They did not try to support the action but instead sought to erect a barricade against it. Their appeals were in the name of the bourgeoisie.
The reformists, like the bourgeoisie, could not and would not believe that the prisoners would give dozens of martyrs. The ÖDP (Freedom and Solidarity Party) openly admitted this following the deaths.All these attempts to halt the action were frustrated. The death fast was an action in which all, young or old, knew in their conscience that the prisoners were approaching death with every passing minute, knew that mothers were having their heads and limbs broken on the streets because they supported their children. These actions exposed Refah as the representative of fascism, nobody could remain aloof from these events – everyone was deeply influenced and shaken. Actions in support increased in number, the number of people going out onto the street grew larger.
THE FAMILIES ALSO PREPARED THEMSELVES FOR DEATH
Of course, three families of prisoners gave them the maximum support possible. On the 45th day they joined the prisoners in the death fast. the mother Nadire was 55, the mother Guzel was 60 and the father Ali Riza Eroglu was 62 years old. They said during the death fast, “We will not die so easily.”
On July 10, three trade unionists and 10 workers announced at a press conference of the Belediye-Is union (public service workers) that, on the basis of a decision by the provisional executive committee of workers’ councils, they were going on an indefinite hunger strike and had begun the Death Fast.
The indefinite solidarity hunger strikes spread throughout the country. In the same days the prisoners on the strike declared that they would continue their indefinite hunger strike until all their demands were met.
THE DEATH FAST TOOK STRENGH FROM THOSE WHO FELL OUTSIDE THE PRISONS
As the Death Fast Action neared the 60th day, the DHKC fighters Hassan Hüseyin Onat, Emine Tuncal, Ali Erturk and Gülizar Simsek fell in an exchange of fire outside the Gultepe police station in Istanbul which they had attacked. Adalet Yildirim had died on the 34th day of the Death Fast Action after an attack on the party office of the DYP [True Path Party] in a skirmish with the enemy. They were the ones who fell outside the prisons in the Death Fast Action.
The video cassette with the tape of the Death Fasters in prison was shown on foreign TV, but by order of the President it was forbidden to show it on Turkish TV. The tape was the voice of the prisoners which reached world public opinion. When actions in support began to take place abroad, this, together with the tape also moved foreign public opinion. Fascism was not only exposed in Turkey but also in the whole world. The conscience of the people of the world rose up.
THE NUMBER OF DEAD INCREASE, DETERMINATION GROWS
The TKP(ML) Death Fast fighter Aygun Ugur was the first to reach his target on July 21, the 63rd day of the Death Fast.
On July 20 there was a protest in Bagcilar/Yenimahalle in Istanbul against police attacks on the barricades in Gazi and also to salute the Death Fast. There, plain clothedand uniformed police deliberately shot dead the 17-year-old DHKC supporter Levent Dogan. He died on the spot.
The martyrs began to follow one another: on the 65th day, the first Party-Front prisoner fell in Sagmalcilar. He was Altan Berdan Kerimgiller. In his last moments, he called out the slogan “long live our Death Fast resistance” and became immortal through his enormous willpower and determination.
While the martyrs went through their most powerful moments, the enemy were at their weakest. The enemy said, “They should die inside the prisons and they should be annihilated and killed outside.” But this is not what happened. The prisoners did not dispense with death, the people’s movement did not weaken and the world rose up.
At any moment the number of martyrs could have risen into the dozens. But it was not a time to withdraw, instead it was a time to spring forward. The Party-Front prisoners raised the battle of wills to a higher level with their third Death Fast team.
The families of the prisoners continued their street actions in Ankara and Istanbul. Every corner of Anatolia, great or small, was the scene of an action. The number of people on solidarity hunger strike rose into the thousands. On July 19, eight DHKP-C supporters began a solidarity death strike.
On the 67th day, there was news of more martyrs in the prisons of Anatolia. In Ankara, the MLKP Death Fast fighter Huseyin Demircioglu, in Bursa the TKP(ML) fighter Ali Ayata and in Aydin the Party-Front fighter Mujdat Yanat embraced death heroically.
The number of dead rose along with the number of those falling victim to mass arrests. Those who believed that there would not be deaths were forced to confront reality. There was no longer time for their commentaries and assessments, and even those whose convictions were the weakest were forced to act.
Were they too late? The families had a short answer for them: “You are too late.” Could they prevent the deaths? No, the answer was not concerned with that. They were too late, had come too late to remember their humanity and human dignity. The prisoners went along their road aware that they were about to die and that without dying they could not win victory. But every death that happened without bystanders lifting a finger chipped away a piece of the bystanders’ humanity, their supposed advocacy of democracy, their alleged progressiveness. Yes, they were too late to remember that they were people.
A LAST ATTACK BY THE ENEMY
The enemy played their last trump card on the 68th day of the Death Fast. They claimed that prisoners in Sagmalcilar prison had not permitted searches for six months and they had been forced by their organisations to embrace death. The enemy threatened to carry out an operation to “take the prisoners away from their organisations”.
