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The Esteemed Chair of the International Hrant Dink Foundation,
Esteemed Members of the Jury,
The Esteemed Chairman of the Award Committee,
Distinguished Guests...
I greet you all with love.
I salute the memory of Hrant Dink with love.

I am greatly graced and honoured by your presentation to me of the 2012 International Hrant Dink Award.

An award always comes with a certain responsibility. I will try to shoulder this responsibility. Thank you.

I would like to take this opportunity to make a brief assessment of the term, the Near East. The Near East is a term used since the Byzantine Period. The Byzantine Empire had divided the land east of Istanbul into three parts: the Near East, the Middle East and the Far East. The term Near East covered regions such as Anatolia, Pontus and Lazistan in the Black Sea Region, Cappadocia, Armenia, Kurdistan, Cilicia, Mesopotamia, and Tur Abdin. The term Anatolia covered a region we today call the Aegean Region; in fact, a small part of the Aegean Region. The Middle East covered a region extending from Egypt to India, from the Arctic Ocean to the Oman Ocean. Iran lay between the Near East and the Middle East. The Far East comprised geographical regions such as China, Manchuria, Korea, Japan and Indonesia.

The Near East has been destroyed by those who came from far away lands. The native people of the Near East, the Pontian Greeks, the Armenians, the Assyrians, the Laz people, and the Êzidî Kurds... were destroyed by those who came from far away lands. I would like to briefly focus on how this historical process unfolded.

The Committee of Union and Progress had devised a plan to reorganize the Ottoman Empire on the basis of Turkish ethnic identity. The nationalization of the Ottoman economy was a further significant target. The Committee envisaged an empire that extended from the Adriatic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Yet, this would be a Turkish Empire. Greeks, Armenians and the other Christian people presented significant obstacles for the execution of this project. The status of people who were Islam but not Turkish, such as the Kurds, was also important. The status of Qizilbashs (Alevis) who were Turkish or Kurdish, but not Muslim, was also taken into consideration.

The Committee of Union and Progress attached great importance to and developed this project in both their open and secret meetings. Following the Empire’s defeat at the Balkan War, they focused on the project in an even more determined manner. They developed detailed plans and programs. ‘Doctor’ Nazım, Ziya Gökalp and Bahaettin Şakir assumed significant roles in this project. The Pontian, Cappadocian and Aegean Greeks would be forced into exile to the Aegean islands and to Greece. The Armenian population would be decomposed under the guise of forced migration. Kurds would be assimilated into Turkishness, and the Qizilbashs into Islam. Similar policies would be implemented towards other Christian people like the Syriacs, and also towards the Êzidî Kurds. The wealth and immovable properties of the Greeks who would be forced into exile and the Armenians who would be perished through genocide would be confiscated and presented to the supervision of Muslim Turkish notables.

The First World War presented the Committee with the opportunity it sought. The moment the war began, the exile of the Pontian Greeks began, and within the first year of the war, the Armenian population was subjected to genocide under the guise of “forced migration”. The remaining two issues were systematically dealt with during the Republican period by governments that were the continuation of the Committee of Union and Progress. A huge, widespread looting opeation took place of the immovable properties left behind by Armenians and Greeks. This was how the Ottoman economy, or the Turkish economy was nationalized. This is a very significant aspect of the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Republic of Turkey.

Today, the source of the wealth of the haute bourgeoisie is Armenian properties, and Greek properties. In Kurdish areas, the source of the wealth of Kurdish aghas, tribe leaders and sheiks is again Armenian and Syriac properties.

This was how the Near East was destroyed. The Germans provided intensive support to the Committee in the destruction of the Near East. Germany was of course defeated in World War I, but in 1919-1920, during the period of the League of Nations, imperial states of the period such as Great Britain and France also played a significant role in the destruction of the Near East.

The status and position of the Kurds during this process must be addressed in two stages. The main rule was to assimilate the Kurds into Turkishness. First, the members of the Union and Progress and later, the members of the Kuva-yi Milliye (the Kemalists) used the Kurds as triggermen in the destruction of the Armenians and the Assyrians. “The Lausanne Conference on Near Eastern Affairs” became the last instance the term Near East was officially used in an international document. Anatolia became a term denoting the Asian lands of the Republic of Turkey. When the Republic of Turkey was founded and the Treaty of Lausanne provided international recognition to the sovereignty of the new state, the denial and destruction of the Kurds began, and continues to this day.

