Abdullah Ocalan, 71, said in a statement read out by one of his lawyers at a press conference in Istanbul on Sunday morning that he expected those on strike to end the protest action.
“Comrades who have committed themselves to hunger strikes and death fasts, I expect you to end your protest,” he said.
Ocalan, the co-founder of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has been serving a life sentence for treason in a prison on Imrali Island off Istanbul since his capture in 1999, Presstv reported.
Turkey, along with the European Union and the United States, has declared the PKK a terrorist group and banned it.
The PKK, which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region since 1984, accepted a shaky ceasefire with Ankara, but the truce collapsed in July 2015. Attacks on Turkish security forces have continued since then.
In protest against Ocalan’s prison conditions and in an attempt to end his detention, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Leyla Guven went on a hunger strike in November last year. She was herself behind bars at the time but was later released.
Her action reportedly grew to involve several lawmakers and some 3,000 Kurds held in different prisons across Turkey.
Ocalan’s call to end the mass strike came after he was allowed to see his legal representatives for the first time in eight years — on May 2 and 22 — one of the key demands of the strikers.
He then told his lawyers that the hunger strikes “had achieved their goal” and called for them to end.
Some commentators suggested that Ankara’s decision to allow lawyers to visit the PKK leader could be an attempt to win over Kurdish constituencies by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
However, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul denied there was any connection.