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Alper Gormus

International Hrant Dink Award Welcome Speech 15.09.2009

I am honored to share the first International Hrant Dink Award with Amira Hass. I would like to thank the International Hrant Dink Foundation and the Award Committee for honoring me with such a present.

Since the first moment I got the news, I have been thinking about the weightiness of the responsibility put on my shoulders with this present. I have realized that being honored with an award established in the memory of Hrant Dink, a man of struggle, may also cause skittishness. Especially, when the person awarded is someone like me whose life has been mostly shaped by his responsibilities and for this reason who sometimes misses happiness.

I had lived without any phobia until I was 35. Since then, since the moment I held my life’s most beloved in my arms, my daughter, I have been living with the fear of the following question:  “What if something happens to her?”. Twenty two years later,  the Award Committee gave me yet another phobia: the fear of doing something that one day will rightly make people to ask the question “Haven’t this man once received the Hrant Dink Award?”

I last saw Hrant Dink right after the Court of Cassation   upheld the court decision convicting him on the charges of “insulting Turkish identity” by assuming, or actually by taking granted that the obvious metaphor is the reality”.  I went  to Agos newspaper to interview him. During the interview, he spent all his energy to explain why it was impossible for him to “insult Turkish identity”.

You know, this went on like this until he left us.  This was also the main theme of his last article “The ‘dove skittishness’ of my soul”.

In the article, he wrote: “But now the verdict was there and all my hopes were lost. From that time on, I was in the most embarrassing situation a man can experience. The judge gave the decision in the name of “Turkish people” and legally registered that I had ‘insulted Turkish identity’. I could bear everything but not this.”

He also talked about all these during the interview we had. According to the judge’s verdict, Hrant Dink had insulted me; and now, this man, who had devoted all his life to fighting against discrimination, was sitting across me,  crying out in revolt “Alper, my brother, how can I possibly insult you? What kind of a situation they put me in?”

Someone who faces injustice and cruelty inflicted by the state apparatus would like to be understood by his fellow human beings.  In fact he would like to be understood only by his eyes. In such moments, the attempt to talk about one’s troubles is very difficult. But he was incessantly telling why it was impossible for him to insult his Turkish brothers. I can never forget that interview. I myself have been a person who  “loves  being understood without the  need for talking,” I remember how I felt getting smaller and smaller as I witnessed this atrocity.

Because of this personal experience, today, his complaint before his death touches me more than his lifeless body lying on the ground.

But, let’s close this chapter, if you like. Because if Hrant Dink heard these, I am sure, he would say “Put me aside, tell us what you have been doing in the pursuit of the ideals, for which I gave my life away.”

Thank God, at least for now, I have an answer to this question: “My dear brother Hrant Dink, people who know you the best gave me this present on your birthday. They are saying that we are giving you this present for following Hrant Dink’s ideals and taking risks to this end… My brother, you never know how much I would like to hear that you also thought I deserve this present”.

Thank you all for coming.
Talk at the  Hrant Dink’s  award ceremony

Amira  Hass

15 September  2009,  Istanbul

It is  difficult  to thank you  for this  gift and encouragement  you are offering me  today,  because  it  is  the  result  of  Hrant’s  murder.  True,  we are  celebrating  today   Hrant’s  birthday and  existence,  presence,  but  it would not have  been celebrated  in such a  manner,  had  he not  been murdered.  

But even  if  I met  with you and Hrant  in other  -  easier  circumstances -   the same  sense  of  permanent  sadness and grief  that I feel  today – would have anyway   connected us.  It is  the  permanent  sadness  that  is felt  by   people like myself -  children of   the generation who survived  the  German  Industry of Murder.   Sadness that  never  leaves  us  -  the same  sadness that  never leaves  Armenians.

Another  feeling  that unites me  with the  audience here is  anger  -  the anger  with what  our  governments  and authorities  are  causing  to another People.  

The  sadness and anger  are  hard to be  described in words.    A strange thing for me  -  a journalist  -   to say.  

The  words  that I  do use, though,  do not  put  me in the  least  of  the  dangers  that  - so I have  discovered  in the past  24 hours  -   are  facing  journalists  in Turkey.     We in Israel  do not  have  301,   we  can publish  very harsh criticism of official policies   and  do not  face imprisonment  or  law  suits  -  not to mention  outright  murder.  Today,  the UN report on the Gaza  onslaught  was  published:  it  determines  Israel has  committed  war crimes  and probably  crimes against humanity.   “This  could not  surprise  anyone who has  read your reports”, I was just    told  by  someone at my paper.    But  many have chosen not to  read  my reports, or  to disregard them.

