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#Turkey: Leyla Güven, solidarity and liberation: Why the hunger strike is a women’s issue?

“Today, the policy of isolation against Mr Öcalan is imposed not only on him but — in his personage — on society as a whole. Isolation is a crime against humanity. I am starting an indefinite hunger strike to protest against Mr Öcalan’s isolation. I won’t be defending myself in court from now on. I will continue to protest until the judiciary has ended its illegal decisions and until this isolationist policy has ended. If necessary, I will lead this protest to the death.”

Submitted to Enough is Enough. Written by Katarina Pavičić-Ivelja

Katarina Pavičić-Ivelja is a Croatian journalist interested in political topics and various human right’s issues as well as an array of topics concerning feminism with an emphasis on the women’s liberation in Rojava.

“Today, the policy of isolation against Mr Öcalan is imposed not only on him but — in his personage — on society as a whole. Isolation is a crime against humanity. I am starting an indefinite hunger strike to protest against Mr Öcalan’s isolation. I won’t be defending myself in court from now on. I will continue to protest until the judiciary has ended its illegal decisions and until this isolationist policy has ended. If necessary, I will lead this protest to the death.”

With these words, Leyla Güven‘s commenced an indefinite hunger strike. As a member of Parliament from the Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey, former mayor and a women’s rights activist, Leyla Güven began her strike on November 8th 2018, during her imprisonment due to her political activities and remarks about Turkey’s military operation in the predominantly Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria.

Even though Güven was ultimately released on January 25th 2019, her struggle continues as her fast reaches its 190th day as this article is written. This adamant act of resistance sparked solidarity actions across the world, spanning from Turkish prisons to Strasbourg, in an attempt to provoke the end of isolation imposed on the leader of Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan. At the moment of writing this article, the 14 Kurdish activists on hunger strike in Strasbourg have reached day 151 of their fast, while prisoners have reached day 152. On April 30th 15 prisoners turned their action into a death fast and have been joined by 15 more on May 10th. However, a significant part of the international community still remains silent.

The importance of Leyla’s actions, and all those who joined her struggle, lies not only in the attempts to stop the human rights violations caused by the aforementioned isolation that Abdullah Öcalan has been submitted to as a prisoner on the Turkish island of Imrali or those caused by the ongoing purge of ‘political enemies’ within Turkey and it’s unjustified occupation of the Afrin region in Northern Syria, but in the fact that this hunger strike represents a struggle against all forces attempting to stifle an idea of progress, an idea of a just society, ideas of gender equality and women’s liberation, and above all, the idea of a complete break from a repressive mentality rooted in the values of the capitalist-patriarchal tradition the destruction of which represents an absolute necessity as the only sustainable way of ensuring the creation of a society rooted in true freedom of all its components.

The ideas regarding women’s liberation proposed by Abdullah Öcalan through the concept of Jineology, not only provide a theoretical account of a society rooted in gender equality, but it also cannot be denied that said ideas undoubtedly played a crucial role within the Rojava Revolution, thus aiding the creation of the socio-political landscape of today’s Syria by serving as a catalyst in the defeat of the Islamic state – condemned by the world as one of the most misogynist, barbaric, criminal regimes of our time. Simultaneously, the concept above saw great success among various activist movements far outside the borders of Syria by providing the much-needed groundwork for international cooperation based on building anti-statist, anti-capitalist, eco-feminist alternatives to the oppressive nature of the patriarchal-capitalist nation states.

It can rightfully be said that “the extent to which society can be thoroughly transformed is determined by the extent of the transformation attained by women. Similarly, the level of woman’s freedom and equality determines the freedom and equality of all sections of society.”

Here, the real significance of Leyla Güven’s struggle begins to come to light. The marriage of patriarchy and capitalism that has shaped the contemporary society has rendered the woman the most oppressed constituent of every community. Even a woman that might find herself at the very top of the capitalist class hierarchy is not unrestrained from the norms imposed on her by centuries of patriarchal tradition, while – due to those same patriarchal norms – the person at the very bottom of the class hierarchy is necessarily a woman.

