Mithat Güley: ''I thought about starting a hunger strike''

published 11 July 2017 updated 1 August 2017

Mithat Güley taught biology at a high school for 16 years. At the start of the 2016-17 academic year, whilst on his way to school in the small town of Adiyaman, in the south-east of the country, Mithat received a phone call from a friend. He was told his name was on the list of teachers who had been dismissed. In an instant, his world collapsed.

Mithat has been officially accused of supporting “a terrorist organisation”, but Mithat says he knows the “real reason” behind his dismissal. In December 2015, when clashes between the Turkish army and Kurdish activists from the PKK (Workers’ Party of Kurdistan) had resumed in the south-east, 100 or so teachers took part in a one-day strike in the city centre of Adiyaman to condemn the resumption of violence. All those on the front line of this demonstration have been victims of purges which followed the attempted coup d’état.Mithat has been without work now for 10 months. He had secured a few hours teaching evening classes at a school but the employer withdrew the offer. “Head teachers are afraid to employ me because I am accused of supporting terrorists,” he explains.“I can no longer work, I am 41 and I do not speak English. What other job could I do?”Staring into space, he recalls thinking about selling his car and returning to live with his parents. Thanks to financial support from his union, Eğitim-Sen, and his friends, he has been able to keep his possessions. He receives about TRY2,000 (€500) per month, just enough to meet his needs.

Exclusion from society is the worst of sentences for this highly active man. “It is a social death,” he says forcefully. “Adiyaman is a small town w here everyone knows each other. As a teacher, I had status, I was recognised and respected. Nowadays, people don’t even greet me in the street any more for fear of reprisals.” He cannot help but make a comparison with the biology lessons he taught his students. “During the courses on AIDS, I took care to explain to them about the disease and how it is transmitted but I also made them aware of the fact that we can always shake hands with a sick person, for example. I told them that such people should not be regarded as pariahs. Now, I have the impression that I am in the position of those patients about whom I talked to my students.”

Over 10 months, Mithat and other colleagues have sought every possible remedy to their situation. But no authority to which they have appealed considers itself competent to make any judgement on their case.Mithat looks away and, with a sigh, confides, “Four months ago, I thought about going on hunger strike. I couldn’t make up my mind. My mother would have died of grief.”

This impact on his family is undoubtedly the hardest thing for him to manage. Although he considers himself fortunate because he has no dependent children, he says the sadness and anxiety that this situation causes his family adds more guilt to the load that already weighs upon his shoulders.