Oya, called elder sister Oya… This phrase, ‘elder sister’ doesn’t even has such a deep meaning between natural sisters. It means something like “comrade”. Oya Gokbarak means something like elder sister Oya, sister, mother, comrade… In the struggle for justice, she is always in the front-line. She has been a mother to the prisoners in the death fast. That’s why she was a thorn in the eye of the enemy, and that’s why she was arrested. On the same evening she was released, the message came that her comrade Senem had been murdered. She had always been at her side, she was her daughter and her comrade.
We visit her in her 1-room apartment in Armutlu, a gececondu (slum area) to interview her for the Kurtulus. The interview, planned for two hours, would eventually last for four or five hours because there were a lot of visitors to give their condolences. Our conversation is interrupted often, sometimes because of the visitors, sometimes because of the tears in her eyes. Suddenly a visitor comes in, kisses Oya’s hand, tears in her eyes. It’s hard for her to speak: “It wasn’t easy for me to enter this house. Is she really gone, Senem, this black pearl… She didn’t even have a weapon. She was still a child. It’s hard for me to understand.” She leaves again because she doesn’t want to disturb the interview. Later Senay enters the room. She lives in Armutly too. She says: “I went everywhere with her. Especially to the funerals of the martyrs. We shared many things.” We ask her to tell about Senem. She’s afraid she can’t express herself good enough, therefore she only speaks about some events. “There’s a lot to talk about”, she says.
Our resistance started in Istanbul, then in Ankara. At first I was in Istanbul, then, until the end of the resistance, till victory, I was with the relatives of the prisoners in Ankara.
It were the first days of resistance in Istanbul After the 20. day we gathered in Mecidiyekoy. Together with the relatives we decided to choose this place as the place of resistance. We started our hunger strike, we were to shift every two days. We already knew at the beginning that the hunger strike would go over to a death fast. Because it wasn’t going to be easy to close the isolation prison in Eskisehir and to have the prisoners moved to the cities were they were arrested. The state has been in a crisis for a long time. How could they stay in charge? Of course they had to subjugate the avant-garde of the people, the prisoners. Because of the massive attacks against the prisoners, conducted systematically for a long time, we knew the state wasn’t going to give in easy. It was the beginning of a long struggle. From the beginning we knew there would be a death fast. This was obvious to us. But it was difficult to explain to the parents. The parents saw nothing unusual. They said to themselves: “They are taking away the rights again. There will be a certain period of resistance, but it won’t take longer than 15-20 days.” At the beginning they could not understand. But they understood in time. But they were prepared for the resistance because of the previous massive attacks, and they saw it was just to prepare the broad masses for this struggle. We were very sad. “Evrensel” poses as a democratic paper and they always reject criticism form our side.
The “Demokrasi” did write more, but they reported about the hunger strike by the PKK-prisoners in the first place. They reported about our hunger strike rather second rate. When we look at their coverage, we see their willingness to co-operate with the people in power, their dialogue with other parties, the statements by the ODP (Party for Freedom and Solidarity) and the EP (Party of Labour). But we don’t find the demands by the prisoners and their relatives. That’s how the “Demokrasi” behaved. The TV-station’s attitudes were in general unwilling. The relatives went to visit them together and they got an appointment with the press which. however, was not kept by the press. They didn’t keep their promise to the parents to visit the isolation prisons either. This was all at the beginning of the hunger strike.
At that stage we were often beaten and arrested during street actions. Our actions in Istanbul were aimed at reaching a broad public, to make them aware of the prisoner’s situation. It was very important to get the mass organisation to participate in the resistance. At the beginning the mothers especially visited the parties. Afterwards they spoke vividly about what had happened to them.
The attitude of the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) was rather promising at the beginning. But it was clear to the relatives that the Welfare Party was one of the mainly responsible for the growing repression. Because they were in power. The true face of the RP was known to the relatives already. They couldn’t trust them. We listened to their report and wrote down everything. Later we evaluated it all. We sat down and evaluated all parties separately.
When the resistance continued, the TV-station started to become interested. Star TV came to shoot some pictures, Show TV came also. Later a crew from 32. Gun (32. Day) came. They made a regional program and they let two relatives speak. As ODK, the democratic mass organisations, we had prepared a statement from all relatives. All the parents form several organisations wanted to speak, but the only allowed two parents to speak.
