Facing death in order to live – in the words of a hunger striker

At the moment, around 7000 Kurdish people, mainly political prisoners, are on hunger strike. After Leyla Güven MP announced on November 8th, 2018 that she will go on hunger strike to break the isolation regime imposed on Kurdish people’s leader Abdullah Öcalan, thousands of people in Kurdistan and beyond joined her struggle. One of the hunger strikers is the young Kurdish activist Imam Sis, who went on hunger strike in Newport, Wales in December 2018. Below is his letter to a solidarity conference organized at the Kurdish community centre in Newport. 

Dear comrades, dear friends!

Believe me that words do not suffice to describe the importance of your contributions to our struggle for humanity, justice, liberation and dignity. I want to extend my endless gratitude to those, who organized and contributed to this panel, and to all those, who are there today to make our voices heard.

Today is March 27th. On this day, in 1981, Irish revolutionary Bobby Sands had been on the 27th day of his hunger strike protest against English colonialism, in order to obtain the status of a political prisoner. Comrade Bobby Sands, whose legacy includes meaningful poems and letters, left his mark in history as one of the most important representatives of the Irish people’s struggle for liberation and dignity. When he started his hunger strike action on March 1, comrade Bobby wrote the following words in his diary:

“My heart is very sore because I know that I have broken my poor mother’s heart, and my home is struck with unbearable anxiety. But I have considered all the arguments and tried every means to avoid what has become the unavoidable: it has been forced upon me and my comrades by four-and-a-half years of stark inhumanity.

I am a political prisoner. I am a political prisoner because I am a casualty of a perennial war that is being fought between the oppressed Irish people and an alien, oppressive, unwanted regime that refuses to withdraw from our land.

I believe and stand by the God-given right of the Irish nation to sovereign independence, and the right of any Irishman or woman to assert this right in armed revolution. That is why I am incarcerated, naked and tortured.”

Indeed, friends! When Bobby Sands, one of the most beautiful militants of socialism and human history, who had begun his hunger strike resistance with such magnificent words full of emotion and meaning, closed his eyes to the world on May 5th, 1981, the leader of English colonialism at the time, Margaret Thatcher, was closing her eyes to his humane demands. She spoke about the death of comrade Bobby in a heartless and ice-cold manner, when she said: “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims”.

However, Bobby Sands, who was being portrayed as a criminal outlaw by the exploitative states that are led by merciless and cold-blooded murderers, responded to the barbarism of the colonizers by saying “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children”, and thus exposing, for everybody to see, the real murderers and criminals.

There is a famous quote by the German philosopher Karl Marx. He says:

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

Indeed, comrades. Margaret Thatcher, who dismissed Bobby Sands, a legally elected MP and representative of the Irish people’s legitimate liberation demands, also referred to Nelson Mandela as “terrorist”.  With determined steps, her spiritual twin, Theresa May, is moving towards proving these words of Karl Marx today.

In a tragicomic manner, on the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement, which initiated the division and catastrophe in the Middle East, Theresa May, who refers to the Kurdish people’s leader as “terrorist”, and who is increasingly building relations to the Turkish president Erdogan – the spiritual twin of Hitler -, has brought upon division and catastrophe to her own country by insisting on her Brexit deal.

No matter where in the world, – as pointed out by Marx – the rulers and exploiters will always end either in tragedy or in comedy, but for the oppressed and exploited, the result will always be the same: no matter the outcome, through resistance, we will conclude our struggle in victory.

With the leadership of Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdish people have been leading a struggle for humanity, justice equality and freedom for 45 years against all forms of exploitation in the Middle East, against colonialism, backwardness, genocide, patriarchy and capitalism. Their demands for liberation are just and legitimate. It needs to be understood that those, who try to criminalize this struggle or label it as terrorist, are in reality those, who provide the most support for terrorism.

Dear comrades, dear sisters and brothers!

Since I have already pointed out many things on several occasions, I do not want to repeat myself. I request that all of you, who are here today, engage as soon as possible in whatever action is within your means and ability. By sacrificing their lives, the hunger strikers are not only protesting the irresponsible policies of the Turkish state and international institutions, but are thus also criticizing all of us, because solidarity circles are failing to rally behind the hunger strike actions in the manner that is needed today. We ought to criticize ourselves in the face of this sacrificial criticism and we must organize great demonstrations, protests and rallies as soon as possible to prevent any more loss of lives. To break the isolation imposed on Abdullah Öcalan, we must assert pressure on the British government, the Council of Europe and its Committee for the Prevention of Torture, all of which have the power to impact the Turkish state.

