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International Hrant Dink Award – Sept. 15, 2013
Nataša Kandic– Award Speech

Just now, when I was listening to the ladies who just spoke... Until now, I had the opportunity to contact and interview hundreds, maybe thousands of ladies, mothers and sisters. I pictured them in my mind at this very moment. Without a doubt, it is the greatest pain –for a mother, for a father- on earth not to be able to find the body of one’s child; let alone the body, not to be able to get hold of a bone fragment.

In a meeting, when I was interviewing the parents of disappeared children, the words of one father caught me unawares, left me without words. When you looked at his face, you could see an expression of happiness. He told me this: “I found my son. I wish the same to you, to mothers and fathers. I wish you may find your children.” He had found the bones of his child. To find the bones of one’s dead or murdered child is close to finding where she or he is, to locating him or her. Now he or she has a grave, has a place. A mother or father could go there, lay flowers, remember his/her child, keep his/her memory alive. At least, she / he has a place now.

Mothers or fathers, or others who have missing relatives; how can they find them? It is a hard process to be sure, but there’s only one way to it: find the mass graves. How were these mass graves discovered, or how were these young people, these young bodies murdered, in which way were they slaughtered?

This Hrant Dink Award is for me an occasion of honor and dignity. This award comes to me from a country that is near to mine. In these countries of ours, or to put it more generally, in our area, there is one thing that I encounter only rarely, if at all; that is an award. Usually awards come from USA or from Europe. So thank you for this award. While I was reading articles on Hrant Dink, keeping up with the news and while I was following the work of this foundation, two important features caught my attention: struggle against racism and approaching the “Others” with empathy. I can define racism as such: “The worst and most efficient weapon against human dignity.” Despite twenty years that passed since then, my memories remain etched in my brain, in me. Especially a memory of mine from Bosnia-Herzegovina border... there was only one thing that I could see on that border: how human dignity was murdered. As you know, until the 90’s, we the Serbians, Bosnians, Croats and Muslims used to live in one country. During the war, these peoples became unfortunately enemies. I humbly tried my best to change things. It was incredibly difficult.

In 1993, about an incident along that border; I made a decision, almost a promise to myself and said: “This needs to end. I have to stop this, this racism, this otherization, this humiliation of people, this trampling of human dignity.” Humbly, with my own resources. I tried to help a group of Muslims to cross over from Serbia to Bosnia, to their country. It was 1993. They worked in Serbia, before the war, these Muslims from Bosnia, the war caught them in Serbia. At that time, Serbians controlled the border checkpoint. The policemen stopped us there. Their words killed almost everything in me in the name of humanity, because they played with peoples’ dignity. They told the Bosnian Muslims: “You are Turks. We don’t let Turks in. Also, we don’t let Serbian trash, Serbian garbage in.” I felt angry at that time, even more than angry, I felt rage. That’s it, in one word: rage. But when I read the fear from the Bosnian Muslims’ eyes, I started screaming. Then the chief police officer came onto me, with a gun in his hand. My Muslim friends were crying, I was screaming in rage. And I was content with the hand that fate dealt me. Come what may... Then, suddenly a young policeman came out. He almost pulled me by hand and pushed me towards the Muslims. They held me. If you wonder what I felt then... The only thing I felt was peace. I was safe next to Muslims. Then, I was really content with the hand that fate dealt me. Come what may; I wasn’t even afraid of death. This is a short story of mine, if I could only say it ended happily...

Those Muslims had only half an hour. They were on the way to see their families. In only half an hour, they could see their families, their spouses, their children and they had to leave after that. This is when I saw the ugly, bitter face of war.

If you allow me, I have only a few things left to say. Without empathy, without bridges between us, there is no peace and no reconciliation. When I say peace, when I say making peace; it is to make peace with our past, with our own responsibility and with other people. In my country and in the Balkans, most of our artists tried to answer with art, some doing theater and others with other branches of art. Their answer is: to build empathy, to build bridges, to build peace. Our artists, our people are our real supporters. Who are we, then? With whomever we resisted, with whomever we embarked on this road most enthusiastically, without otherizing each other’s people, without saying “the Other.” In the post-war era, to see face-to-face, eye-to-eye with all of our pain, to realize the truth of this pain and to erase the pains of war, to leave its ugly face far behind... the artists say: “There is only one prerequisite for peace and reconciliation: to empathize.” Me and people similar to me, more than two thousand people organized in various NGOs in ex-Yugoslavian Republic, say this: “Yes, let there be bridges of empathy. Yes, but we still need to find and name these 130.000 people who fell during this last war.”

Here in Turkey, you are trying to name your disappeared, your dead. By saying “name”: to find them, to collect evidence as to their circumstances of death, to continue looking for the missing ones. This is what lays at the very foundation of this award.

Thank you all.
International Hrant Dink Award – Sept. 15, 2013
Saturday Mothers/People Award Speech

Emine Ocak:
I wish that children would not die and we would not come here. May the children not die and not be buried. This land belongs to all of us, to our children. This is the land of orphans, the land of love. Thank you. I thank all of you. Our children are given to earth now, I want them back, I want graves for them.