There were a lot of discussions. What should the two selected parents say? It was very important to clearly present the political demands from the prisoners because it were them who were going to die. But “32. Gun” insisted on presenting the emotional aspect of the resistance, and so their report was unsatisfactory to us.
There was one event in the Chamber of Lawyers in Istanbul. Plainclothes police had warned and alarmed them and the Chamber feared we were going to occupy their building. So the parents met a huge police barricade when they came to the Chamber. That’s the way the Chamber said “welcome”. Two groups had permission to enter, but only two people were allowed to speak to the responsible people. Although there weren’t any occupations at the beginning of the resistance, the Chamber of Lawyers were very alarmed.
At the beginning the parents went to a lot of institutions, individuals etcetera, to explain their cause although everybody had heard about the resistance by now. But they kept visiting them. But we knew we had to take to the streets as well, we had to block the streets.
We went with a large group to the Turkish parliament as well. Of course we didn’t plan to talk to them with the whole group. We went to the department of Justice as well. But even these visits were seen by the state as actions and every time we were met by massive and aggressive police presence. Our basic right to have formal talks always became some sort of illegal action, whether we wanted it, or not.
All these actions were done by all the parents, from other organisations as well. We let all parents speak, but we tried to channel this and, when necessary, we took the initiative. Because of the conduct by the state, all our formal actions became illegal actions. The police always acted aggressive and all the actions ended with beatings and many arrests. But that could not stop us. When we came back to the ODP after such beatings, we weren’t sad, there were no tears. There was always joy. We even joked. When the arrested people were released, these wounded people immediately took to the streets again. This made us very glad. We were only sad because some of us would be missing the next day.
Now, after the resistance, some people are faced with five or six trials. This resistance was very different from the previous ones. The joy and determination were special. The willingness of the parents to sacrifice was special. When I remember the past, the parents always had some fears like: “This kind of action already got me a trial. What will happen when I get another one?” But during this resistance I didn’t witness this.
When the death fast was announced on the 45. day, this caused sadness, although we were prepared. The parents were afraid they would lose their children. We talked with them about the death fast in 1984. We explained to them that the stronger and more numerous our actions would be, the bigger the chance we could achieve victory without people dying. The parents overcame their fears rather soon. They were even more determined.
Whether it was a visit to Ankara, or a demonstration; we never had any problems to mobilise the parents. Difficulties began at the end of the resistance. The parents wanted to see their children for one last time. They wanted to be with them. When one or two parents went, the others asked why they shouldn’t go. We had to explain to them over and over again. They just wanted to go. But we hadn’t won yet. Sometimes we were very hard towards the parents. But when a lot of people from the other cities came, we let five or six parents go.
Despite the difficulties, our determination did not weaken. We were convinced we would win. We said: “We will achieve victory through our martyrs.” And we emphasised in our statements that we had made many sacrifices in the past, that a lot of people had died already, that we had always achieved victory this way. We prepared the parents.
As we have said, it’s not easy to achieve victory. Of course, we didn’t tell the parents from the beginning that we would achieve victory through the martyrs. That’s why we said: “When we act with determination. we could prevent deaths.” But we knew form the beginning that some prisoners would die. When there weren’t to many arrests, we made a joint press statement every evening, until the day we achieved victory. Even when a lot of people were arrested, only the ODP and the Egit-Sen (Education Union) participated. Everyday we did actions on the street and once or two times a day we gave a press conference.
The parents spoke at the street meetings, giving his or her opinion, appealing to the state, admitting their pride of their children. That was the most beautiful…
You can believe me, at that stage there were no parents who said “our children should stop.” There were one or two families who said this, but this was rather based on massive emotions. But never to the outside! I recall a conversation. It was at the end of the death fast. One of the mothers called me. Her child was in Yozgat prison, participating in the death fast. She was crying at the telephone, and said: “My child is in a very bad condition.” This women had constantly participated in the ODP-resistance. In that time we explained to the parents: “Please, don’t talk that way, you would be helping the enemy. Say you’re proud of your child, don’t insult them.’ And this family form Yozgat said: “Oya, my child is dying.” It was the time when the state was making anti-propaganda, claiming the prisoners didn’t participate voluntary, that they had been forced. We even received information that the state prosecutor wanted to come to the ODP to talk to the parents to convince their children they should give up. And these parents said to me on the phone: “My child id dying.” It were the last days of the death fast. I told her: “You are a conscious person. Be brave, act sensible.” She told me: “Oya. I know how I should behave in front of the enemy, you should not take it very seriously that I’m crying.” Imagine, this family in tears. Their child in the death fast, slowly dying. But she says: “I know how I should behave in front of the enemy. “She didn’t show her tears and her sorrow to the outside.
