On 1 December 2017, the day Nuriye Gulmen was released from prison, she filmed a video from her bed. Amid pillows nearly swallowing her emaciated frame, she thanked her supporters for rallying against her incarceration. Gulmen, a 35-year-old academic, had been on hunger strike for nine months, and had lost half of her body weight.
Gulmen was one of around 100,000 public-sector workers—including 5,000 academics—whom the Turkish government had dismissed from their jobs after a military coup was attempted in July 2016. Many of the purged individuals had called for an end to state violence in Turkey’s Kurdish province. Others were critics of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erodgan, and some were followers of Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric whom the government blames for orchestrating the attempted coup.
In November 2016, Gulmen began staging daily demonstrations in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, along with two other academics. When these failed to bring about change, Gulmen and one of the other academics, Semih Ozakca, began a hunger strike. Subsisting on water, sugar and salt solutions, they vowed to fast until they got their jobs back. Gulmen and Ozakca ended their hunger strike earlier this year, though they have not been reinstated, and continue to speak against government excesses. The two have become powerful figures of the resistance against Erdogan, who has been ruling the country with an iron fist since the attempted coup. Late last month, Erdogan was re-elected for another five-year term in a snap election. This time around, after a controversial referendum was conducted last year, Turkey’s constitution has been revised to funnel power away from parliament and towards the president.