A perception of human rights from Turkey

While speaking with Orhan Kemal Cengiz, we realized that we have no group photos, or photos of us hanging out with Tahir. We’ve worked together for many years; however, all our photos are at a conference or in a meeting. We sadly realized that we had failed to take a photo together after a joyous meal or during a seaside visit. I believe that we were so incredibly focused on what we were doing that we simply did not conceive of such a thing. Torture, ill-treatment and village-burning cases were so heavy on us that we did not spent our time on unimportant things like a photo together. I’ve asked this to a few friends and they don’t have photos showing them enjoying themselves with him, either. In fact, we went to a conference in Antalya on the invitation of the Muratpasa Municipality at the beginning of September and after the meeting, we went swimming together in the afternoon that day. We had a fantastic dinner with friends and laughed too much as always. We have no remembrance save the memories.

In my opinion, this situation is related to our perception of human rights. As human rights defenders, we are living our own problems. A British, French or Dutch human rights defender can always be devoted to what the purpose of the work requires, but we were trying to solve our own problem. I always have admired my friends in Amnesty International (AI). They are trying to focus on another country’s human rights problems and trying to find solutions for people who they don’t know. We were trying to focus on Turkey’s human rights problems in general and trying to find solutions for ourselves. Most human rights defenders in Turkey are victims of state violence.

I intentionally placed distance between me and other human rights defenders in Turkey years before. I was lucky enough to have fantastic parents. I didn’t witness any kind of violence during my childhood because my parents were very sensitive. I graduated from the best schools in Turkey and had the best education. I was not involved in any kind of act of violence when I was a university student. I studied criminal law after university and legal thinking was just my cup of tea. Other human rights defenders around me were not as lucky as I was. Most of them came from modest families with problems. Most of them were involved in violence acts or at least had witnessed it previously. Most of them had previously witnessed torture, ill-treatment or at least verbal violence. They were so clever at combating violence because they definitely know what they were faced with. Later, I discovered that it was so important to object to a violation where you were not a victim. A victim can defend his victimization, but it can create a bigger impact if a non-victim defends it as well. In reality, today I sincerely believe that there is a greater impact in defending a group of people’s rights that you don’t belong to. Defending “others’ rights” is the secret key to unlocking every sealed heart because helping “those left out” is a great feeling.

Today, I understand that there is no division between “oppressed” and “non-oppressed but standing with the oppressed.” All of us in this world are oppressed. Human rights can’t be a system that any human being can remain outside of. I now understand human rights defenders in Western Europe. They are oppressed as well by violence in Thailand, a coup d’etat in Egypt or by the murders of Hrant Dink and Tahir Elci in Turkey. These actions humiliate all of us together. On the other hand, I now understand that having a photo together with Tahir was as important as studying a village bombing file with him. We have to continue our work because we are all victims or none of us are victims. The important thing is raising our perception and standard of human rights, not only in this country but throughout the world.