Despite all the beatings, they said: “We are proud of our children.” With dignity they yelled: “We will win.”
When we received greetings from the prisoners at the ODP, that was a great joy. The greatest anger were the speeches by the minister of Justice Sevket Kazan on television. The parents reacted fiercely and loud.
Then came the first message that a prisoner had died. It was a fax. We thought: “Shall we tell the parents, or not?” It was the same when we received the message that the situation of the prisoners was getting worse. At first we didn’t even read the messages about the deteriorating health situation. The parents heard when they visited the prison. They came back and reproached us: “You have no right to withhold the news about our children. You should not have done this.” Then we understood the parents had the right to be informed about everything. After this we read all the messages about the health situation together. We had great difficulties to read to message about the first martyr. I read it during the meeting, some started to cry. We told them: “Don’t cry, you have to be strong now. From now on there could be a message like this every day.”
What was the democratic public opinion in Ankara like?
It was the 63. day of the death fast and their hadn’t been enough people mobilised in Ankara. There were no more than 250 people. Is that enough? No. Hundreds of people used their bodies in this resistance, and the public knows. But the necessary leadership of the activities form de mass organisations is missing, this weakens the resistance in general, hinders further activities. After 60 days of the death fast, there still weren’t enough people mobilised…
As I’ve said before, we told the families about the first martyrs and it was difficult to comfort them. They had to adjust to this kind of news. We could have had two deaths every day, or even every hour. The families wanted justice from Sevket Kazan and they demanded his punishment. We were angry, you might imagine. It’s a better feeling to share the sorrow about the martyrs with the families. That’s a better feeling. We will find him, of course we will find him and he will be called to justice. We can take to the streets and protest. But that’s not enough. We’ve got thousands of daughters and sons, thousands of revolutionary children who have used their own bodies for decent prison conditions. Are these activities sufficient for these people? Quite honestly, we want Kazan punished. Your hands and feet are tied, you can not do anything. After the news about the first martyr, we worked out a plan for our activities. The voice of the democratic mass organisations became louder. It’s a shame to live in such a system. The last action against this system was carried out in Yuksel Street in Ankara. We had done a manifestation there before. This time we had made a lot of propaganda, organised a press conference. This time we announced it beforehand and we organised it together with other organisations. When we went there, we were awaited by a huge police force. They had prepared themselves very well and we were surrounded immediately. We were with 500 people. We went through a tunnel and we yelled slogans the whole time. When we arrived at Yuksel Street, the police moved closer, before we even had a chance to speak to the others. They moved in so close, we almost trampled upon each other. They just laughed about it. They yelled: “Disperse!”, and then they attacked. But we went on, shouting our slogans: “The revolutionary prisoners are our honour!”, “Long live the resistance of the death fast!” We were attacked from both sides. I want to say something about my own situation. My view was blocked. I could hardly move. I see these feet from a cop of the special units… At that moment a group of unionists arrives, but the police continue their attack. A demonstrator is on the floor, and the police pushes my wheel-chair across her. Nails were pushed in her feet. The police acts with an incredible brutality. For every demonstrator, there are five policemen. They give the impression they want to beat everybody to death. Two unionists try to protect me, they are beaten as well. It was like a war zone, cries everywhere, people are confused. The unionist try to get me away from this place. There is blood everywhere on my body. They want to bring me to hospital but we are stopped by the police. “We did not succeed in beating you to death”, they said.
I want to say something about the unionists. They are very affected. They supported this action with 800 people and they didn’t withdraw from the beatings. They had agreed before they would continue the hunger strike in jail in case they would be arrested.
Now I want to say something about my stay in the hospital of Haceteppe, this made a great impression. The assistants there were all very young, democratic and progressive. They warned each other, because the expected wounded people. They were saddened very much. When we went into their room, they were talking about the resistance. One of the young doctors pointed at me and he said: “Look, there is no alternative in this state but the armed struggle.” It was very nice to discuss with them and to feel their concern. I thought, this is the strength of our resistance. The unionists felt sad and they reproached each other. They asked themselves why they hadn’t supported these actions from the beginning. For them it was even worse that they hadn’t done anything when the 60 year old mothers of the prisoners were beaten up by the police. Then we went to the ODP-office. Many relatives were in police custody. Those who came back were in a very bad shape. One of the representatives of the demonstration committee, who had just been released by the police, heard that her husband had died. The other relatives were still in hospital, the police prevented the doctors from treating them and they guarded everybody. Many of the wounded were in another hospital. The people who escorted them were arrested by the police.
