Hunger-striking Grup Yorum artist dies

One of the hunger-striking members of a Turkish folk-rock music group has died.

“Grup Yorum member Helin Bolek, who had been on a death fast for 288 days, has fallen martyr. We are inviting everyone to embrace our martyr in the resistance house,” the group said in a Twitter message, inviting its followers to the venue where Bolek was staging her protest.

Bolek, together with another group member, Ibrahim Gokcek, staged a hunger strike in May last year. They turned it into a death fast earlier this year.

They were calling on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to take necessary steps in line with their demands.

These included the release of their jailed band members,  dropping of all terror-related charges that the group members are facing,  lift of bans on the group’s concerts and putting an end to raids on the band’s cultural center, the Idil Cultural Center.

Six members are on the wanted terrorist list of the Turkish interior ministry. The group also demands the removal of the six from this list.

Known for their left-leaning stance and songs dedicated to class politics, the band members are accused by Ankara of having links to the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), a militant Marxist group designated as a terrorist organization.

A total of 30 group members were arrested so far and seven are still in prison.

There has been no response from  Turkish officials in terms of their demands.

Following Bolek’s death, the group’s call to gather in the resistance house drew reactions by many who referred to the governmental precautions on social distancing amid the fatal coronavirus spread in the country.

Moreover, many posted disrespectful messages on Bolek’s move and her death, citing nationalist and religious discourse. They also criticized the group’s usage of religious words such as martyrdom.

On Friday, hundreds of people came together for a commemorative ceremony in the Armutlu Cemevi, a worship place for the Turkish Alavis.

The other hunger-striker Gokcek, who continues his protest, made a speech during the ceremony.

“Beloved Helin! … Today an artist lost her life in an attempt to [be able again to] perform art. They [the Turkish authorities] killed an artist. For what? To date, what Grup Yorum has done? It has sung songs for humanity, freedom, the country, … Is there anybody available to claim that the group has done other than those,” Gokcek asked.

After Gokcek’s speech, another group member called on people to gather at Bolek’s funeral which is expected to be held on Saturday in the Ferikoy Graveyard.

Both Bolek and Gokcek were placed in intensive care by police against their will last month to be force-fed. They were later released from the hospital following reactions to the governmental intervention carried out without the artists’ consent.

Previously, Bolek’s mother Aygul Bilgi told the news portal Bianet that her daughter could not sleep as she was suffering from great pains due to her indefinite hunger strike.

“I want too much that my daughter sings folk songs again. I do not want my child to die. Don’t you want to see these bright people on the stage? Thus, I call on everyone who hears my words to do something, but quickly,” the mother said.

“My heart is a complete mess … [due to] the inability to stop the avoidable death of Helin Bolek while everyone’s eyes open,” Sebnem Korur Fincancioglu, a well-known rights activist and an academic, posted on Twitter.

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