Hunger strike of Gülmen and Özakça enters a critical stage on 57th day

Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça, a university academic and a school teacher who are among tens of thousands of victims dismissed by notorious government decrees from their public posts in wake of a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, are in 57th day of their hunger strike with a slogan of ‘I want my job back!’

The social activists and health experts have warned that the hunger strike of the activists Gülmen and Özakça have entered a critical stage on its 57th day and may cause irreversible damage on their body and health. Social activist Mücella Yapıcı has posted a message on her personal Twitter account on Thursday and said that “They have lost lots of weight… I am afraid of this attitude of learned insensitivity/ignorance/despair, too much.”

Nuriye Gülmen, who was an academic at Eskişehir Osmangazi University before dismissal, has become a symbol of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance to mass oppression under the rule of emergency. She is just one of more than 7,880 academics who have been sacked by the government with the executive decrees without any proper investigation.

More than 135,000 public workers have lost their jobs since July 15. There is no space for domestic legal remedies, no legal mechanism for purged public officials to pursue their rights at courts. Civic landscape for human rights organizations and civil society groups have been gutted. During months of protest, Gülmen and Özakça, who was a teacher at Cumhuriyet Primary School in Mardin’s Mazıdağı district before his dismissal by an executive decree, were detained by police for more than 30 times. And eventually, 57 days ago, they went on a hunger strike to garner public attention to their plight.

About 10 days ago, Gülmen told the Globe Post that, “After we were dismissed, we began sit-in protest in Yüksel Street in Ankara’s Kızılay Square. We are on the 167th day of the protest, and marking the 47th day of the hunger strike.”

Later, more people like Esra Özakça, Acun Karadağ, Veli Saçılık and Mehmet Dersulu were participated in the hunger strike. In western Black Sea province of Düzce, architect Arife Şahin has started a protest for 60 days to show support for Nuriye Gülmen and her friends. There have been also protests in İstanbul, Bodrum and Didim where compatriots and protesters give a voice to their friends.

As prominent Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar defined in his article on the issue, “for this simple demand (I want my job back!’)” Gülmen and Özakça have been on protest for more than six months. “…She began her single protests in public, standing with a placate, saying: ‘I want my job back!’ She had chosen the Human Rights Monument in Ankara, and every day ended in police custody: in a scene repeating itself like in the film, ‘Groundhog’s Day’, she was in minutes approached by the police, told to shut up and go, refused, continued to raise the placate and, under, often brutal circumstances tossed out into a police van,” wrote Baydar.

“The vicious circle of protest-arrest-protest the day after-arrest again continued until March 9. After a other round-up that day, they said they were beginning a hunger strike, which continues to this day. Life in hunger goes on either at the monument, or behind bars, with the simple demand: ‘I want my job back’.”

Giving an interview to Evrensel daily on Wednesday, Gülmen who is also a PhD candidate, said that “If I was not dismissed I have been planning to study on the literature over Palestine resistance. The life is, of course, very valuable. In this country, the lives of everybody are so valuable. However, just two months ago, a kid died from starving in this country. Wasn’t his life valuable? Could we deduce a consciousness to emphasize that his life is also so valuable? We just want to live with our honor.”

It is reported that more academics’ participation into the hunger strike are expected from those who signed “Peace Declaration” over Kurdish issue last year. Esra Mungan, a persecuted and jailed academic from Boğaziçi University, will be the first academic to start hunger strike as a show of solidarity with Gülmen and Özakça. New participations will follow Mungan’s protest.

However, despite of massive outcry among the society and the dismissed academicians the regime of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the government of ruling Justice and development Party (AKP) and the head of Higher Education Board (YÖK) have showed no sensitivity for the protests. Following a question about protests and hunger strike of Gülmen, YÖK chairman Yekta Saraç has just said “That is their individual choice.”

CNN International showed Nuriye Gülmen among “8 leading women of 2016” in the world on Dec. 26, 2016. “…Nuriye Gülmen, who simply refuses to accept the crackdown. Gülmen has been arrested more than 30 times for her relentless protest of her suspension. She goes to Ankara’s Yüksel Street and, banner in hand, demands her job back from the foot of a sculpture that features a woman reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” wrote CNN’s Emily Doe who includes Gülmen into the list of the world’s leading women.

Turkey survived a failed military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed over 240 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement despite the lack of any evidence to that effect. Gülen movement strongly denies having any role in the putsch.

According to a statement from Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on April 2, a total of 113,260 people have been detained as part of investigations into the Gülen movement since the July 15 coup attempt, while 47,155 were put into pre-trial detention.

As the Turkish government continues a purge to cleanse Turkish universities of critics, 4,811 academics have been dismissed from 112 universities across the country through executive decrees issued under a state of emergency, revealed a report released by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on late March 2017. However, the figures compiled by Turkey Purge show the number of dismissed academics is much higher than what CHP reported. Turkey Purge says the number of dismissed academics in Turkey is now over 7,780.

May 4, 2017



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