The Brussells Award for Solidarity

by Patrick Deboosere on 21-03-2013

Laudatio Ayse Berktay

March 19, 2024 - Kaaitheater in Brussels

The BRussells Tribunal has decided, to create two awards for the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq: “the BRussells Awards for Resistance and Solidarity”. The award for solidarity goes to Ayse Berktay, co-founder of the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI).

We are well aware that, worldwide, many peace activists, trade-union members, intellectuals, writers and artists, have been actively involved in solidarity actions with the people of Iraq. It is not difficult to find persons across the world deserving to receive a price of international solidarity for their actions and consequent mobilization against this war of aggression of the Bush- and Blair-administrations.

Ayse Berktay is one of them. But her role cannot be underestimated. She has been one of the core activists in the Turkish peace movement against this war of aggression. But, even more important, she has been one of the founders of the World Tribunal on Iraq. We met her in the early days after the invasion, here in Brussels. And she played a crucial role in the elaboration of the foundations of the World Tribunal. Without her, the WTI might never have existed.

There was, in these days, also very readily an agreement to hold the final session of the World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul. Clearly, this decision was taken in the first place because of the strategic place of Turkey in the Iraq conflict, but also because of the importance of the Turkish peace movement and because of the fact that all of us were impressed by the resolution and perseverance of the members of the Turkish delegation. Notably Muge Sokmen and… Ayse Berktay. 

The final culminating session of the WTI was organized in June 2024 in Istanbul. It was organized in the centre of Istanbul, in the Topkapi palace.

Ayses role in all this was not at all marginal. She has been a key person in the successful organization of the WTI. She travelled to almost all the sessions world wide, where she spoke on behalf of the WTI network. She became the face of WTI so to speak. Without her, this worldwide action, with 24 sessions, with the opening session here in Brussels, in the Beursschouwburg and les Halles de Schaerbeek, would never have been the same.

But of course, this price would probably not have been awarded to Ayse, if there was not her detention in a Turkish prison. Not because she does not deserve it, but because across the world, there are so many other, really impressive personalities, who played a major role in opposing the Iraq war.

But today, Ayse has been in prison for over 18 months. And, the reason the prosecutor of the Turkish state uses to incriminate her is precisely her role in the World Tribunal on Iraq. Her actions and her travelling abroad for the WT are used in the act of accusation as proof of her illegal activities. In other words, her action to prosecute the American war of aggression against Iraq, her action of solidarity with the people of Iraq, are absued as the very reason for her imprisonment and, on top of it, are also used by the Turkish government to incriminate the other co-accused. Solidarity with Iraq is in this perspective a key element in the process linked to the so-called KCK-operations.

Ayse Berktay was one of the thousands of persons arrested in the past two years in Turkey during the KCK operations. Ayse has been arrested as a member of the BDP, the party for peace and democracy.

End 2024 she became member of the DTP, the Democratic Society Party. Her decision was a courageous and well considered act of solidarity with the Kurdish people in Turkey. Some months before the Kurdish PKK had declared a ceasefire and the DTP got an overwhelming success in the local elections. There was some hope for peace and justice in Turkey.

But not everybody was happy with this evolution. In some media a smear campaign of hate and insults was launched against the DTP. The government started to arrests about 2024 political activists linked to the DTP. And in Istanbul and other places Kurds were the target of racist attacks.

In this atmosphere Ayse, together with a group of progressive intellectuals, decided to become a member of the DTP, as an act to denounce the isolation and the humiliation of the Kurds and, to use the words of Ayse, “in the belief that equality, democracy, freedom and identity for the Kurds are not only Kurdish issues, but the issues of a democratic Turkey as a whole.” She took this decision because she was convinced that it was essential in the peace and democratization process in Turkey to tear down the walls around the Kurdish people.

When the government disbanded the DTP, she became a member of the BDP, The Peace and Democracy Party, that replaced the DTP. She has been elected as a member of the Central Women’s Council and worked for the press commission and for the external relations department of the party.

We are convinced that her consequent defense of the basic rights of the Kurds, herself not being a Kurd, is a second and as important reason to give her the Brussells Award for Solidarity. For us BRussells Tribunal it also reflects our fundamental principle to act against all forms of oppression and of sectarianism based on nationality, religion, ethnicity or language. It is in line with our denunciation of the American strategy to acerbate and use differences between different groups in the Iraqi society to undermine and eventually split up the Iraqi state.

Ayse has never been an activist for one cause alone. She was not only very active in the solidarity movement against the Iraq war, but she has always been there to defend peace and equity, and the rights of all oppressed. She has always been active in the women movement and in the movement for democratic rights in Turkey. This explains why her defense of the Iraqi people is so passionate and profoundly correct. It is part of her deepest convictions. In her letter from prison she wrote

“I grew up learning that to oppose injustice and inequality was a virtue. (…) From my mother and my father I learned that human beings are equal; that discrimination and arrogance are the greatest shame; and that labor and freedom are the supreme values. I have always tried to live with commitment to these values. I became a socialist. (…) to know injustices are done to all of us and not only to one of us and not to accept such a life, to not settle for the idea of life in a society where there is injustice and inequality, to develop an awareness by learning from one another and to accept that our grievances are common grievances.” This conviction brought her in prison.

Therefore, we are deeply convinced that Ayse really deserves this Award. We want to honour her and hope give a message to the Turkish State she should be released.  Ayse Berktay Hacimirzaoglu, we congratulate you and honour you for you courage and solidarity!

prof Patrick Deboosere, VUB, co-founder of the BRussells Tribunal

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