Politicians sometimes apologize. Apologies never solve any problem. The only way to overcome these problems is to carry out serious research and investigation on the period. All these problems are related; the Kurdish issue is related to the Armenian issue. How are they related? The immovable properties of Armenians in Bitlis,Muş, Diyarbakır, Siirt and the region were confiscated by Kurdish aghas and tribes. Therefore, in order to keep these properties, they of course said ‘yes’ to the state’s official position. Whatever the state says regarding political and social issues, you say ‘yes’ because you have looted those properties. And if you do not say ‘yes’, it goes without saying that the state will not allow you to keep those properties. Therefore, these issues are both the cause and effect of each other. Individuals who will help social awareness and historical awareness grow amongst the people will engender a better understanding, and people will consciously abstain from harming each other.

If a nation becomes a target of partition, disintegration and divided rule by other nations during a certain period in history, then that nation fails to gather itself anew in the aftermath. The Armenians, like the Kurds, suffer from such a problem. Ottoman Armenia and Russian Armenia broke the might of Armenians. Between Iran, the Ottoman Empire and Russia, the Armenians failed to form a union. Today, we see the Kurds. They have a population of around forty million in the Middle East, but they have no international political status. They are separated by minefields, barbed wire and watchtowers. And the status quo seeks to spread and deepen this division and disintegartion.

We can overcome all this through research. Freedom of expression is of paramount importance in this regard. Freedom of expression is the main indicator of a modern, civilized society or state. New roads, dams, factories, big buildings are not the indicator of modern civilisation. If freedom of expression and free and independent criticism have become institutionalized in a certain society, then there is no official ideology in that society. An official ideology is the greatest obstacle in front of democracy. The institutionalization of freedom of expression shows that society, or the state, have nothing to feel guilty about. The institutionalization of freedom of expression means the absence of corruption, fraud and bribery. Or, a strong reaction and due judicial process in the event that they do take place.

There is intense pressure over the social sciences in Turkey. In the 1940s, Behice Boran and Niyazi Berkes were among those who suffered under oppression. In the 1970s, Oya Baydar and her friends faced similar operations. And today, young researchers such as Pınar Selek and Müge Tuzcuoğlu are facing similar tactics of oppression. Müge has been under arrest in Diyarbakır Prison since March 2012. What did Müge do? She cared for the children of families whose villages were burned down and destroyed. She worked with the Sarmaşık Association (The Association for Sustainable Development and the Struggle Against Poverty) and with Göç-Der (Social Assistance and Cultural Association of Migrants and Displaced People). Of course, to be involved with such issues also means to ask, ‘how did the unresolved murders take place, how were the villages burned down, how were these families victimized?’ You have land in your village, and you have water, too; but you are not allowed to use them, you are forced to live the life of a victim in the slums of the big cities. These are all topics that the state, the government do not want us to talk about. This is why freedom of expression is restricted. To prevent people from talking about the truths, and to prevent the emergence of an awareness around these issues...

In Turkey, the judiciary does not take social dynamics or social demands into account. They apply excessive criminal sanctions in such cases. I wish that from now on the judiciary in Turkey takes these values into account, and adopts not a prohibitive stance, but a stance that will encourage organization and development of such dynamics and demands.

I respectfully salute you all.
And I once again salute the memory of Hrant Dink with love.
Good evening,

It is a great honour for us that the Hrant Dink Award has been presented to “Memorial”, the Society I represent here.

We feel greatly honoured not only because of the fate of the person who gives his name to the award, but also because of the wonderful people who have been deemed worthy of this award.

There are of course also people who deserve to take to this stage today on behalf of Memorial.

Our organization first emerged 25 years ago, in 1987, as the organization of people who were concerned about preserving the memories of the victims of terror, the victims of the totalitarian communist system in the Soviet Union.

