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Dear Guests,

I got the news from dear Rakel Dink that I’d be receiving this award. I was astonished and I said “But I feel like I’m an insider, I feel as if I’m a part of the Hrant Dink Foundation…It really ought to go to someone from outside.” I have always been embarrassed to receive awards. I was both amazed and embarrassed.

Until now, I have never been part of this award ceremony. However every year, I have waited expectantly to see who “we were giving the award to”. I have tried to watch the livestream of the ceremonies and read the news about it the next day.

That’s how I felt like an insider

A few days after getting the news, I began feeling honoured that I’d be receiving the Hrant Dink Award. I was happy, and excited. But later, all these feelings began to be overcome by a crushing sense of pain; the pain of the loss of Hrant Dink. He was like the last alive relative of mine. When he was assassinated, it felt as if all of my forefathers had also died that day.

Years before, Hrant and I had attended a meeting in Germany together. It was a few years after my husband Zübeyir Akkoç’s assassination. I didn’t yet know how I’d deal with the great pain of losing him. I felt no hatred, but I was full of rage.

One of the organisers of the meeting asked, “What happened in 1915? What did the ones who were left behind do? How are they?”

This question was first met with silence, as it always did. I looked at Hrant; he was thinking, and getting ready to speak. However an influential person from Turkey who was at the meeting started answering the question that was raised. After he said a couple of sentences, I interrupted him ragingly, and said, “Do you know why you were in such a hurry to answer? It’s because you bear no pain. Stop for a moment if you would; Hrant is here, and I am here.”

The meeting carried on somehow. During the break, Hrant led me to one corner and told me that out of everyone there, it was mainly that man that I needed to be the most patient with.

That person is the “ambassador of peace” with a generous heart that we have lost, who is Hrant Dink.

This is a great loss, and a great pain. This intense pain never passes, it will never pass. We, the grandchildren, have grown the pain of 1915 and 1938 with the pain that we have experienced in the recent times. And our grandchildren will grow up by feeling the pain of their grandparents.

I have never felt hatred, resentment or a desire for revenge out of my pain. Thankfully, I was able to transform the energy born of that powerful emotion into love, solidarity, sharing and empathy.

First, bearing in mind the great pain created by the assassination of Hrant Dink, first of all I would like to particularly thank Rakel Dink, who has established the Hrant Dink Foundation and continually strives for social awareness and sensitivity and the Dink family, and all of the friends of Hrant Dink for their efforts. Your efforts and your attitude are worthy of every possible award.

I accept this precious award,
-on behalf of the true ambassadors of peace, who believe that no act of violence can ever be innocent or justifiable;
-and on behalf of all the women who, believe that revolution begins within themselves and within the family, who bear in mind all the costs while standing against violence, and allowing us to dream of a new world by developing new means to overcome the violence that they have experienced.

I will hold it dear to my heart.
I am thankful to the Hrant Dink Foundation for inviting me and I am truly humbled that they have selected me for the award. I honour the work of Hrant Dink and this award should bring out more who work like him.

The invitation stated that, “With this award, the Foundation aims to remind those individuals, organizations and groups who give inspiration and hope to people for holding on to their struggle, work for a more independent and fair world free from discrimination, racism and violence, take personal risks for achieving those ideals and use the language of peace that they are not alone”.

Since his work was almost similar to the statements above, I felt that I should come not for the award but for the bond between us, so that we can carry on the work which our effort is heartening to many who need a voice and give them peace of mind. It is not an easy work but we have to bring out the best system to be able to achieve the goal for which we make an effort whole heartedly.

In my work, my endeavour is to help and assist those who are oppressed, discriminated; victims of violence, land eviction, job exploitation. Most times, there is neglect by powers, where it be in government or institutional powers. This is unlawful as it harms those who are vulnerable. We can see that many want to be in power as they think they can control and they crave to become rich and powerful. Thus in this thought by those in power, many public who are not under their votes are ignored, and countless are driven into poverty and destruction.

In my work, people of various issues come to seek assistance and it’s new even to me. How do I help, what should I do, but work leads me slowly and gradually. We cannot just push them away when they come with problems as they come with serious cases. We notice as we try to help the oppressed or victims that most of the perpetrators are well connected, as some, or their relatives, are politically connected or has helped them to win in their elections. So the powerful do their help by controlling the government servants, -who should be governments servants for the public- and twist the justice.

We know that there are such atrocities all over the world and during experiences we can and should distinguish between these oppressors and the oppressed. Having understanding that, we can help and share this with those who need us.

In most countries, there are thoughtless policies which are controlled by those who drive the funds, and poor are not at all considered of their thoughts or opinions. If voices are raised to protest, they are pushed down. There is no referendum of the public when decisions are to be made for the people, and this leads to more unrest and enmity among the youth and the elders. Political leaders are chosen and elected by the people. But definitely there are public who are under threat and cannot vote candidate of their choice. This is happening in our areas. That then gives power to criminals and they move with influential people. It is very difficult when those in power allow such atrocious indulgence.

In our State, there are many rape cases, especially of minors. The perpetrators are mostly their own relatives or near ones. There are families who are scared to inform or file a FIR (First Information Reports) or a complaint. There are, then, some who do not report as perpetrators are their very own father, or uncle, or grandfather, or brother, or step father, and mothers protect the husband or the son. According to the police data of our State, this year until July 2019, in Rape Reports, the number of rape cases for women is 53. According to the data of the police, this year until July 2019, in Rape Reports, sadly the number of rape cases for minor children is 139. These are reported cases, cases that are lingering. Even if cases are charge-sheeted in courts, it takes years for the trial. By the time the trial starts, some victims cannot be located or victims turn hostile.

We see in the world that there is rise in terrorism, arms supplies, drugs, human trafficking, and these look like entirely connected. If leaders are sincere in their duties and dedicated, crimes would decrease.

There is also a very serious issue which is leading to climate change. We see a lot, all over the world, how there are so many changes in this world, and the changes related to climate change are rapid. Ice is melting at a speed that we’ve never expect it will occur. Forest is destroyed and Mother Earth is raped because of the greed of those in power and their followers.

We have seen rampant illegal action of mining in our State, and again, most orders are given by the people in power. No one can dare to speak out. Those in authorities don’t dare to stop. Villagers don't dare speak out or cannot report, as police would not act. If honest police act on illegal activities, they are transferred to the remote areas.

Public should start speaking out, give assistance to the vulnerable, help them when human rights are violated so that humanity overcomes hatred. Together we can do a lot and usher to bring peace in this world where children can be filled with love and not fear. I am not good in giving speeches but tried my best. Hope you can bear with me.

Thank you.
NEBAHAT AKKOÇ was born in 1955, in the Karlıova district of Bingöl and attended elementary school in the Hazro and Silvan districts in Diyarbakır. 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 Eskişehir Anatolian University, she taught in villages, districts and capital of Diyarbakır 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 Diyarbakır 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 Diyarbakır 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 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.