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Nuriye Gülmen: I have no doubt – we won

Academic Nuriye Gülmen is undergoing treatment in hospital following her 324-day hunger strike. Her health has crossed the critical threshold in the right direction.
Yayınlanma tarihi: 7 Şubat 2018 Çarşamba, 11:58

. I visited Gülmen in hospital where she said, “We won. I have no doubt about this. We won. These people in power who disregarded our rights for all these months and, not satisfied with this, held us captive in prison were harmed and lost prestige.”

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The door from the corridor opened and a young woman entered the small salon resembling a waiting room in Ankara Dışkapı Hospital’s General Care section. The word “slender” does not cut it: a young woman who looks brittle to the touch. We know her. We have known her from photographs in front of the Human Rights Monument in Yüksel Street since 9 November 2016. She was slender at that time. But she did not look brittle to the touch. She kept on smiling at that time. Now she is smiling. You know her. Her name is Nuriye Gülmen.

324 days of hunger

We are speaking of that young woman who, on being dismissed from her job under a decree with the force of law, embarked on resistance and lay down, not to die but to starve, along with Semih Özakça, fated to become her friend, with a demand so terrible and unacceptable, which would lead to the collapse of the Turkish state were it to be accepted, that of “I want my job back.”

That young woman who, with the final avenue of legal recourse having been firmly closed, ended her hunger strike of 324 days and is now endeavouring to heal 324 days of bodily damage in a hospital room.

She is getting better

She hobbled in. Her health has crossed the critical threshold in the right direction. She no longer wears the mask covering her mouth against potential infection and shaking hands is no problem.

The greetings did not last long. I tore straight in. “You ended the hunger strike without your demands having been met. Were you defeated?”

She smiled again and replied: “Why? We won. I have no doubt about this. We won. These people in power who disregarded our rights for all these months and, not satisfied with this, held us captive in prison were harmed and lost prestige. Why would we be defeated? We most surely won.”

What can you say? She is right. They became the voice and symbol of dozens of women and men academics, teachers and workers who had been consigned to hunger under decrees with the force of law. Why would they be defeated?

My question was wrong. I moved on to another: “What are they doing to you here, in this hospital room?” They are applying a special feeding routine. And they are continuing treatment for blood readings that have reached danger point. She smiled with hope:

“I think I will get out soon. And I will stay at home for a few days. Then...”

I am not one to acquiesce

Then what? “Then, I will for sure continue the struggle for democracy, freedom and rights. I am not one to acquiesce.”

However, the doctors have different ideas. Their orders are for no participation in demonstrations for a year, and most certainly no involvement in demonstrations where she will be arrested again. These orders are for the benefit of her severely damaged body.

Will her body permit it? Will she return to the front of the Human Rights Monument, now held hostage by the police, in Ankara’s Yüksel Street? Or will she heed the doctors’ warning?

I don’t know. But I doubt it. Her plans for the future are full of uncertainty just now. For example, she is not contemplating finishing her doctorate. However, she studied comparative literature and started her academic life in this field. She knows English and German. “Maybe,” she says, “Maybe I will make a comparative literary study about the Hitler period covering, for example, Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann’s works. I don’t know. I don’t know yet.”

Did you eat?

Our profession obliges us willy-nilly to act as “devil’s advocate”. I had no choice but to ask: “When you were on hunger strike, above all the AKP’s social media trolls, but not just them, spread doubt. The said and posted that you were actually secretly eating. They produced evidence that a hunger strike could not be staged for this length of time.”

She smiled once more. This young woman keeps on smiling and smiling becomes her. “This is the nonsense of those incapable of understanding those with the resolve to resist. If you are decisive about resisting and this is where your consciousness rests, your body seemingly becomes equipped with that consciousness and it resists, too. And our bodies resisted. That’s all. Vitamin B1, sugared water and herbal teas. Just that.”

OK, it was also said about you that you started and continued this resistance at the behest of an organisation. And this was said a lot. Is there any truth to this? As you will guess, she smiled again: “The prosecutor, not we, gave the answer to this. The indictment read, ‘While not engaging in any action and organisational activity that constitutes a crime ...’ Is this not enough?

This cannot happen under orders

It is indeed, but, like I said, this awful profession forces you to act as devil’s advocate: “So, you are saying, there was no instruction or the like from an organisation?” She smiled another broad smile to which she now added a hint of scorn: “Look, if you don’t want to and are forced to go on hunger strike under an organisation’s order, you’ll do it for one day or perhaps two. As to the third? No, there can be no resistance under orders and certainly not a hunger strike and especially a 324-day hunger strike. This depends on the level of your consciousness and resolve, and on this alone.” Oh, dozens more questions could have been asked. But, detaining this slender young woman who looks brittle to the touch, manifestly and visibly bearing the bodily signs of the 324-day hunger strike, would be a disrespect to her and her resistance. I took my leave. We said our goodbyes. She sent me on my way with a smile.

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