Protesters marching through Cardiff, April 2019. Photo: Kevin Potter Protesters marching through Cardiff, April 2019. Photo: Kevin Potter

The Kurdish community and anti-war activists in Wales have mobilised to amplify the voices of Kurdish hunger strikers, reports Kevin Potter

On 7th April, a rally was held in Cardiff in support of Kurdish hunger strikers who are highlighting the political imprisonment and silencing of Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in prison in Turkey since 1999. The hunger strike was instigated by Kurdish MP, and women’s activist, Leyla Guven in November 2018, demanding that Öcalan be allowed legal representation and family visits, both of which have been denied by Turkish authorities (with only a brief family visit in 2016).

Abdullah Öcalan has, including from prison, been a fundamental representative of the Kurdish people in their struggle with the Turkish state, promoting democracy and roadmaps to peace. Since 2011, he has been denied legal representation and since 2015, following the collapse of the peace process he helped to initiate, has been kept in total isolation.

The Kurdish community and left-wing activists in South Wales have been at the forefront of international solidarity with both the hunger strike and the plight of the Kurdish people, following the high profile hunger strike of Newport resident Imam Sis, now on his 129th day of hunger strike and widely believed to be the longest hunger strike in British history. Well-attended rallies have been held in Newport and Cardiff pushing the issue to the centre stage of Welsh politics.

The issue was debated in the Senedd (Welsh Assembly) and Wales became the first parliament in the world to condemn Turkey and declare solidarity with the hunger strike. Jeremy Corbyn and Dianne Abbott demonstrated the kind of solidarity and principled politics that Labour’s centrists wish to see closed down, meeting with activists from the campaign and agreeing to raise the issue with the Foreign Secretary, taking the matter into the heart of Westminster.

Although specific in its demands, the hunger strike and wider solidarity campaign within Wales, has clearly located itself within the anti-war movement and the left. The rally on 7th April marched through Cardiff, from Wellfield Road to the central library, through the centre of the city passing Nye Bevan’s statue; echoing to chants of ‘Wake up UK’ and ‘Shame on Theresa May’.

Anti-imperialist campaigners from numerous campaigns were present, from socialists and trade union activists to Palestine solidarity campaigners. Indeed the message was broad in scope, taking clear aim at Britain’s foreign policy and its support for oppressive regimes across the globe.

While the British state increases its efforts to delegitimise opposition to western imperialism and the oppressive regimes it backs, with Palestinian solidarity being the current principal target, the campaign in support of Kurdish hunger strikers has demonstrated that if we continue to organise and to publicly stand by our principles we can win victories, and that establishment lies and pressure have not broken popular solidarity with those suffering brutal oppression.