While they were making this threat, another two prisoners died.Ayce Idil Erkmen, the first woman in the world to die in a Death Fast, became the embodiment of the dignity of women in history. Together with this first woman martyr, Tahsin Yilmaz of the TIKB died in the same hours in Sagmalcilar prison.
So the prisoners entered the 69th day of the Death Strike. If an operation were to take place it would only increase the resistance through further martyrs. They had no fear of an operation. But they had to expose the demagogy of the enemy. So they told officials that if they believed or claimed that anyone had been “forced into the Death Fast” they could ask the Death Fasters themselves. And whoever wanted to give up could do so. The lawyers of the prisoners made an official application and received information from
prison authorities that searches were taking place regularly in prison, and this information was
communicated to the public. The enemy’s last card was thus rendered null and void.
On the morning of the 69th day it was learned that on the 68th day the Party-Front prisoner Yemliha Kaya and the TIKB prisoners Hicabi Kucuk and Osman Akgun had fallen.
The enemy had been pushed so far that he had a choice: either to carry out an operation and cause the reaction and people’s resistance to rise to the highest level, or to give in to the prisoners. For they knew that the prisoners would resist, hundreds of them would die but they would also kill, and the people would show even greater anger and the revolutionary movement would strike with even greater force. The enemy opted for the second choice.
In talks, the enemy who had become helpless recognised he demands of the Death Fast resistance.
At 2330, the prisoners announced this historic victory to the world. It was July 27. But for the prisoners who had been coming up to the 70th day of the death fast, the line between death and life was not just a thin one but had disappeared totally. For this reason the TKP(ML) fighter Hayati Can died on the way from Bursa prison to the hospital just at the point that the hunger strike ended.
The Death Fast Action went into revolutionary history as an act of heroism with 12 martyrs and dozens of frontline fighters. But the Death Fast was not the last action, nor was the victory a final one.
THE HISTORICAL PROCESS FROM WHICH THE DEATH FAST OF 1996 WAS DERIVED
There are processes in the history of revolutions in which the revolution and the counterrevolution use all their weapons and engage in merciless battle and everything that is said and done with regard to revolution is put to the test in war. The only condition for passing this test is that those who claim to uphold the revolutionary struggle must be aware that they represent the people’s hopes for liberation from a thousand years of oppression, and they must correspondingly behave in a fully conscious and responsible manner. Those who do not let the banner of liberation fall, those who come forward with dignity and in a deserving manner earn the right to be the hope of their peoples and the vanguard of the revolution and will leave their mark on history. And history is formed by the line that they follow..
The 27 years of history which began with the THKP-C and was carried on by Devrimci Sol and the DHKP-C up to the present, is full of impressive examples of resistance to fascism under the most difficult conditions, of socialist convictions, attachment to the people and faith in the ideology. This history is a history of courage and dignity which the martyrs have left us as our inheritance. The martyrs, who were ready to give their lives for the revolution, for the freedom of our homeland and the liberation of our peoples and whose consciousness, courage and conviction which could never be undermined, were able to defeat death.
The Death Fast of 1996 came about on the basis of this historical inheritance and the Death Fast strengthened this history and gave a boost to revolution.
THE MARTYRS OF THE DEATH FASTS OF 1984 AND 1996 ARE THE CALL FOR LIBERATION AND VICTORY
The martyrs of 1984 created a tradition of resistance under all conditions by hoisting the people’s banner of liberation. This banner carried by the martyrs was raised again by the prisoners of freedom in the jails. This banner will wave until a free world without exploitation has been created.They resisted, fought shook the world and won a victory. They live on and continue to teach us and shake us out of our lethargy.
Abdullah Meral: “For a militant who has become one with his movement, and who has engaged in many phases of the struggle, nothing could be more natural and holier than to accept death with joy.”
Haydar Basbag: “I must say that the slightest hesitation I display would be a denial of everything I have experienced up to today and be a betrayal of the memory of comrades with whom I fought shoulder to shoulder and who today live and march on in the spirits, consciousness and hearts of the people.”
Hasan Telci: “In taking this decision I am proceeding from a sense of responsibility to humanity and consciousness of the holiness of human dignity.”
Altan Berdan Kerimgiller: “Comrades: I know that many of the comrades present here and hundreds of others in prisons in our country have volunteered for the Death Fast. This is a mighty force. You can be sure that we will carry this force all the way to immortality, because it represents our history and the traditions created in it along the path laid down by our ideology and leadership.”
Ilginc Ozkeskin: “I am convinced that we will win. For this aim I will fall, like my other comrades.”
Mujdat Yanat: “The Death Fast means being born again. In the process of becoming a party, becoming a party member through winning the struggle, this is a very important and major step that is being taken. My party is everything for me, my life and my feelings.”
Ayce Idil Erkmen: “When I decided to take part in the Death Fast, I thought of Sibel and Adalet. I will not be able to fire bullets at the enemy like they did. But I know that our victory will be a bullet exploding in the brain of the enemy.” Her last words in the Death Fast were “I am a machine-gun.”
Yemliha Kaya: “Now is the time to go over to the attack. I will be worthy of my people, my comrades and my party. My Party and Front are the strongest force and the greatest source of support. Our comrades and martyrs are the greatest source of strength and support for me.”