In the beginning, the organization was a small initiative formed by young activists. However, these young activists pretty soon combined their powers with the “Opponents of the old regime” who in the 1960s struggled for human rights and historical memory in a totalitarian state. They took risks and sacrificed themselves for the right to live like free people in a country that was not free.

The current president of International Memorial, Arseny Roginsky was sentenced for writing his now historical memoirs titled “Memory”; the president of Russia Memorial, Sergei Kovalev was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for working as a proofreader on the human rights bulletin “Chronicle of Current Events”. As early as 1968, the first co-president of Memorial, Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov outlined the theory stating that concepts such as peace, development and human rights were part of the same inseparable whole and was duly sent into exile by Russian authorities.

This award, presented to Memorial here today, should also be seen as awarded to other people who were part of the human rights struggle during the time of the USSR.

In the late 1980s, the Memorial movement became probably the most widespread mass movement of the Soviet Union. Why? Because Memorial became synonymous with the reassessment of the history of the country -banned and equivalent to prison until then.

The history of Russia in the 20th century, is not only the history of a victorious communist utopia, it is also the history of state terrorism, the deliberate destruction of social structure, the forced migration of people and similar instances of exile. It is also the history of awareness and resistance. A history lesson is never to be ignored or forgotten, otherwise you fail the course.

But back then in the beginning, Memorial realized this: it was impossible to talk about the crimes of the past period; however, it was also impossible to turn a blind eye to the mass human rights infringements that were taking place “here and now”.

Political prisoners were released in 1987, during the Gorbachev era. However, the movements of independence that began in all Soviet republics, almost simultaneously turned into interethnic conflicts: ethnic separatism led to atrocities, armed conflict and waves of refugees. All this became the focus of the work of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, founded in 1991, for more than twenty years.

In August 1991, the communist regime of the USSR collapsed. The resistance to revitalize the dictatorship continued for three days, and three people died- this was the price that was paid for victory. It was also a victory for the non-violent peace movement in which Memorial also took part. Then the Soviet Union dispersed. Many thought that democracy and human rights would be the values of the new government of Russia, only because they had proclaimed so. And many also thought that the wars that had been triggered would remain in the new independent states outside Russia’s borders.

However, the hopes of those who had been fooled by their dreams were very soon proved false. In the autumn of the same year, the crisis that began in Chechnya, having declared their independence in the Caucasus, almost turned into war. In autumn 1992, the bloody conflict between Ossetians and Ingushs began, hundreds of people were murdered, or disappeared.

In autumn 1993, the “Small Civil War” took place in Moscow- the conflict between the president and the parliament was won by the so-called “forces of good” at the expense of hundred and fifty people. In 1994, the First Chechen War began. This war began with Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s attempt to increase his popularity. 50 thousand civilians died in this war that Russia lost. Russia was, in fact, at war through all these years. Military pressure and violence almost became the norm.  

In the early 1990s, the general interest of the people in their own recent history and the lessons it had taught almost seemed to disappear. It was as if the country had skipped a century from pre-revolutionary times to 1991.

Refusing to comprehend the painful experience proved costly. History does not forgive this kind of thing. And as is well known, nature abhors a vacuum. This vacuum was now filled with nostalgia and a yearning for the Soviet past. And naturally, the former KGB lieutenant colonel who offered the people security in return of freedom came to power. And 13 years ago, the Second Chechen War, called a “counterterrorist operation” began in 1999.

A person who considered the collapse of the USSR the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century came to power. This person had worked in the secret police system during the Soviet period. The officer of the intelligence service now found himself a place within the new regime.

The following 13 years were a period of revanche. Under the guise of fighting terrorism and extremism, fundamental rights and freedoms were constantly taken away.

No, no... we have not returned to the time of the Soviet Union, a lot has changed today. However, while “enemies of the state” used to be arrested during the time of the USSR; in the noughties of 21st century Russia, social activists and journalists are systematically murdered for non-violent activities.

I understand that this award is given to people like Hrant Dink who sacrificed their lives for ideals such as these.

This award is for Anna Politkovskaya, who wrote as a journalist about the war my country waged in the Caucasus and Chechnya, and who was murdered on October 7, 2006 in Moscow.  

This award is for Stanislav Markelov, the young and talented lawyer and journalist who defended victims of military crimes, environmentalists, leftists and labour activists and who was murdered on January 19, 2009, in Moscow.