If a truly equal society is to be established and true freedom is to be achieved, it must involve those most oppressed and must centre liberation around none other than them in order to create sufficient conditions for establishing a system devoid of any kind of hierarchy and subjugation of one at the hands of another. Since women can be regarded as the most oppressed class within the current patriarchal-capitalist nation-states, liberation must start from and be centred around none other than – women.

Taking the aforementioned into account, the continuation of Abdullah Öcalan’s isolation in Turkey thus does not only represents a disregard for the treatment of political prisoners, and its significance does not stop within Turkish borders as a simple political act of retaliation against the actions of the Kurdistan’s Workers Party. The continuation of said isolation in this context transcends borders and becomes a retaliation, on the much broader ideological scale, against those who promote anti-patriarchal and anti-capitalist alternatives to the current system. Indirectly, it becomes a retaliation against women as the centrepieces of such alternatives.

As a woman, Leyla Güven has embodied this concept in its ‘rawest’ and ‘purest’ form. By starting an indefinite hunger strike, she has turned her very physical self – a female body – into a battlefront. Her body has become the scene of the conflict, as female bodies have been throughout centuries – with women being both subjects and objects of political disputes and utilized against their will as means to their oppressor’s end (be it gender-based oppression experienced within patriarchal systems or be it class-based oppression under capitalism). What makes this act revolutionary is the fact that it symbolizes the woman’s break from the patriarchal tradition and her reclaiming of her own self, as well as it portrays a resistance of all those who ‘have nothing but their bodies’ to wield as weapons at their own volition as a part of a struggle for a free society. The declining of her health and the damage inflicted to her body by the long-lasting hunger strike thus transcends bodily boundaries and becomes both a symbol of the attempts at the destruction of freedom rooted in women’s liberation represented by the unwillingness to end the isolation of Öcalan as a perpetuator of said ideas, and a symbol of the strength of women’s unconditional resistance paired with an infinite belief in its necessity despite any adversity.

In this regard, all women need to stand in solidarity with Leyla Güven and take this opportunity as a means of building strong international alliances because her struggle against the isolation is only a small fragment in a mosaic of struggles against regressive forces designed to repress all attempts at dismantling the patriarchal-capitalist system with the woman as its most oppressed constituent. Only when the fight for women’s freedom proves to be successful, freedom for all people can be achieved – and to achieve that, it is crucial that women stand as allies in current struggles and numerous others that are yet to come.

The woman’s place is not in the revolution. THE WOMAN IS A REVOLUTION.

With these words, Leyla Güven‘s commenced an indefinite hunger strike. As a member of Parliament from the Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey, former mayor and a women’s rights activist, Leyla Güven began her strike on November 8th 2018, during her imprisonment due to her political activities and remarks about Turkey’s military operation in the predominantly Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria.

Even though Güven was ultimately released on January 25th 2019, her struggle continues as her fast reaches its 190th day. This adamant act of resistance sparked solidarity actions across the world, spanning from Turkish prisons all the way to Strasbourg, in an attempt to provoke the end of isolation imposed on the leader of Kurdistan’s Workers Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan. At the moment, the 14 Kurdish activists on hunger strike in Strasbourg have reached day 151 of their fast, while prisoners have reached day 152. On April 30th 15 prisoners turned their action into a death fast and have been joined by 15 more on May 10th.

The importance of Leyla’s actions, and all those who joined her struggle, lies not only in the attempts to stop the human rights violations caused by the aforementioned isolation that Abdullah Öcalan has been submitted to as a prisoner on the Turkish island of Imrali or those caused by the ongoing purge of ‘political enemies’ within Turkey and it’s unjustified occupation of the Afrin region in Northern Syria, but in the fact that this hunger strike represents a struggle against all forces attempting to stifle an idea of progress, an idea of a just society, ideas of gender equality and women’s liberation, and above all, the idea of a complete break from a repressive mentality rooted in the values of the capitalist-patriarchal tradition the destruction of which represents an absolute necessity as the only sustainable way of ensuring the creation of a society rooted in true freedom of all its components.

