Nebahat Akkoç
She was born in 1955, in the Karliova district of Bingöl and attended elementary school in the Hazro and Silvan districts in Diyarbakir. She completed her teacher's training that she began at the Mardin Girl's Elementary Teacher's Boarding School at Manisa, where she was sent as part of a ‘Meeting of East and West’ program. After attending Eskisehir Anatolian University, she taught in villages, districts and capital of Diyarbakir for 22 years. She also became a member of the Association of Teachers’ Union of Turkey.
The human rights abuses brought by the 1980 military regime which targeted wide sections of the public, deeply affected her personal and work life. During visits to her husband who was incarcerated in Diyarbakir Prison, she met female relatives of other prisoners, and saw that they were directly affected not only by communal but also domestic violence. She worked to support female relatives of prisoners who were illiterate and did not speak Turkish.
From 1990 to 1993, she served as president of the Diyarbakir Branch of the Union of Education and Science Workers, but the increasing conflict in the early 1990s impeded the Union’s work. Many teachers were murdered by unsolved killings. As a result of her statements about these killings and human rights abuses in the region, she was subjected to judicial and administrative interrogations, and she as well as her husband received death threats. In 1993, her husband, Zübeyir Akkoç, was assassinated on his way to school. In the wake of this, she retired from teaching in order to focus on human rights work.
She was taken into custody fifteen times during her membership in the Human Rights Association’s Board of Directors between 1994-1996. For ten days straight, she was subjected to types of torture directed especially toward women. She became the first person from Turkey to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights for taking the freedom of thought violations, the murder of her husband, her arrest and torture to this court. In 1999, she won all these suits.
The stories she witnessed as well as the torture she suffered, were instrumental in her decision to concentrate on women’s projects. In 1996, she converted one room in her home into an office, and in 1997, she founded women’s center KAMER. She draw attention to the way gender roles relegate women to second-class status. She conducted projects to raise awareness among women, who are citizens, wives and mothers. Helping more than one hundred women receive protection, she prevented likely killings. She developed and implemented programs to support women in their bid to enter commercial life as entrepreneurs. The program titled “An Opportunity for Every Woman,” helps women to become aware of the violence they experienced and overcome their unequal status through empowerment and economic independence. She conducts projects to promote non-violence, struggle against discrimination and encourage participation in early childhood period. She works on integration and access to equal rights of women and children who sought refuge in Turkey as a result of the War in Syria.
Agnes Kharshiing
She was born in 1960 in Shillong, the capital of India’s Meghalaya state, where she studied political science, history and education at St. Mary’s College. Although she avoided politics, she did work for increased transparency of the public institutions in her region, and for improvement in the area of human rights. After the 2005 enactment of the Freedom of Information Law, which provided citizens with the right to demand information from official institutions, and in the face of a bureaucratic system empowered by legal impunity, she worked assiduously as an activist for the freedom to acquire information.
She joined the Civil Society Women’s Organisation, formed in 2007 in order to fight violence against women, domestic violence and corruption, and in 2008, became its president. In the rural region where she lived, she was vocal in instances of violence toward women, rape and sexual abuse. Acting on a tip from the Assam region, where child sex trafficking was on the increase, she worked to organize a rescue operation.
She also conducted grassroots work to eliminate obstacles that poor female agricultural workers face in securing their rights. She revealed that the agencies charged by the state with distributing food to the needy were not doing their jobs, and that the state was remiss in its monitoring of the situation. She drew attention to the economic exploitation brought about by illegal agricultural and nutritional policy. She launched sit-ins against the state’s expulsion policies in the area of agriculture, which allowed them to take land from local people and force them to move elsewhere. She was arrested during such a protest in 2013. In 2018, upon complaints that an influential school principal had sexually abused some teachers and students, and used corporal punishment, she took the issue to the courts and had the principal arrested.
The turning point in her defence of rights came in 2018, with the revelation of ongoing mining corruption in the Janita hills. She conducted studies of the illegal mining activity in the region, which had led to many people losing their land and their lives. She learned that they had dug pits that resembled rat holes and had children small enough to fit working in these holes. Polluting the environment and causing animal deaths as well, these practices were outlawed, but the unlicensed mining in the region had not stopped. In fact, state authorities had cooperated for years with a coal mafia consisting of coal mine owners and financiers. While taking photographs of the excavation trucks hauling coal illegally, she was attacked by a 30-40 member gang from the mafia and spent a month in intensive care. Following the attack, she stated that she would not retreat, and that the attack in fact strengthened her conviction that she was doing the right thing. She announced the plaintiffs in the mining truck case were arrested by the police but later released after pressure from the coal mafia. She suffered the censure of the local people, who feared that stopping the mining would leave them without a living. Despite this, she still works against illegal mining to protect the rights of the poor, child labourers and the environment.
Emin Alper
He was born in Konya in 1974. He studied economics and history at Bogaziçi University. He also completed his PhD in the same university in the Institute of Ataturk’s Principles and Reforms in the field of Modern Turkish History. He was interested in cinema, theater and literature since his secondary and high school years. While studying at Bogaziçi University he attended the activities of the theater club.
In the club, with his friends, he organized events in which movies were discussed and he invited prominent directors from the movie sector in Turkey. During his university years, he started writing draft scenarios and with his friends they published the ‘Görüntü’ journal. His first feature, Beyond the Hill (2012), received numerous awards, including the Caligari Film Prize from the Berlin International Film Festival; Best Film Award in Istanbul Film Festival. He continues to write in the field of cinema and political science in many journals and teaches in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at Istanbul Technical University.