Hanim Tosun:
The mother (referring to Emine Ocak) refrained from expressing herself too much. I salute you all in the name of Saturday Mothers, with that motherly kindness, love and respect. I wish to speak in Kurdish from now on.

I salute you all respectfully in the name of Saturday Mothers. I thank them all since they saw us worthy of this award, but I wish there was no situation that would make us receive this award and that our children, our missing ones, were here with us.

Of course we are sad, but on the other hand, we feel very proud to be next to Hrant Dink. Hrant Dink was always with us, and we will always be with Hrant Dink.

I salute Ape Musa, Vedat Aydin and Hrant Dink, who were murdered for writing the truth and never gave up on writing the truth, for their insistence on writing the truth.

I also commemorate Ahmet Kaya here. He lost his life because he wanted to sing in Kurdish. I also commemorate others who were murdered or taken into custody for never giving up their language, Kurdish.

Ahmet Kaya was going to receive an award in the name of the Saturday Mothers and this was the reason of his lynching.

From here, I commemorate all who have struggled for the disappeared ones, who defended human rights and who remain in prison or who died on that path. I am calling for the release of those who are still in prison. I only wish to name one person as an example, but there are many like him who are in prison. Muharrem Erbey is in prison now, because he fought for the disappeared individuals, for the mass graves. Similar to Ahmet Kaya, I am receiving this award in the name of all human rights’ defenders and I salute them all most respectfully. I want him to be released as soon as possible.

Ikbal Eren:
Friends of Hrant Dink, hello,
As I leant that this year’s award was ours, as Saturday Mothers, I felt happy and I thought about Hrant Dink once again. I thought about his programs I watched, his interviews I read. Every activity I thought of led me to the same conclusion. So, these were the memories Hrant left me. So, what were they? In every discourse of his, Hrant talked about brotherhood of people. He talked about peace. Not only he talked about peace; he also defended it vigorously. He filled his short life so much in the way of peace and fellowship...

So, when I started think to myself and question why the award was presented to Saturday Mothers, while looking at the criteria and past awardees, I found out that “the award is presented to persons, institutions and groups who are free of discrimination, racism and violence.” In these lands, the ruling ones have always taken away the right to live of those whose opinions differed from theirs; regardless of religion, language or ethnic background. As Saturday Mothers, regardless of religion, race or ethnic background, we are asking about the fate of our relatives who were taken into custody by the police force of the state and pressing for accountability by arranging sitting protests. So in this context, we may say “we deserve this award.”

It goes on by stating, “The award is presented to those who work for a fairer, more free world.” Our disappeared relatives were made to disappear because they worked for a free and fair world. Each week, we announce the perpetrators of our disappeared ones and denunciate their crimes. When the perpetrators are brought to justice and face us, we will have made a step towards a free and fair world. So, again, we deserve this award.

It goes on by stating, “It is given to those who go beyond the ordinary.” Since March 20, 1995, Saturday Mothers go really beyond the ordinary by arranging the longest-continuing protests of the World. So, it means we deserve this award.

In our struggle of 18 years, we have found the tortured bodies of our siblings, spouses and children in unnamed graves. Such as Hasan Ocak, Ridvan Karakoç, Ferhat Tepe, Vecdi Avcil.

We reached the charred bones of our children, who were yet children, in wells of death. Like Seyhan Dogan or Mehmet Emin Aslan. Or they vanished without a trace and we were not able to find them; like Kenan Bilgin, Cemil Kirbayir, Hayrettin Eren, Nurettin Yedigöl, Vehmi Tosun, Hüseyin Taskaya, Abdürrahim Demir, Kasim Alpsoy, Murat Yildiz, Hasan Gülünay. There were many witnesses who saw them being taken into custody. There were official reports. It was clear that they were taken into custody. In ECHM decisions, their process of being taken into custody was recorded. It was very obvious from the testimonies of the members of JITEM and MIT how they were murdered, thrown into wells, buried without identification, thrown from helicopters to cliffs.

In our struggle of many years, the fates of our systematically disappeared children, spouses, siblings and parents have been left insistently in the dark. Despite the fact that we announce the names of the perpetrators every week in Galatasaray Square, in Diyarbakir Kosuyolu, in Batman and Cizre, still there is no effective investigation and the perpetrators are still not being brought to justice. There will be no execution of the right of the society to live in peace and democracy without the realization of our requests of revealing the truth, ensuring justice and employing mechanisms and laws to prevent a recurrence of these crimes against humanity.

We are not only fighting for our children who were made to disappear in custody. At the same time, we are fighting to build the truth of the children of these lands in being free, equal, fair and dignified as human beings. We are fighting to confront all the crimes against humanity in these lands and to persecute the mentality behind these crimes. This is the reason why we are in Galatasaray for the 442nd week.

We want our disappeared ones as well as the truth. We want our disappeared ones as well as democracy. We want our disappeared ones as well as peace.

