The Fighting Prisoners of Turkey

Turkish government murders striking prisoners

Revolutionary Worker #1085, January 7, 2001, posted at

On December 19, the imperialist-backed government of Turkey launched a deadly assault on political prisoners in 20 prisons around the country. The Turkish police, army, and the notorious "Special Team" security forces participated in the attack. Their aim was to force the political prisoners into new prisons with isolation cells, known as F type prisons. At least 30 prisoners were killed and hundreds were wounded during this assault.

The Turkish regime used overwhelming force in their military operation against the prisoners. Bulldozers tore holes in the prison walls so that the security forces could rush in and attack. "The soldiers fired at us without warning," said one prisoner who survived the attack.

The political prisoners fought back fiercely and heroically--in some prisons the resistance against the heavily armed security forces lasted for several days. A December 22 statement from the Committee to Stop the Repression of Political Prisoners in Turkey reported: "The prisoners erected barricades and fought back with simple, homemade weapons. They devised gas masks from soda pop bottles, improvised slingshots and created Molotov-style cocktails from cooking gas. Despite their overwhelming superiority, and their use of Sikorsky helicopters that blocked all communications between the prisoners and the outside world, the security forces suffered the loss of several members and were repeatedly repulsed."

As they carried out their cowardly assault on the political prisoners, the Turkish reactionaries attempted information control by cordoning off the prisons and forbidding journalists to come within a mile of the prisons. The Turkish State Security Court issued a decree banning "excessive" coverage of the attack on the prisoners or of the protests in the streets.

At the same time, the Turkish regime unleashed a torrent of lies and disinformation in an attempt to cover up their bloody tracks. Turkish officials simply deny that most prisoners who died were killed by the security forces. They claim that the prisoners "burned themselves to death," or even that they were set on fire by other prisoners! In a perverse tactic, the Turkish regime named their assault "Operation Compassion" (or "Operation Restore Life")--claiming they wanted to "save the lives" of prisoners who are on a hunger strike to protest the isolation cells. And these lies are being repeated and spread by the bourgeois media in the U.S. and other countries.

Citing eyewitness accounts, the Committee to Stop the Repression of Political Prisoners in Turkey reported on some of what really happened in the prisons: "It was they [the security forces] who went to the top of the Bayrampasa Prison in Istabul, cut a hole in the roof directly above the dormitory of the women prisoners (Ward 4, Block C) and poured petrol through the hole onto the women below. A woman prisoner carried out on a stretcher told how six women prisoners were burned alive by the security forces, a fact that was confirmed by nurses in the hospital treating the injured. The security forces had names and photos of certain prisoners whom they singled out for execution."

One prisoner, who was at the Gebze prison in the city of Izmit during the assault, said, "We demanded that the injured be taken to hospitals, but they did not let anybody out before the operation ended.... At the end of the ten-hour operation, the soldiers began hitting us with everything they had in their hands."

In justifying their attacks on the political prisoners, the Turkish rulers turn reality on its head--saying that they are only trying to regain control over the prisons which have become "independent fiefs" of the prisoners. But the truth is that most of the political prisoners have been imprisoned under Turkey's fascist "anti-terrorism" law, which allows the Turkish state to put revolutionaries behind bars for many years for nothing more than membership in any one of the numerous banned organizations. And the "proof" for such membership can be the mere possession of a leaflet. Torture, physical assaults on women, and other brutality by the Turkish prison authorities are rampant--and documented by various human rights organizations.

After attacking the political prisoners, the Turkish government began releasing thousands of prisoners under an amnesty program. However, those being released were accused of non-political crimes--political prisoners are ineligible for amnesty. By reducing the number of "common" prisoners, the Turkish rulers hope to strengthen their ability to repress the political prisoners.

As we go to press, there are reports that the hunger strike by political prisoners is continuing, and that hundreds of those prisoners have been forcibly moved into the F type prisons. Many are being held incommunicado in the isolation cells and special medical units. One lawyer for political prisoners said, "All those that were on the hunger strike are continuing. Many of them are in critical condition. Most of them were injured in the raids. I have been denied access to some of my clients. I am worried for their well-being and safety."