So,  the challenge  we,  Israeli journalists  who  monitor  the Israeli regime of  Occupation,    face is  of different nature:   that of not  being heard or listened  at.  

It’s not  for vanity  sake  that  we   want to be heard  -  but  because  there is always  the  hope  that  awareness of  the  cruel details  and the  dangerous  policies of domination    might help prevent  a future  catastrophe.   
ALPER GÖRMÜŞ was born in Kars on November 21st, 1952. His father was a teacher. For the first and second years of primary school, he shared classes with both his brother and sister at the village school where their father was the only teacher. He went to school in Ekşinoz village, a small village with only 70 households at the time (which is a province of Çatalca). Today this settlement goes by the name of Esenyurt and the population is around 300,000.

He spent his childhood and adolescence in Alibeyköy, which in the 1970’s was the center of the workers’ movement. Affected by the highly politicized social atmosphere of Alibeyköy, very early on, he became interested in politics. He boarded throughout his secondary and high school education at Haydarpaşa High School with a scholarship. After finishing high school, he got in to Istanbul University Faculty of Business Administration, from where he graduated in 1975.

Between 1977-1980, he worked at Aydınlık newspaper. The newspaper was shut down immediately after the coup of September 12th, 1980. Until 1986, he pursued a variety of work ranging from floristry, carpetry, accounting, book trade, to selling electrical goods. When Ana Britannica –a major encyclopedia– came out, he worked as an editor.

In 1986, he started working at Nokta –an influential news magazine. 3-4 years later, he was involved in the establishment of the weekly magazine Aktüel. In 1993 while he was the features’ editor, he was sentenced due to an interview published in the magazine. His conviction was based on Article 8 of the former Anti-Terrorism Act, and in 1996, he was imprisoned for three months at Ayvalık Prison. Ayvalık Prison was his own choice, as in 1995 he had settled in Ayvalık so as to avoid returning to Istanbul and newspaper journalism. Due to his financial restrictions, he could only stay in Ayvalık for about three years. Accepting a job offer, he started working as a faculty member at Istanbul Bilgi University. Here, together with Kürşat Bumin and Ümit Kıvanç, he launched Medyakronik, a very influential media monitoring site at the time.

In July 2006, he became the editor-in-chief of Nokta Magazine. As a result of the “Coup Diaries” news which he published in Nokta, Özden Örnek –colonel, the owner of the diaries– opened a court case against him.

He was acquitted on 11 April 2008. He currently writes for Taraf newspaper. He has a 22 years old daughter.
AMIRA HASS was born in Jerusalem in 1956. She was raised as the only child in a home of two Holocaust survivors and communist activists from Yugoslavia (mother) and Romania (father) who until their death fully supported her way. When asked, she says that she did not come from a mainstream family, that is to say, there was nothing strange or rebellious or daring in moving to live with Palestinians or to write against the Israeli policies.

After failed attempts to continue her History studies at the university, in 1989, she started working at Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper. She first worked as a copy editor, and gradually as a reporter. Since the end of 1993, she covered Palestinian occupied territories. By the end of 1993, she moved to live in Gaza and in 1997, in Ramallah, the West Bank, where she lives until today.

She published one original book “Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege” (USA, 2000, published by Henry Holt), which was translated in several languages. She also published two collections of articles: “Reporting from Ramallah” (2003, semiotext; in English and other languages), which is a collection of Haaretz articles from 1997 to 2002 and “Domani Andra Peggio” (Tomorrow Will Be Worse; in Italian and German), based on the columns she wrote for the Italian weekly magazine Internazionale.

When asked Hass says that she is not an expert of “the Palestinians” as it needs a lot in order to know an entire people, but she is of the Israeli Occupation. Hass focused more than any other journalist –be it Israeli, Palestinian or foreigner– on the Israeli sui generis system of travel restrictions. She still hopes to complete a book on the development of the Pass System, which deprives Palestinians of their freedom of movement.

Her mother wrote a diary in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. This diary that had been published in the past in several languages recently was published again by a left wing publishing house in the US –Haymarket Books. Two essays which Hass wrote about her mother’s and father’s life are included in the book along with a historical essay by a young Jewish-Yugoslavian scholar, Emil Kerenji.