The ideas regarding women’s liberation proposed by Abdullah Öcalan through the concept of Jineology, not only provide a theoretical account of a society rooted in gender equality, but it also cannot be denied that said ideas undoubtedly played a crucial role within the Rojava Revolution, thus aiding the creation of the socio-political landscape of today’s Syria by serving as a catalyst in the defeat of the Islamic state – condemned by the world as one of the most misogynist, barbaric, criminal regimes of our time. Simultaneously, the concept above saw great success among various activist movements far outside the borders of Syria by providing the much-needed groundwork for international cooperation based on building anti-statist, anti-capitalist, eco-feminist alternatives to the oppressive nature of the patriarchal-capitalist nation states.

It can rightfully be said that “the extent to which society can be thoroughly transformed is determined by the extent of the transformation attained by women. Similarly, the level of woman’s freedom and equality determines the freedom and equality of all sections of society.”

Here, the real significance of Leyla Güven’s struggle begins to come to light. The marriage of patriarchy and capitalism that has shaped the contemporary society has rendered the woman the most oppressed constituent of every community. Even a woman that might find herself at the very top of the capitalist class hierarchy is not unrestrained from the norms imposed on her by centuries of patriarchal tradition, while – due to those same patriarchal norms – the person at the very bottom of the class hierarchy is necessarily a woman.

If a truly equal society is to be established and true freedom is to be achieved, it must involve those most oppressed and must centre liberation around none other then them in order to create sufficient conditions for establishing a system devoid of any kind of hierarchy and subjugation of one at the hands of another. Since women can be regarded as the most oppressed class within the current patriarchal-capitalist nation-states, liberation must start from and be centred around none other than – women.

Taking the aforementioned into account, the continuation of Abdullah Öcalan’s isolation in Turkey thus does not only represents a disregard for the treatment of political prisoners, and its significance does not stop within Turkish borders as a simple political act of retaliation against the actions of the Kurdistan’s Workers Party. The continuation of said isolation in this context transcends borders and becomes a retaliation, on the much broader ideological scale, against those who promote anti-patriarchal and anti-capitalist alternatives to the current system. Indirectly, it becomes a retaliation against women as the centrepieces of such alternatives.

As a woman, Leyla Güven has embodied this concept in it’s ‘rawest’ and ‘purest’ form. By starting an indefinite hunger strike, she has turned her very physical self – a female body – into a battlefront. Her body has become the scene of the conflict, as female bodies have been throughout centuries – with women being both subjects and objects of political disputes and utilized against their will as means to their oppressor’s end (be it gender-based oppression experienced within patriarchal systems or be it class-based oppression under capitalism). What makes this act revolutionary is the fact that it symbolizes the woman’s break from the patriarchal tradition and her reclaiming of her own self, as well as it portrays a resistance of all those who ‘have nothing but their bodies’ to wield as weapons at their own volition as a part of a struggle for a free society. The declining of her health and the damage inflicted to her body by the long-lasting hunger strike thus transcends bodily boundaries and becomes both a symbol of the attempts at the destruction of freedom rooted in women’s liberation represented by the unwillingness to end the isolation of Öcalan as a perpetuator of said ideas, and a symbol of the strength of women’s unconditional resistance paired with an infinite belief in its necessity despite any adversity.

In this regard, all women need to stand in solidarity with Leyla Güven and take this opportunity as a means of building strong international alliances because her struggle against the isolation is only a small fragment in a mosaic of struggles against regressive forces designed to repress all attempts at dismantling the patriarchal-capitalist system with the woman as its most oppressed constituent. Only when the fight for women’s freedom proves to be successful, freedom for all people can be achieved – and to achieve that, it is crucial that women stand as allies in current struggles and numerous others that are yet to come.

The woman’s place is not in the revolution. THE WOMAN IS A REVOLUTION.

Katarina Pavičić-Ivelja, May 16, 2019.


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