Istanbul: Ibrahim Gökçek of Grup Yorum dies after a hunger strike of more than 300 days

The musician died yesterday in hospital shortly after ending his extreme protest. Several members of the politically engaged band are in prison or in exile after they were accused of ties to "terrorists”. In his spiritual testament, Gökçek said: “They took my bass guitar away, so I turned my body into an instrument.”

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – After singer Helin Bölek and Mustafa Koçak, another member of Grup Yorum, one of Turkey’s most politically engaged musical bands, died after 323 days on hunger strike.

Bassist Ibrahim Gökçek died yesterday morning, a few hours after he stopped his extreme form of protest against repression and human rights violations in his country, exacerbated in recent years by the leadership of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The band’s remaining members issued a statement, announcing the death of their colleague in an Istanbul hospital where he was taken in poor health after prolonged fasting.

A few hours before his death, he ended his extreme protest after the "positive" conclusion of negotiations with Turkish authorities to remove the ban on the band’s concerts.

The Grup Yorum is a folk music band, made up of several artists and musicians who rotate among concerts. It is known for its protest songs and politically engagement (here they perform the Turkish version of Bella Ciao).

In 2016, the Turkish government banned their concerts in public. In the past few years, several band members have ended up in prison.

The authorities accuse the group of ties with the Revolutionary Popular Liberation Party/Front,[*] a Marxist-Leninist-inspired movement, which has been designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The Idil Cultural Centre in Okmeydanı, a central district in Istanbul, has been raided at least a dozen times by police in the past two years.

Agents have seized or broken musical instruments, books and notebooks containing the lyrics of their songs. At least 30 people have been arrested during these raids.

In the past year, some members of the group went on a hunger strike to protest abuse and violence. Three of them have lost their lives.

The group’s demands include:  the end of police raids against the cultural centre, the removal of group members from the wanted list of the Ministry of Interior, the end of the ban on concerts in force for three years, and the release of all group members currently under arrest. Other members are in exile abroad.

When these demands were accepted, at least in principle, bassist Ibrahim Gökçek ended his hunger strike on Tuesday and accepted hospitalisation. However, his body had become too debilitated and yesterday, after two days, he died.

He was taken into custody on 26 February 201. After a year in jail, he was released on 24 February, but decided to continue his protest saying “They took my bass guitar away, so I turned my body into an instrument.”

In a farewell letter, cited by activists and political leaders, including EU Parliament president David Sassoli, Gökçek wrote: “we are singing songs about the miners who have to work seven floors down below the earth, the workers who were killed in workplace accidents/murders, the revolutionaries who were killed under torture, the farmers whose habitats were plundered, the intellectuals who were murdered, the dwellers of the slums pushed to poverty, whose homes were demolished, the oppressed Kurdish people and those who resist oppression. Doing so means ‘terrorism’ in Turkey.”

[*] Devrimci Halk Kurtuluş Partisi-Cephesi, DHKP-C.