We thank the Hrant Dink Foundation and the jury for their consideration of our 442 week old struggle for justice.

There are many organizations and friends who have supported us in our struggle, yet we wish to name only one specific name here. We dedicate this award to Muharrem Erbey, former Head of Insan Haklari Dernegi’s (Human Rights Association) Diyarbakir branch, for his contribution and efforts in investigating the murders by unknown assailants and in finding mass graves. We’d be most happy if he would accept it. We thank one more time for our award.
NATAŠA KANDIC, was born in 1946, in Yugoslavia, Kragujevac, a city of Serbia. She graduated from the Department of Sociology at Belgrade University in 1972. While working as a social services specialist, she chose to work as a lawyer.

Since the start of the Yugoslav wars in the early 1990s, she has documented war crimes committed between 1991 and 1999. During the war in Bosnia, she crossed the front lines to document the acts of Serbian forces against non-Serbian civilians in towns they occupied. Her efforts have alienated many in Serbia who remain reluctant to acknowledge the crimes Serbian forces committed during the wars of the former Yugoslavia, and even pro-democracy forces. Throughout the war in Kosovo, she travelled back and forth across Serbia, providing information to the outside world about human rights violations committed by police and paramilitary groups.

In 1992, she founded the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) in Belgrade to document human rights violations in armed conflicts across the former Yugoslavia. The center continues to search for witnesses and information, and to offer legal assistance and support to victims of human rights violations.

In 1998, under increased Serbian oppression, the HLC office in Pristina published a report on human rights violations in Kosovo that was in direct contrast to information disseminated by the Serbian authorities. The evidence she gathered was later used in the preparation of indictments by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Most notably, she provided a video of the execution of six Bosnian Muslim prisoners near Trnovo, which was used as proof of the Srebrenica Massacre, during which more than 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed.

When the HLC, in a report published in 2012, accused Dikovic of a number of war crimes committed in Kosovo, during the time when he served as the commander of the Motorized Brigade of the Yugoslav Army, Ljubiša Dikovic, who since had rised through the ranks to become Chief-of-the- General-Staff, filed a lawsuit against her. The Ljubiša Dikovic File has reopened the issue of war crimes in Serbia. All those who rose in defense of Dikovic acknowledged that horrible crimes had been committed in Kosovo by the police and the army. This was the first time that no one denied the crimes, or equated the responsibility of all sides in the conflict.

Her fact-finding missions into wartime atrocities has garnered both hatred from amongst the Serbian ruling elite and nationalist groups, and praise from the international community. She has never given up seeking out the truth, even when undesirable to most. She continues to struggle to bind up the wounds of war.
SATURDAY MOTHERS / PEOPLE was formed when a group of women came together to demand that people who had been forcibly disappeared in custody be found and brought to justice, and carried out a sit-in on 27 May 1995 at noon in front of the Galatasaray High-School in Istanbul.

On March 20, 1995, Hasan Ocak was expected to return home; but for 55 days, there was no news of his whereabouts. Then it was revealed that Ocak’s body, carrying evidence of torture, had been discovered in a forest in Istanbul, and buried in a cemetery for the homeless. Ocak was not the first ‘disappearance’ case, but this time there were numerous witnesses and evidences. About 30 people, whose relatives had been forcibly disappeared under the custody, came together in order to draw public attention and decided to sit in Galatasaray Square.

They were not only asking for the bones of their relatives, but also for those responsible of these cases of enforced disappearance to be brought to account and justice, so that the path towards a new Turkey would open. For this purpose, every Saturday, they sat for half an hour at the same location under the rain, snow, wind or sun. They carried their ‘disappeared’ relatives’ photos glued to cardboards, and they silently dispersed after reading out press releases. This silent struggle grew with the participation of the relatives of the forcibly disappeared in Diyarbakir, Batman, Urfa and Cizre. Before the end of its first month, the action was attacked by the police. The pressure and threats were repeated every week. Human rights defenders who joined them in solidarity were subjected to various methods of oppression.

Their unbreakable resistance led to both internal and external pressure on the authorities in Turkey, asking for an official account regarding the forcibly disappeared. Reports of international human rights organizations included a special section for ‘disappearances under custody in Turkey’, and the issue featured on the agenda at meetings of governments at international level. During all these years since the beginning of their action, they prevented the forcibly disappeared from becoming a mere statistic; and made people recognize that the disappeared were people made of flesh and bone. Following heavy state oppression and police attacks on the action in 1999, the gatherings were stopped. In 2009, they resumed the gatherings. Since January 31, 2009, they continue to sit silently, also holding up photographs of Armenian intellectuals ‘disappeared’ in 1915.

These people, who have been constantly searching for their relatives who were forcibly disappeared under custody, who want them to at least have a grave, constitute an important turning point in Turkey’s human rights history. They have shown an unprecedented resistance so that others won’t have to suffer similar pain. Even when they were subjected to violence, letting out their silent scream, they became and still continue to be defenders of truth.