This award is for Natalya Estemirova, my friend from Memorial with whom we worked together for almost ten years, who was kidnapped on 15 July 2009 and murdered the same day. For those ten years Natalya Estemirova revealed the terror of first the Russian army and later local organizations in Chechnya.

These three people, Estemirova, Politkovskaya and Markelov achieved something common. Their efforts meant that a Russian police officer responsible of torture and the kidnapping of a man during the Second Chechen War was sentenced. A single officer convicted for three thousand kidnappings and murders. The three people who made this public, all were murdered. Please look at the mathematics.

As a person who presents to you today these wonderful people, I understand very well those others who wer murdered for their views and non-violent activities.

25 years ago, Memorial began the struggle for historical memory so that out tragic history did not repeat itself. Have we lost that struggle?

A new protest movement began in Russia a year ago, its goal was a struggle against fraud. Thousands of people went out into the streets. However, the mechanism of fraud did not collapse, Vladimir Putin was reelected head of state and thousands of demonstrators were arrested.

Yes, we now have political prisoners once again. The trial of the punk band Pussy Riot is known worldwide. They are in prison for singing a hymn in church that said, “Mother Mary, rid us from Putin”. There are people in prison for creating mass disturbance on the eve of Putin’s oath ceremony on May 6. But the protests continue. Today, on September 15, tens of thousands of people were demonstrating in central Moscow. I represent them- the protestors and the people who are in prison for protesting.

The new laws that have been passed in the spring and summer months effectively make it illegal to organize peaceful meetings. The new defamation bill that has been signed into law abolished press freedom and under the guise of the protection of minors, makes it possible to close down websites. And finally, institutions that receive international funding are being asked to voluntarily confess that they are foreign agents in the service of mysterious but traitorous enemies. We have no plans to submit to these illegal demands. Therefore, it looks as though that in the coming months, Memorial will be visiting the courthouse. Everyone here probably recognizes what I have just said. An old empire, a leap into the future, then a regression to a new dictatorship. Unpunished crimes that aren’t that old, and crimes committed against humanity...

Baltasar Garzon, a previous recipient of the Hrant Dink Award, acted bravely in two significant instances. The first was the investigation into the actions of Latin American military officers in the 70s and the 80s. In order to do this, Garzon used the mechanism of universal law that states a crime must be accounted for regardless of where it is committed in the world. And the second was his removal of the veil of silence over the terror of the Franco regime from 1936 onwards, and the events of the civil war. This was not an easy task either.

İsmail Beşikçi, who has received the award here today, spent 17 years of his life in prison for daring to write about the Kurdish Issue. We understand this course of events very well in Russia.

Unfortunately, when one mentions Turkey or Spain in Russia today, people only think of them as holiday destinations. They forget that they are entities with their own history and problems. Both countries display similarities with Russia in terms of their history and problems. Along with the diversity, we are able to feel that we all have just one world and this may help us solve each other’s problems.

When Memorial presented its first petitions to the EHRC about the Chechen cases, we used the experience gained in the cases that were opened and won against Turkey in the Kurdish cases and against the United Kingdom in the Northern Ireland cases. Garzon’s experience is also equally important for us. And our experience and mission will perhaps be of interest to you.

We see our own history and our contemporary way of living from a perspective that not everyone will like – a history of crude and mass human rights violations and a history of Resistance.

We view history and our age through the fate of people who stood out. This is important in terms of not allowing tragedy to be transformed into statistics.

We understand that the rejection of a tragic past is always used to justify and legitimize present-day violence, and the planning of future crimes.

Memorial gratefully accepts the Hrant Dink Award –it will no doubt provide us with inspiration to continue our work.
ISMAIL BESIKCI was born in 1939, in Çorum to Turkish, Sunni-Hanafi parents. He graduated from the Faculty of Political Science at Ankara University in 1962. He performed his military service in Bitlis. In Şemdinli and Yüksekova he had the chance to closely observe the life of the Kurdish people.

Following the completion of his military service, he worked as a civil servant in Tunceli for a short period of time. In 1965, he started his PhD studies on the social structure of the Alikan Tribe. During the field study, he lived with the nomadic Kurdish tribe for 7 months.

