Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thinking about hunger strikes.

The events of the last three months have made me think a lot about hunger strikes. Now, I will confess at the outset that I am not one to voluntarily do without food. I have fasted for very short periods of time but it is not my preferred method of showing dissent or solidarity.

But during my last stint in Iraqi Kurdistan I have observed and read about many people who are choosing to use this as a way to express their desire for change. It seems that most are very vulnerable people who see no other way than to put their whole health into jeopardy to tell their governments and the world that change has to happen.

First I was on team with my good friend Bud. He and I spent a month together in Chicago in summer 2010. We were paired together as "buddies" to spend some time each day talking about how we were experiencing the Christian Peacemaker Training. Bud is a person who chooses to fast quite often. This is usually in solidarity with vulnerable people who he is walking alongside.While he is fasting he often sits with the rest of the team while we eat supper, just to be together with us. Sometimes he even cooks a meal for us.  When he is at home he often fasts in solidarity with people in prison in Guatanamo Bay. This autumn he fasted in solidarity with the 900 Kurdish prisioners in Turkish jails.
My friend Bud Kurdish dancing with Sunneh school chilrden
When I was leading the October delegation we spent two days in the Kurdish area of Turkey. Our contact there told us that hundreds of Kurds who are in Turkish prisons had begun a hunger strike. Soon this included 900 prisioners and thousands of Kurds on the outside who fasted in solidarity.
CPT were observers of a march in Sulaimani of  Iraqi Kurds  in support of the Turkish Kurds.We saw Kurds who are in a semi-automous state in Iraq say to the world that Turkish Kurds deserve at least what they were asking: basic human rights for their leader O who is in prison, the right to use Kurdish freely in educating their children and the right to use Kurdish in the court system. Many of the fasting persons did not eat anything for 68 days. Many were near death when word came from the leader asking them to stop the protest.
Parween (in flowered shirt), friend of CPT Iraqi Kurdistan, was a leader in this march of solidarity.
The march happened on the 55th day of the hunger strike.
Anotehr  hunger strike is still happening right now in Iraqi Kurdistan. Six disabled men stopped eating on 19 November. They were living in a tent outside of the Kurdish parliament office in Sulaimani. They are asking the government to provide living wage benefits for the disabled people in the region (including the two disputed cities). The men are willing to face death to draw attention to their cause as they feel that they are unable to continue living and tending to their families on the income the government  currently provides them.
On 18 December two of my team mates accompanied the 6 men when they moved their tent and protest to the capital city, Hawler/Erbil. They were hoping that maybe someone from the regional government would finally spend some time to listen to their plea.
Some of the men in their tent in Sulaimani
The tent in Sulaimani (Pat Thompson)
(Pat Thompson-photo_
The last hunger strike I have heard of is taking place in my own country.CBC reported on December 12,  " Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is on a hunger strike to try and force a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Crown, and First Nations leaders. She stopped eating early yesterday morning. She plans to drink only water (once in the morning and once in the evening) and fast in two teepees, one on Parliament Hill during the day and another on Victoria Island.
Spence says she wants a meeting to create "a better dialogue."
"[We need] a partnership... as we speak, our people are suffering because of the decisions that are made by the government," she told reporters on Parliament Hill.
"I'm willing to die for my people and the First Nations people," she said. "The pain is too much and it has to stop."

Now 7 days later she is still waiting for the meeting with the Prime minister to happen.

 I wonder if hunger strikes accomplish what the people who put their lives on the line want. The Turkish prisioners ceased their protest when O. asked them to stop. The Turkish authorities breathed a sigh of relief because they feared the riots if one of them had died. The goverment made many promises tocompromise on the demands. Now this story is out of the media. Time will tell if the promises are carried out.
 Last night the Kurdish regional Governement  security forces (Asiash)  entered the tent  of the Disabled Group and arrested the six men. CPT has learned that the men were beaten and one is still in the hospital under guard. We have not heard of any conversations happening between the men and their government.

 And  8 days into her hunger strike Theresa Spence  is still waiting for the meeting with the Prime minister to happen.

People ready to put their lives on the line in order to bring about change. Waiting for someone to listen to them.


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