Eren Keskin

2017 Hrant Dink Award Goes to Eren Keskin from Turkey and Ai Weiwei from China


ISTANBUL – On September 15, Hrant Dink’s birthday, the Hrant Dink Foundation presented the International Hrant Dink Award this year to Eren Keskin from Turkey and Ai Weiwei from China. The award is presented annually to people who work for a world free of discrimination, racism and violence, take personal risks for their ideals, use the language of peace, and by doing so, inspire and encourage others. With this award, the foundation aims to remind all those who struggle for these ideals that their voices are heard, their works are visible, and that they are not alone, and also to encourage everyone to fight for their ideals.

Eren Keskin was born in 1959 in Bursa, Turkey. A graduate of the Faculty of Law of Istanbul University, she joined the Human Rights Association of Turkey in 1989, where she worked for many years as a director. During the state of emergency of the early 1990s, she took part in committees formed to fight against the grievous human rights violations in the Kurdish-majority areas; during visits to the region she became the target of verbal as well as armed attacks.

In the 1990s, nearly 200 court cases were brought against her. Because she had used the word ‘Kurdistan’ in an article published in the newspaper Özgür Gündem [Free Agenda] in 1995, she spent six months in jail. In 1997, she founded the Legal Assistance Office against Sexual Abuse and Rape in Custody. In 2002, in a case brought against her for a speech she gave on the subject of sexual torture by the state, she was sentenced to ten months in prison. That same year, the Disciplinary Board of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations issued a decision to bar her from working as a lawyer for one year. During this period, the mainstream media engaged in a smear campaign against her.

Within the framework of a support campaign for the Özgür Gündem newspaper, she served for three years as its co-editor in chief. Today, there are still 143 open cases against her, one for a speech she made, and the others concerned with this duty which she performed voluntarily.

Ai Weiwei was born in Beijing in 1957. After the Cultural Revolution, he returned to Beijing. He studied animation at Beijing Film Academy. In 1983 he went to New York to continue his arts education. He left school and made a living by painting portraits on the street. In 1993 he returned to China.

In 2008, after the Szechuan Earthquake, he visited the region and realized that the government did not provide factual information on the disaster. Creating a ‘Citizens’ Investigation’ website, he released information on faulty construction and sub-standard materials used in schools which caused the death of countless people, shared stories of students who had perished, and published articles about the earthquake during the investigation process. The site was closed by official decree.

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In 2010 a demolition order was issued for his newly built studio in Shanghai, where he wanted to teach architecture classes. He was ordered to be placed under house arrest; although the order was rescinded the next day, it was followed by attempts to prevent him from leaving the country.

In 2011, he was apprehended. His studio was searched, materials confiscated, co-workers detained. He was held for three months. Since 2015 he uses his art installations on the flight from the Middle East to Europe, to draw the world’s attention to the refugees’ struggle to survive.

As part of the ceremony, the people and organizations from Turkey and from around the world who raise hope for the future with their actions were saluted with the video “Inspirations 2017”. They included Hombres Tejedores (“Men Who Knit”), which criticizes the patriarchal social system; Mehmet Nesim Öner, who won a gold medal at the Paralympic Games; Startblok, which offers opportunities for young nationals and refugees to live together; Future Vision Acrobat, which brings together disadvantaged youth in Rwanda; Lice Seeks Justice, which works on finding new witnesses and informing the public; Immigrants in US who organized a boycott against Trump’s migration policies; Majed Alesa, who in his music video goes against socially imposed roles on women; Çorbada Tuzun Olsun, which distributes soup to homeless with the help of volunteers; Victoria Emah Emah, who brings hope to children orphaned by AIDS; activists who turned a dormitory of University of Oxford into a shelter for homeless; DEF RAP group, which connects people with and without hearing impairments; activists who resisted the pipeline passing through Standing Rock in North Dakota; and Syrian women who share the hope of life in Women to Women Refugee Kitchen.

The award ceremony was hosted by Ece Dizdar and the opening speech was made by President of Hrant Dink Foundation Rakel Dink. During her speech, Dink referred to the ones who got in jail for expressing their thoughts, and concluded her words by saluting the human rights defenders who were detained and arrested on July 5. The award ceremony started with Ayşenur Kolivar’s performance of Da im Yusuf Orti, a traditional Hamshentsi song. Brenna MacCrimmon, Muammer Ketencoğlu, women from Sayat Nova Choir, Helesa and Dalepe Nena also took the stage during the night. The award jury for this year is composed of Theresa Kachindamoto, Diyarbakır Bar Association, Étienne Balibar, Christophe Deloire, Rakel Dink, Atom Egoyan, Michel Marian, Murathan Mungan, feminist author and human rights activist whom we lost last June, Şirin Tekeli. The International Hrant Dink Award was presented to the following individuals and organizations in the past years: Theresa Kachindamoto, a tribal chief who works for children’s human rights and education rights; Diyarbakır Bar Association, a civil society organization that works for human rights and rule of law, in 2016; women’s rights activist from Saudi Arabia Samar Badawi and LGBT association KAOS GL, in 2015; forensic medicine specialist and human rights defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı and activist Angie Zelter in 2014; human rights defender Nataša Kandić and Saturday Mothers / People in 2013; writer İsmail Beşikçi and human rights organization International Memorial Society Russia in 2012; journalist-writer Ahmet Altan and journalist, human rights defender Lydia Cacho in 2011; the Conscientious Objection Movement of Turkey and prosecutor Baltasar Garzón in 2010; the journalist-writer Alper Görmüş and journalist-writer Amira Hass in 2009.

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