Demanding Jobs Back, Turkey’s Purged Academics Are On Hunger Strike

Dismissed academics Nuriye Gulmen (L) and Semih Ozakca want their jobs back.

Nuriye Gulmen has become a symbol of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance to political repression under the state of emergency. She is just one among more than 7,000 academics who have been sacked by the government with the state of emergency decrees without any proper investigation.

More than 135,000 public workers have lost their jobs since last summer. There is no space for domestic legal remedies, no legal mechanism for purged officials to pursue their rights at courts. Civic landscape for human rights organizations and civil society groups have been gutted.

But all these odds and challenges have failed to deter Ms. Gulmen and her friends. Her defiance of authorities left a mark on the wall. She and her friends had been briefly detained by police for more than 27 times.

Her heroic resistance was not lost on international media. Deutsche Welle and other international media outlets covered her friends’ determined battle to regain their rights.

After months of protest, there was little left Semih Ozakca, Esra Ozakca and Nuriye Gulmen could do. And 47 days ago, they went on a hunger strike to garner public attention to their plight. Esra-Semih Ozakca told their struggle in an interview with the Globe Post.

“After we were dismissed, we began sit-in protest in Yuksel Street in Ankara’s Kizilay Square. We are on the 167th day of the protest, and marking the 47th day of the hunger strike,” she told the Globe Post.

At least 6 people joined the hunger strike: Nuriye Gulmen, Semih Ozakca, Esra Ozakca, Acun Karadag, Velu Sacilik and Mehmet Dersulu.

The Ozakca couple said their protest sprang up in other cities as well, took a national character. In Malatya, they said 80 people have been detained after protests. To display solidarity and show support for their cause, people from all walks of life begin hunger strike across the country.

In western Black Sea province of Duzce, Architect Arife Sahin is protesting for 60 days to show support for Ms. Gulmen and her friends. In Istanbul, Nazife Onay has been observing hunger strike for more than 30 days. In Aegean province of Aydin, dozens also joined the protest and hunger strike. There are protests in Bodrum, Didim and Ankara where compatriots and protesters give a voice to their friends.

The Ozakca couple reflects on the social effects of hunger strike. According to them, hunger strike, as a different mode of resistance, created a public awareness for their struggle and persuaded many people to join them.

“Every day, people hold different kinds of protests and hunger strike for us to lend support. In the near past, academics and students in the Middle East Technical University (ODTU) set up a tent for displaying support. And they observed 5-day hunger strike.”

In different parts of Ankara, people carry out simultaneous sit-in protests in solidarity with the Ozakca couple, Ms. Gulmen, and their friends.

The hunger strike is an effective mode of resistance and political weapon when everything else is exhausted; every other way tried for reaching a particular social or political goal. From Palestine to Turkey’s Kurdish southeast, from Guantanamo Bay detention camp to any other prison across the globe, thousands of protesters go on hunger strike to protest their conditions, to demand release or press for certain objectives to be achieved.

Recently, hundreds of Kurdish prisoners, and families of those prisoners went on hunger strike across Turkey to protest prison conditions and ask their demands to be met by authorities. People’s Democracy Party (HDP) Co-Chairman Selahattin Demirtas briefly joined a fellow prisoner in Edirne Prison in a hunger strike, which ended after a deal with the prison administration earlier this month.

It is far from clear whether Ms. Gulmen and the Ozakca couple would achieve their stated goals, returning to their posts at university. But one thing is evidently clear: With more and more people show sensitiveness to their struggle amid a surge in media interest, Turkish authorities can no longer ignore their rightful demands and other purged academics.

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