In 1967, he also took part in the open air meetings organized by the Workers Party of Turkey known as “The Eastern Meetings” and he published his observations under the title, “The Institution of the Sheikh and the Agha (Landowner) in the East of Turkey”, offering independent and powerful analyses, that also required a lot of courage to voice regarding the conditions in Turkey at the time.

In his work, he addressed the status quo: “You may state as many times as you wish that there is no distinction to be made between Turkish and Kurdish, and assert that everyone living on this country’s land is Turkish; still you will never manage to conceal a clear and certain sociological fact. Claim as many times as you like that Kurdish does not exist as a proper language, and that it is a mixture of Turkish, Arabic and Persian; still you will not change a sociological fact… Covering up such facts, in the long run, will always lead to damaging and disadvantageous consequences for our country.”

In 1968, informed upon by a colleague at Erzurum Atatürk University, the process of his discharge from the university was triggered. Accused with Marxist propaganda and regionalism, his classes were cancelled. However, he continued his visits and observations in the East. In 1969, he published “The Order of Eastern Anatolia: Social-Economic and Ethnic Foundations”, one of the most significant works in the history of social sciences in Turkey. Following the publication of the book, his ties with the university were severed.
He was arrested soon after the 12 March 1971 military coup d’état and was sent to the Diyarbakır Military Prison. He has been imprisoned eight times in all, and in total has spent 17 years of his life behind bars. He was released following the legal restructuring of 1999. He has published 36 books on the Kurdish issue, 32 of which have faced various bans in Turkey.
Despite facing oppression and persecution from the status quo, he became the voice of truth and took great risk for what he believed was right at a time when the word “Kurdish” could not be pronounced in daily life, and even the existence of the Kurdish people was denied.
Since the day he understood the social and political character of the Kurdish Issue, he has been tirelessly seeking a solution. Throughout his life, he has been subjected to torture, threats and maltreatment, however he refuses to be silenced, and continues his work. So that society can confront its problems, he carries out his research, he writes books, he sustains the struggle, and he continues to transform.
The INTERNATIONAL “MEMORIAL” SOCIETY was born in 1989 in Tbilisi, amidst protests to a police raid that led to deaths.

In 1991, it became institutionalized to work on human rights issues, and focus on historical research and education. Work began to systematically collect evidence of state terrorism. The aim was to reveal crimes the Soviet government had committed and concealed. Documents and memoirs were collected in many cities, oral testimonies were transcribed, and reconnaissance missions were carried out to gulags. Tens of thousands of people provided them with the documents they possessed. A substantial archive on the era of repression was formed. They believe that ‘forgetting tragic events of the past is tantamount to abandoning your own memory’, adding that ‘a society without memory will submit to any demagogue; and in such a society people are mere cogs in the state machine.”

More than 50 “Books of Memory” and lists of executed victims have been published. All the documents and printed material related to the era of repression has been brought together at their library in Moscow. Hundreds of artworks created by prisoners, bearing the traces of life at the camps have been exhibited at their museum.

They continue their work at many former-Soviet states, under genuine danger and threats. They inaugurated an information movement that began with Nagorno-Karabagh and has continued in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldovia, Tajikistan, Russia and Chechnya.

Their office in Chechnya has been frequently raided by government officials. In 2009, Natalya Estemirova, an award-winning human rights activist, who was investigating the murder and abduction cases in the country, was herself abducted and later found murdered. The Society was forced to temporarily suspend its activities in the country in order not to risk the lives of their colleagues.

They appeal to society at large to confront not only past human rights violations but also ongoing infringements. They draw attention to human rights violations that take place at zones of armed conflict and provide information to the public. They work for the rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, and aim to transform migration services so that they protect not the interest of the state, but the rights of refugees. They proclaim that, “Our history is not the history of the state, but the history of the people, and often also a history of human rights abuses. Thus, when we work with history, we learn about human rights. And this will make it possible to reduce human rights abuses today…” The Society stands in solidarity with those who are struggling for their ideals, and takes risk in order to defend human rights. Their outlook on history is an inspiration for us all.