Derry hungerstriker's son relives tragedy

Danielle Ni Dhighe nidhighe at
Sat Sep 29 17:16:22 MDT 2001

Derry Journal
29 September 2001

Derry hungerstriker's son relives tragedy

Long Kesh 1981 - Turkey 2001

At the tender age of eight Michael Devine watched his father fade
into death during the 1981 hungerstrike. His father was the last of
ten republican prisoners to die in that watershed year.

Twenty years later in 2001, thousands of miles away in Turkey, he sat
by the bedside of a dying man he had never met before. He would die
while the Derry man was there last weekend.

Michael Devine Junior had an uncomfortable and emotional revisiting
of the dark days of the 1981 hungerstrike. He has a natural empathy
with the group of Turkish prisoners currently protesting against
isolation prisons in Istanbul.

But unlike Ireland's 1981 experience, the deathfasters in Turkey have
already sacrificed more than double the number that died in the
confines of Long Kesh. Young women are also among their number.

One of the oldest forms of protest, the fast to the death is being
followed through to the end, without any resolution in sight.

Michael Devine Junior joined a delegation of republican activists
from across Ireland on a fact finding mission to Istanbul last week.

What he found would affect him deeply. "The whole experience in
Turkey affected me deeply. I would have a deep understanding of
hungerstrikes and what they are like but visiting these people in
these houses really brings it all home to you. It is important that
people like me who witnessed this in 1981 show solidarity with these

The Turkish deathfasters are housed in an area called Armutlu, a
place closely monitored by the Turkish authorities. Michael says the
area is around the same size as Carnhill in Derry.

"There is a great sense of belonging to one another there. The spirit
that we found there was immense."

One deathfaster, Arzu Guler, a young woman, made an impassioned plea
to the people of Derry earlier this year to support their cause and
oppose the Turkish regime in whatever way possible.

She now has very little time left. "They came out and supported us
when we had our hungerstrike in 1981," Michael stated. "I saw it as
my personal duty to do the same for them. They appreciated our visit
and I really felt that their struggle was our struggle. These people,
the poorest of the poor felt that they were not just fighting for
themselves, but setting a benchmark for oppressed people elsewhere.

"When the hungerstriker died at the weekend, I got very upset. After
his funeral we went to visit the deathfast house where the women
stay. This was very upsetting. I felt like going home, but they were
going to get on with it, so we felt that we had to do the same. I was
angry and emotional."

Michael said that meeting the families of the dead hungerstrikers
sparked an immediate sense of affinity.

"I knew how they were feeling. When I met the families I knew that
they were feeling very emotional, but they were also very determined."

The Turkish authorities have attacked the funeral corteges of the
hungerstrikers. They deploy a gas which burns the skin of mourners.

"There is no dialogue taking place at the moment, so the onus is on
us all. These people need international pressure brought to bear on
the government.

"I feel it is the duty of the Irish people to come out in their
support. It may be far away, but the plight of these people is
something which is close to my heart."

On Saturday, October 13, Derry activists committed to highlighting
the plight of the Turkish hungerstrikers will hold a rally in the
Guildhall Square.

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