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Educators on hunger strike in Turkey

Hilal Köylü
May 12, 2017

University professor Nuriye Gulmen and schoolteacher Semih Ozakca are on a hunger strike to protest their dismissal as part of the Turkish government’s state of emergency. Gulmen spoke to DW on her 64th day without food.

Türkei Hungerstreik - Nuriye Gülmen & Semih Özakca
Image: DW/H. Köylü

Nuriye Gulmen, a professor at the Selcuk University in western Turkey, was suspended at the end of last year and then dismissed in January 2017 as part of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's post-coup crackdown on the public sector. Gulmen has been on a hunger strike since November. Shortly thereafter, schoolteacher Semih Ozakca joined her. The situation has now become life-threatening. Gulmen was taken to the hospital this week, where she has refused treatment.

DW: How are you feeling? Do you think your hunger strike will be successful?

Nuriye Gulmen: It's difficult for me to speak and move about right now, but I still feel good. Really good, even. People who resist are always optimistic and full of hope. I won't lose the hope I've clung to since the beginning. I'll keep going until the end. I believe I'll get my job back because my dismissal was unfair and without cause. It's my right to get my job back. I'll do everything in my power to get this right back.

Why did you choose a hunger strike as your form of protest?

We tried different ways to draw attention to this injustice and to make our voices heard. We collected signatures, distributed flyers, went door-to-door and shared our experiences with others. We spoke with journalists and met with lawmakers. Our sit-in was later publicized. We were often detained by police and then released. Despite this, we kept talking about our just cause, but we couldn't get the government to focus on it. No one from within the government would listen to us. Only after all these efforts did we choose a hunger strike.

Türkei Hungerstreik - Nuriye Gülmen & Semih Özakca
Gulmen, who has difficulty moving about and speaking, now uses a wheelchairImage: DW/H. Köylü

What has been the reaction to your hunger strike?

People have been very supportive. We want to thank everyone who has visited us, a thousand times over. Everyone is with us, which is why we're convinced. This is a fight for our livelihood. It gives us strength that everyone knows we're fighting to get our jobs back. We also know that we'll keep resisting, keep fighting for our livelihoods as long as the government keeps looking the other way.

How do you view the lack of media coverage of your situation?

During this time, we've also been able to see direct suppression within the press. Many of the reporters who visited us told us that they'd like to cover us, but their superiors wouldn't allow it. This gets to the heart of what has happened to the Turkish media. We're now in a situation where the mainstream media is seen as a platform for the AKP (Erdogan's Justice and Development party). Only a few of what are considered critical media organizations have been able to cover our campaign from the start, and even less so the remaining websites. When we started our resistance it was still possible to cover us every day. Now, there's almost no space for us in the mainstream media.

Your hunger strike is a rebuke of the government. Have the opposition parties on the other side been able to sufficiently express your concerns?

There are lawmakers from the [social democratic] Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) and the [pro-Kurdish] Democratic Peoples' Party (HDP) who have supported our action and protests from the start. However, I don't think the opposition does enough to bring this situation to the forefront. We expect more support from them.

The interview was conducted by Hilal Koyl.