MOST people in the UK are probably unaware that more than 250 Kurds are on indefinite hunger strike in a desperate attempt to make the world take notice of their plight, and specifically that of their acknowledged leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who is isolated in a Turkish prison.

Fourteen of those hunger strikers are in Strasbourg, and a week ago, myself, from Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan, and Fiona Napier, from Aberdeen Trades Council, went out to visit them. We have been through an emotional roller coaster – at once hugely inspiring and dreadfully concerning.

We know the most practical solidarity we can give the hunger strikers is to help people know what is happening, and to put pressure on our elected representatives.

One of the first things we did when we got home was write an open letter to our Scottish MEPs. This letter, which we reproduce in this article, gives a concise outline of the Kurdish action and the politics behind it, but it can’t convey the dedication shown by the hunger strikers, or give a sense of the human cost.

Next week I will share a longer piece that attempts to understand something of their spirit of self-sacrifice, through the story of my friend, Kardo, who is one of the hunger strikers – but today I will introduce a few of his comrades, whose company we shared for a never-to-be-forgotten two days Kurds have felt the need to resort to hunger strikes many times, and their approach is exemplified by Yüksel Koç, who is co-chair of the Kurdish Democratic Society Congress-Europe, and – at 55 – is the oldest of the Strasbourg hunger strikers.

He recounted, with his ready smile, how he hugged his tearful daughter and told her that she shouldn’t cry, because what he was doing would save future generations from crying, and that if he died, she should try and be happy.

Gülistan Îke, a young TV journalist brought up in a politically active family (as so many Kurdish families are), admitted that her two sisters had been against the idea of her taking part, though they now support her. She was suffering from headaches, fatigue and loss of stamina, but insisted that her motivation and morale remained high. . On Monday, the group’s doctor described her health condition as “risky”.

Both Yüksel and Gülistan have since had their health condition described as “risky”. Other physical problems that had begun to emerge among the strikers included sleep disorders (especially problematic in a dormitory), stomach aches, a readiness to get angry, and over-sensitivity to light and sound.

Dilek Öcalan, Abdullah Öcalan’s niece and a former MP, told us how her uncle, whose ideas have inspired a revolutionary movement for women’s rights, inspired her to go to university. Now her life is on the line for him.

And for Mustafa Sarikaya – always laughing and smoking – the strength of his political commitment runs through his life history, which includes 20 years in a Turkish prison.

As I was writing this piece, I learned that one of the hunger strikers, Kerem Solhan, had been taken to hospital and was refusing treatment. Watching the video of him struggling to the ambulance, it was hard to recognise the man who had always made a point of greeting us with a handshake and gentle, warm smile. Then, Friday evening, news came that Yüksel, too, had been taken to hospital, where he has been kept overnight – awful reminders of the power of total sacrifice for a cause.

We have met with people of extraordinary dedication, and yet for each person there, nine more had volunteered to take part.

Our letter to the Scottish MEPs said:

WE are writing to draw your attention, as a Scottish MEP, to the Kurdish hunger strikers in Strasbourg, who we visited last week and whose condition is getting increasingly serious.

These 11 men and three women have been on indefinite hunger strike since December 17 with one, simple, demand: that the Turkish Government complies with their own constitution and international conventions on human rights and ends the isolation of imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan.

The first hunger striker was Leyla Guven, a Kurdish MP and political prisoner in Turkey, but there are now over 250 people on indefinite hunger strike in Turkish jails, and across the world. A hunger strike is an action of last resort, only taken when the world refuses to listen.

Öcalan is recognised as their leader by millions of Kurds, and you don’t have to be Kurdish to recognise the huge impact of his ideas in bringing democratic practices to Northern Syria, building bridges between different ethnic groups and – especially – ensuring women can take a full part in society.

In the last two decades Öcalan has made repeated attempts to negotiate a peaceful and respectful future for the Kurds in Turkey, and the respect that he himself commands makes his role vital to any peace settlement between the Kurds and the Turkish Government.

But Öcalan is being denied all visits and cannot even see his lawyer or members of his family.

This isolation is recognised in law as a form of torture. In response to the hunger strikes, the Turkish Government allowed Öcalan’s brother to visit him for 10 minutes.

It was hugely reassuring to know he is in good health, but this short visit does not meet the basic human rights demand, and the strikes go on.

The group in Strasbourg expressly call on the European institutions to put pressure on Turkey, as a member of the Council of Europe.

We call on you, as an MEP, to use your influence to see that the European Court of Human Rights takes action against Turkey for its human rights abuses, including the isolation of Öcalan, and that the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture carries out its fundamental duty and visits Öcalan in prison.

We also call on you to do what you can to help the EU develop a more critical relationship with Turkey and stop giving the Turkish Government European money. We would be very glad to discuss this with you further, and report fully on our visit; and we encourage you to show your support for the hunger strikers by visiting them in Strasbourg, a gesture that would be very welcome as they enter their 7th week without food.

If you want to take action in support of the hunger strikers, please check out our list of suggestions at Watch our interviews with Kardo Bokanî and with Dilek Öcalan, Abdullah Öcalan’s niece who is one of the Strasbourg hunger strikers, by clicking here.

The Sunday National will have an in-depth report next week