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RIGHTS >Mother of Turkish educator on hunger strike says she 'cannot eat the food her son loves'

Gamze Kolcu - ANKARA

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The mother of Semih Özakça, a Turkish educator who has been on hunger strike for more than 65 days, has told daily Hürriyet on May 14 that she cannot eat the food that her son loves. 

“I have to stay strong and not collapse, I feed on food like soup,” Sultan Özakça said on Mother’s Day. 

Semih Özakça launched a hunger strike on March 10 after a months-long sit-in protest along with another dismissed academic, Nuriye Gülmen, on Ankara’s Yüksel Street, demanding they be returned to their jobs. 

Özakaça, a former primary school teacher at the Mardin Mazıdağı Cumhuriyet Elementary School, and Gülmen, an academic at Selçuk University, were dismissed from their posts along with tens of thousands of others with state of emergency decrees. 

After the educators’ health deteriorated following two months of hunger strike, they were taken to their homes, where their mothers are helping ease their strike. 

“We’ve waited for a step to be taken [by the authorities]. For us, the most beautiful Mother’s Day gift would be the reinstatement of Nuriye and Semih to their posts, and granting the lives of our children, who are dying day by day,” Sultan Özakça said. 

“I want to start a hunger strike myself but Semih is not allowing me. I will always stand by him in this legitimate struggle,” she added.

Nuriye Gülmen’s mother, Cemile Gülmen, said the two were “sitting the most difficult exam of their lives and that they would pass it at the end of their struggle.” 

“There is light at the end of every darkness…We’ve waited for a positive step to be taken this week. That would be the most meaningful gift given to us,” Cemile Gülmen said. 

“We worry so much for our kids. We want them to be given back their health, jobs and students as soon as possible,” she added. 

Sultan Özakça and Cemile Gülmen also thanked the mothers of slain Gezi protesters Ahmet Atakan and Ali İsmail Korkmaz, as the mother of the latter launched a one-day hunger strike on May 14 in a show of solidarity to the two dismissed educators.  

“We hold them in high honor. It is very meaningful for them to go on a hunger strike; we also see them as our mothers,” Cemile Gülmen said.

“We knew that it would not be easy. My mother first could not believe and was worried. She said, ‘What if something happens to you? Who cares about the job?’ That she stands by her child, is the most that a mother can do for her child. We’ll not give up. The fact that we are embraced and supported has dizzied us and is very precious, but it is not enough unless we return to our jobs,” said Nuriye Gülmen, who has lost 8 kg.

Semih Özakça told Hürriyet that he was resting and reading books at home during his hunger strike. “They’ll intervene in our hunger strike by force feeding us. There are people who do hunger strikes themselves in order to understand us. If we take action together, this will be a common and powerful voice. We’ll continue with our hunger strike,” he said.

“There are people who say, ‘Now that your voices have been heard and not responded to, should we try other ways?’ We could not have stayed hungry for so many days for no reason. We’ve started this with the aim to finalize this action, with the aim of winning, and will continue with this aim,” he said.

May/15/2017

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