Dear comrades, dear friends!

Towards the end of my words, I want to tell you about a person, who lived in the same time in history, although in a different place as Bobby Sands. A person, who defended similar ideas as this Irish revolutionary, a militant of the struggle for socialism and humanity, and who could therefore be described as his spiritual twin in Kurdistan. I want to tell you about an imprisoned revolutionary, who started a hunger strike with his comrades to protest the Turkish state’s policies to torture people to surrender and submission in Amed (Diyarbakir) Prison, and who died on September 7, 1982, on the 55th day of his hunger strike action. I want to tell you about a Turkish revolutionary of Kurdistan – about Kemal Pir…

The prison doctor Orhan Özcanlı was doing his best to convince Kemal Pir to stop his hunger strike action. This is a conversation that was documented by his fellow imprisoned comrades:

“Look, Kemal. You are dying, death is approaching you step by step. Just think about it, you are reaching the end of your life. You are about to migrate from this world. Just give this thing up. There is no end to this road…”

Kemal Pir: “Doctor, look at me carefully! Open your ears and listen. Carve my words into your head. I began this cause consciously. I am well aware that death is awaiting me at the end of the road. I also realize that I am at the end of this road right now. I can sense the presence of death and its executioner. I can hear them breathe.”

Doctor: “Life is beautiful, Kemal. You ought to love life. Even if humans are mortal, they want to live in this world and thus they immensely fear death. That is why it’s a lie to claim that you are not afraid of death. We see those, who see themselves as the most valiant and courageous, shake with fear in the face of death. And since you are human, too, surely you are afraid as well. But I can still save you, even in this situation of yours…”

Kemal Pir: “Who do you think I am, doctor? You still didn’t manage to know me? I am Kemal Pir. Not to be bragging, but I opened my eyes to life on the shores of the Black Sea. It is with the attributes of that region that I learned about life in its most solid, purest form among genuine people, who knew how to be friends to friends and enemies to enemies. I am Kemal Pir, who arrived to this day by meeting people of seventy-two nations in the lands of Anatolia, to then dedicate himself to the freedom of the Kurdish people. I am not sure if I made myself clear enough?”

Doctor: “You did, but…”

Kemal Pir: “There is no ‘but’ about this, doctor. I introduced myself to you as it is, without exaggeration or lies, in an honest manner, in a plain language. However, if you still say ‘but’ after this, that’s your problem.”

Doctor: “But life goes differently, Kemal. No matter how you describe yourself, nobody can escape thinking the same thing in the face of death. The fear of death is a terrifying feeling. It creates an earthquake of emotions that can put you into any shape or form. It’s an earthquake that can take your humanity from you.”

Kemal Pir: “Now finally something correct came out of your mouth.”

Doctor: “What does that mean?”

Kemal Pir: “Is it not understandable?”

Doctor: “I am speaking of life and fear. I claim that every human is the same in the face of death. Everyone is afraid of death. Whoever is in that situation will shiver like they have fever. Even if that person is Kemal Pir.”

Kemal Pir: “Look, doctor. I am fully aware of the meaning of life and death. I know exactly, who is afraid of death and who shivers in the face of it. I also know that we lead mortal lives and I am aware of notions of heaven and hell in afterlife. It is you and the likes of you, who would not know such things. They don’t understand and even if they do, they act like they don’t understand. Should I tell you another thing, doctor?”

Doctor: “Sure.”


In the personage of these revolutionaries, who illuminate our path in world revolutionary history through their struggles and hunger strike actions – Bobby Sands in Ireland and people such as Mehmet Hayri Durmuş and Kemal Pir in Kurdistan, in 1981 and 1982 respectively – I once again salute also, with love and longing, those revolutionaries, who have lost their lives during these actions. I renew our collective promise to lead the liberation struggles that they have started to victory and to put an end to the exploitative capitalist system around the world.

I greet all of you from the bottom of my heart. With the faith that everyone will take up the responsibility that is required by the urgency of the situation, I wish all of you the best of success.

Long live the freedom struggle of the oppressed peoples! Long live the solidarity among all peoples of the world!

Long live Democratic Confederalism and Socialism!

Long live the leader of the oppressed peoples, Abdullah Öcalan!