Sunday, July 29, 2007

Eren Keskin is our conscience

Last week, Eren Keskin, former president of the İstanbul branch of the Human Rights Association appeared in court. She was accused of violating article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The accusation was based on her article on the murder of Hrant Dink. Keskin is being tried for saying that what killed Hrant Dink was the “Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa (the Intelligence Agency of the late Ottoman Empire, considered the ideological ancestor of the present day secret political-violence organisations)” mentality in her article published in BirGün on 26 January. She is accused of having “Publicly insulted the military establishment of the state, by means of publication.”
In her article, Eren Keskin criticised the sytem that taught its citizens a history based on lies, that either silenced those who sought the truth or turned them into self-censoring individuals and raised a call to transform the flood of people at Hrant’s funeral to a civil movement. The final sentences of the article read:
“I want to be hopeful! For we owe this to our dead.”
This is not the first case against Eren Keskin, and as she does not show any signs of “rehabilitation” we fear it will not be the last. She has been tried and sentenced several times. In 2002, in a conference titled “Women’s Rights= Human Rights” organised by the Federation of Alevi Associations in Germany, Keskin talked about sexual torture carried out by the state. This infuriated journalist Fatih Altaylı, who reacted using the following words in his radio programme:
“Eren Keskin has slandered people saying soldiers sexually harass women in Turkey, they carry out virginity tests even on married women just to torture them... I will be damned if I do not sexually harass this Eren Keskin as soon as I see her next...”
Upon these words the court sentenced Altaylı to pay compensation to Eren Keskin, while the Media Council issued him a mere “warning”. Altaylı continues to work as a “journalist.”
We know that in Turkey no serious legal measures are taken against those who direct verbal or physical attacks at human rights advocates and forces of opposition ­ – particularly if the target is a woman. Repression against Eren Keskin continues in the form of threats via e-mail, telephone and physical threats. In 2006, Keskin was sentenced to 10 months for violating article 301 in a speech she made at the above mentioned meeting and her jail sentence was converted to a fine of 6 thousand YTL . She refused to pay this fine and was subjected to a lynching campaign supported by newspaper ads given by nationalist circles in this process.
Eren Keskin continues her path as a brave woman who has devoted more than 20 years of her life to the defense of oppressed groups, oppressed and tortured people, bracing all sorts of danger, threats and harassment for this sake. In this land of people who think involvement in politics is about some sort of tug of war, we cannot but wish that there were a larger number of intellectuals like her who take Edward Said’s phrase, “The intellectual does not solve crises, s/he creates them” as their motto.
Translated by Ayşe Berktay
June 8, 2007

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