Semih Özakça: Declaration of Hunger Strike

I am in an Indefinite- Irreversible Hunger Strike for my Job and my Students

I am Semih Özakça. I was born in Eskişehir, Turkey in 1989. I’ve come a long way through  a lot of sacrifice and effort. I completed my education with the sacrifices of my family, whose mere aim was building a good future for me and bringing home food. Our people know what this means very well because these are also the major concerns and experiences of many of them.

In order to become a teacher, I studied hard for years and graduated from university. However, this was not enough to become a teacher in a public school in Turkey. In fact, I had to sit an exam in order to become a teacher in a public school. In this exam, they do not assess whether the candidate has had sufficient education to teach children or not; on the contrary, they just make them compete with each other, which eliminates most of us. To win this competition, I needed to prepare for the exam, which required spending a lot of money on tutoring and books. After all these struggles and pains, I took 90 points out of 120. Finally,  I was assigned as a teacher in a public school.

I went to Erzurum, a province in the east of Turkey, Horasan, a district of Erzurum. My school was in a village of Horasan. Although I did my best, I wasn’t able to go to this village on the first school day. I took a taxi to go to the village on the second day. When I saw the sharp and  snowy cliffs and mountains on my way to the village, I realized that tough conditions were awaiting for me there. And there they were, as much as I had expected. I went through hard times, but I never gave up since I had made it with great difficulty. When I arrived in the village, I encountered a school whose grades are all educated in the same classroom. This is a common phenomenon in Turkey: they unite all the grades in one single classroom in case of lack of teaching staff.)The housing room I had to stay was in very bad conditions as well. It was so filthy that it looked like a ruin to me.

The weather was very cold, and it was called the ‘dog killer’ by the locals. There was little time before I started my duty. And when I looked around I only saw the mountains, nothing else. Mountains were all I had after all that hardwork. I had to make a 45 degree of angle with my head in order to see the sky.

I had to stay in the public housing since there was no chance to commute the village from Horasan easily, and yet the room was awful. I started talking with the villagers introducing myself. I asked them to lend me a quilt, and they asked me whether I was permanent in the school because the previous teachers left the village as soon as possible. Fortunately, I borrowed a quilt from one of them and was invited for dinner. I told them that I wanted to see the local authority called mukhtar, but they said that he did not live in the village. In fact, it would have been much easier for me if I had received some help from the local authority. When I returned my room, I tried to make a fire, but it was very hard for me since it was the first time in my life. Then I started to read my book…

I started teahing my students in the following few days. Most of the children did not speak Turkish language, and the ones who did could not speak it very well. First of all, I taught them to speak Turkish and then some simple manners. They all had different dreams. They were all my beloved children, the apples of the eyes. I now miss to teach them, to play with them and to listen to their concerns.

At the end of that academic year, I wanted to be assigned to Mardin, a province in the south-eastern part of Turkey in order to get together with my wife. We have been through similar tough conditions, but we love our jobs and our students.

Then came the coup d’etat. First me and then my wife Esra were dismissed by statutory decrees overnight. Thousands of public workers were dismissed the same way. In fact, we were dismissed with no concrete evidence nor defence. The accusation was that we were members of a terrorist organization or had relations with a terrorist organization, which means they don’t want us despite all the sacrifices and efforts we have been through to become a teacher nor do they care whether we are good teachers or not. I was a long way to come with all the sacrifices and efforts, and we win our bread with our labor. Bread is honor for us. We cannot give up our honor easily.

According to them, we are not one of them; they have the power and we do not recognize them nor love them. Therefore, they do not have to allow us to have a public work and give us the right to lead a good life, we must die of poverty or commit suicide due to despair.

We say that you are the enemies of public, enemies of labour and you cannot think something that is not helpful for you to gain more money. You do not care about the poverty that people have been through. You do not care if they die from poverty, hunger or working accidents. No, we do not obey you. We are not hopeless and desperate.

They say “you should give up your thoughts, beliefs and honor!” “Obey us and report your friends!” “Be one of us, or die!” “Give in, or we will kill you or the ones you love.” We say wewill never surrender!”, “Give up committing crimes!” “You are the ones that are the enemies of people!”

As a revolutionist democratic teacher, I could not remain unresponsive to what was going on nor allow them to crush my honor. Over 100 days, I have been wanting my work and students back. I talk with people about this unfairness. The police force of AKP governance try to show our democratic demonstrations as crime. They attack us again and again and detain us with torture and force. With kicks, punches and tear gases, they attack us. Our bones have been broken, and we all have serious injures, and yet we have not given up our struggle with the power we’ve gained from our just claim. We’ve continued to grow our demonstration and submitted petitions with thousands of signatures to the ministry. We have done everything we could, but we have not gained our jobs back just yet. The only thing left to do is hunger strike. We will make our bodies sleep into hunger. We will make our resistance grow with our bodies. They are trying to discipline us with hunger saying we can eat tree roots not to starve! I don’t think I like eating tree roots. Instead, I am on my way to an indefinite- irreversible hunger strike to get back my job.

Class struggle demands sacrifice of public workers as it demands sacrifice of all classes. We promised that we would fight at any cost for our people, our work and our values.

We do not aim at becoming heroes, and they can accuse us of being ‘terrorists’, but we will never give up this fight, and we believe that we will become people’s hope. We have never lost hope even on the darkest, most desperate days because we keep struggling in the consciousness of resistance that grows constantly to help us win. Indefinite- irreversible hunger strike means the continuity of resistance.

Teacher Semih Özakça

March 2017