In previous actions, we had been attacked as well. We knew it would be even worse now. We prepared for this battle with the police. Everyone of us was like a commander without soldiers. This reflects the fighting spirit of the 60 year old mothers. They were really like commanders without soldiers. They marched into a war which they had to win for their children. After 65 days, we knew about the first martyrs, we decided to go to the Justice department. Again, the police blocked our way and 40 of us were arrested. We were surrounded in a park for 40 minutes. Within 30 minutes we appointed a delegation which went to the ministry. The rest, as far as they hadn’t been arrested, decided to go back to the ODP-office. That’s when the third martyr fell. The next day the number of martyrs had risen to six. We decided to go to the ministry again to protest. This time we were with 3.000 people, among them DKO-members as well. This was of course a satisfying number. We thought we could achieve a lot with so much people. We lined up, at front were the DKO -members. We waited, but the demonstration didn’t move. Some started to make jokes already when suddenly somebody from the IHD said: “We will make the press statement here.” We saw this as a withdrawal, we would have liked to speak in front of the ministry. Then we thought we were going to march immediately after the statement, the time was set at 1.30 p.m. After the speech we became a bit restless, even more so because we still had the pictures in our mind of the previous day when a strong and resolute demonstration had taken place in Sultanahmet. We as well were prepared, full of a fighting spirit. Then it was announced through the loudspeakers that the action had come to an end. I felt miserable. I had to think about the martyrs and the prisoners, some of whom were in coma. We had six victims, we knew exactly where to find the enemy, but why aren’t we marching? To stand in front of the ODP-office and yell slogans, that’s not enough. Some youngsters grew impatient and they left the demonstration under applause, going back to the Yuksel Street. The police follows them. We felt miserable and for many this action just resulted in strengthening the position of the state. In such a moment the enemy wins.
When we heard the news about the martyrs, we tried not to cry, but now we had to because of the attitude of the DKO. From the Central Prison of Ankara we received the news about Huseyin Demirciogly who had fallen. We immediately went to the prison with the families. We waited for the commemoration ceremony to end. The democratic mass organisations had not arrived yet. In the mean time we heard people cry, an expression of deep grief and an even deeper hate.
That moment they brought out the body of our martyr and we immediately went to the Forensic Medical Institute. We were determined to march through the streets with our martyrs.
During the resistance I have felt many kinds of emotions. Determination, anger, hate, sensibility, everything.. News about further deaths kept coming in.
How did this influence the resistance and the feelings of the families?
The news about further deaths caused us not to be idle, caused us to do something, to put the state under pressure. The news caused grief, nut not despair. The atmosphere was quite good.
The families became more and more angry. They even proposed suicide actions: “Let’s go, we’ll attack them, we’ll burn them, we’ll burn ourselves.” They were willing to sacrifice themselves, they even thought about putting themselves on fire to stop the police. They were really prepared to do something like that. We had already passed sensibility and grief. What were we to do? Should we kill the enemy? If we can’t kill him, we’ll kill ourselves. This thought had established itself. We tried to prevent this, because these kind of decisions are difficult to maintain. The news about further deaths kept coming…7..8…9…sudden grief followed by clear thoughts. We would carry on, until our children would say “Stop”.
Then the long awaited moment came, the moment of victory. How we had longed for that moment!
One day before we witnessed the panic the state was in. We were certain of our victory. In the morning of the day of victory we heard news about possible attacks against the prisoners. But this plan obviously caused even more commotion among the public, so they didn’t dare. One day before we had sent the families from Ankara to Istanbul to prevent possible attacks. Then, in the evening came the news that the state was giving in, the enthusiasm was huge. Everybody embraced each other, everybody kissed each other. Pictures were made, people went arm in arm. slogans were yelled. After every martyr we had organised a commemoration ceremony, and now we put the red bands around our heads as well.
But there were still second thoughts. Could we trust the television news? But when the news was confirmed, we went to the ODP-building and we announced our victory to the public. I can not describe the enthusiasm about our victory. The young people were dancing, the democratic mass organisations came to share the joy with us.
Speechless with joy, and with tears in her eyes, Oya enjoys the victory with all her heart.