The Struggle in Turkey's Prisons

The prisons have long been a powerful arena of struggle against Turkey's dictatorial rulers. The political prisoners draw support from the oppressed people throughout Turkey--and, in turn, their resistance strengthens the overall struggle in that country. Maoist revolutionaries of the Communist Party of Turkey (Marxist-Leninist) (TKP (ML)) are among those in the front ranks of the struggle in the prisons--fighting on that front while their comrades among the peasants in the countryside continue to wage a revolutionary armed struggle against the Turkish state. The TKP (ML) is a participating party in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM).

For many years, the Turkish government has attempted to implement the F type prisons in order to crush the determined spirit and resistance of the revolutionary prisoners. The political prisoners and their supporters describe the new prisons as "death cells"--which make it easier for the government to carry out torture and other abuses.

In a statement in support of the political prisoners in Turkey, the Committee of the RIM (CoRIM) described the new isolation cells: "The F type prison system forces the political prisoners into small isolated cells containing at most six prisoners. There is no natural light in the cells, meals are delivered under or through the cell door, and prisoners in one cell are not allowed any contact with those in other cells. Apart from a half-hour weekly visit with family, the prisoners are locked down 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no social or even visual contact with anyone outside their cell.... The Turkish ruling class hopes that this regime of psychological torture will help subdue the political prisoners and lead to an era of social peace throughout the country."

The struggle against the F type prisons intensified throughout 2000. On October 10, hundreds of political prisoners across Turkey began a hunger strike against the F type prisons. A statement on the hunger strike, issued by a committee of prisoners from the TKP (ML) and Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), said in part: "The loud voice of resistance will echo henceforth in the prisons of our country. Today, once again, before the whole world, we proclaim to Imperialism and its collaborators and servants: Victory is ours--Collaboration, servility, defeat and surrender are yours!"

Protests Denounce the Turkish Regime

The Turkish state's bloody offensive against political prisoners has been met with protests in Turkey and other countries. According to the Committee to Stop the Repression of Political Prisoners in Turkey, "Street protests against the government's vicious attack erupted into violent confrontations with police and the Grey Wolf fascists in Ankara, Istanbul, Adana, Izmir, and several other cities. Youth and members of the prisoners' families played a key part in inspiring many others to join in attacking the police armored cars with stones and Molotov cocktails. In Istanbul's Taksim Square, 2000 people fought a pitched battle lasting an hour and a half.... The head of the police in Istanbul is reporting that the Workers and Peasants Liberation Army of Turkey, led by the Communist Party of Turkey (Marxist-Leninist) has carried out another ambush on the Turkish security forces. On December 20, in Okmeydani, an Istanbul shantytown, the guerrilla forces trapped a police car and wounded two policemen. A local office of the notorious Grey Wolves was also attacked, with one fascist killed and two seriously wounded."

In London, protesters from Turkey brought the London Eye--a giant ferris wheel that is a major tourist attraction--to a standstill for several hours on December 20. Protesters also occupied the offices of the European Parliament in Berne, Switzerland, and the European Commission offices in London. The protesters denounced the European imperialist rulers who stand behind the Turkish generals.

The criminal regime in Turkey also receives major support from U.S. imperialism. The U.S. rulers see Turkey as a crucial part their plans in this region of the world, and Turkey is one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid. Given these ties between the U.S. imperialists and the Turkish rulers, it is especially important for people in the U.S. to support the struggle of the oppressed in Turkey, including the resistance in the prisons.

In a statement issued before the December 20 government assault, the Committee to Stop the Repression of Political Prisoners in Turkey described a scene from a video that was smuggled out of the prisons: "Some of the prisoners sing revolutionary songs and explain why they are taking this dramatic step [of the hunger strike] and risking their lives. Against a backdrop of banners of Mao Tsetung and Ibrahim Kaypakkaya [leader of the TKP (ML) who was murdered by the regime], prisoners proclaimed that they would not be defeated, and that the efforts to isolate their struggle and grind them down would be turned into their opposite."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)