AyĹźe Berktay is a peace and human rights activist, a translator and a writer on feminism and politics, now in prison in Turkey. In order to supply information to people we compiled a biographical outline of AyĹźe.
AyĹźe Berktay Hacimĭrzaoğlu was born in 1956 and attended the American College for Girls (later Robert College) in Istanbul after primary school and graduated in 1974. Which helps explain why she later became a translator, as she owes her fluency in spoken and written English to these eight years. She furthermore spend one year in Sacramento, California as an exchange student. She then studied architecture at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. She was also active as an artist, she lived in Stockholm and Paris from 1987 to 1994 as a member of the theatre group “Peoples’ Artists”. She acted in several plays and participated in the Avignon Festival with one of them: “The Epic of Mustafa Suphi”. She was also on the cast of the film “Sahte Cennete Veda” (Farewell to False Paradise) shot in Germany. Since 1995, she has earned her living as translator and editor.
She translated some major non fiction books: Intellectual Property Rights and Customs Union, Virginia Keyder, 1996; Makarenko, His Life and Works, 1997; The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, Leslie Peirce, 1998; A History of the Ottoman Bank – Edhem Eldem, 2000; Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire – Bruce McGowan, Donald Quataert, Suraiya Faroqhi, Ĺževket Pamuk, 2003; The Ottoman Empire 1700 – 1922, Donald Quartet, 2004; The Ottoman Empire and the World Around It, Suraiya Faroqhi, 2006. Popular Protest and Political Participation in the Ottoman Empire) by Suraiya Faroqhi, (2007)
Beside this she translated fiction: Puppies and Dogs, David Sands, 2005, The Woman In Black, 2006 (Play) adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the book by Susan Hill; Reconciliation, Aysel Ingham, 2006 (Novel); The Prophet – Khalil Gibran, 2006; Sula – Lavinia Derwent, (Children’s Novel); Black Beauty – Anna Sewell, 2009. This gives an idea of her broad interest and cultural background. She co-authored a book of the WWHR (Women for Women’s human rights) on the gender issue in Turkey, Turkish Civil and Penal Code Reforms From a Gender Perspective: The Success of Two Nationwide Campaigns . It describes in a concise yet comprehensive manner the legal status of women in Turkey with new laws in both private and public spheres. Covering a wide array of fields ranging from marriage to economic rights; from sexual and reproductive rights to violence against women, the booklet provides an excellent resource for advocacy and research on women’s human rights and recent gains in Turkey. She has been politically aware all her life; she has been active in many causes, like the Palestinian cause. She was one of the main founders of the World Tribunal on Iraq. This people’s court on the illegal invasion of Iraq, the war and occupation, started with a session in Brussels and travelled 24 cities worldwide, each sessions focusing on a specific aspect of the war (the role of media, depleted uranium, etc), to end with a final session in Istanbul. She was pivotal for this effort and devoted an amazing amount of energy to this initiative. Everybody involved could witness her idealistic commitment, perseverance and integrity. In the same vain she defended the human rights of the Kurdish people. She is an active member of the Peace and Democracy Party, which has representatives in the Turkish parliament. It is this commitment that brought her in prison since October 2012, in the frame of a wide sweep of arrests in the socalled ‘KCK-case’. She is accused of terrorism. But, as this short biogpraphical sketch makes clear: Ayse Berktay is not a terrorist, but an idealist. All her activities make her a staunch defender of peace, culture, feminism and human rights, so she might in the end be in prison for what she is: an courageous activist. One can only hope that she soon be released; to be able to continue to help build a better world and a better Turkey.
To mark 8 March International Women’s Day AyĹźe Berktay and BüĹźra Ersanlı have been awarded the PEN Turkey Duygu Asena Award 2012. Berktay, a scholar, author and woman’s activist, and Ersanlı, a political science professor, have been detained, awaiting trial since October 2011.
‘I view this award as a meaningful act of defiance in the face of the injustice and audacious disregard for the law that has resulted in the imprisonment of myself along with over 200 fellow members of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), 34 of which are women. For the case brought against us, the result of an ongoing political en masse hunt-down which completely disregards the freedom to practice politics, the freedoms of thought and speech, and the freedom to organize, which constricts democratic political space, and which, by targeting the BDP, aims to render the party ineffective and thus disempower the people, is not a case of a few ‘innocents’ who happened to get mixed up with a gang of criminals. This case is, through and through, a massacre of law, democracy, and freedom.’
‘This case is a striking expression of the extremes to which the state is capable of going, feeding upon the mentality which defines the state of conflict/war that has been happening in our country in various degrees of intensity for decades as a terror issue, and which claims that there is in Turkey not a Kurdish issue but a terror issue. And it for precisely this reason, that is, because it is not a singular/incidental case, because it is a part of the approach of the mainstream, which dominates all official levels of government, whether of the ruling party or the opposite on, that it is especially troubling. Categorizing stances on the issues and even lives themselves solely within the framework of the ‘war on terror’, according to whether or not a particular action represents a ‘weakness’ in the face of terror, whether or not it will beneficial for ‘terrorists’, and whether or not the person in question has ever given voice to similar opinions on any topic, this indictment clearly illustrates the aforementioned mentality, a mentality that comprises the greatest threat to peace, friendship, democracy, and freedom in Turkey and the greatest obstacle to efforts to resolve the issue. In fact, we might say that this is true not only for Turkey, but for the entire world.’
‘I hope that some benefit can be derived from this damned case, this unfathomable and ridiculous torment. I hope that the fact that there are some of us on trial who are not Kurdish, and who do not fit the image of the Kurdish militant as ‘boogeyman’, ‘subhuman’, ‘terrorist’, ‘monster’, ‘bloodthirsty’ etc. etc. an image which has been created in the minds of people not only by the existing AKP government but by decades of state tradition, will result in the toppling of prejudices and stereotypes and the questioning of just what kind of injustice the Kurds, those ‘naturally born suspects’, who have been struggling with the same problems for decades, face. I hope that this ‘fate’ we are sharing, albeit only in small part, with the Kurds will help to make others aware of the importance of listening to what the Kurds themselves have to say, to their problems, demands, and suggestions; of the importance of bending ear to this not inconsiderable portion of the population, certainly too considerable to be ignored, which states loudly and clearly that it imagines another, better future.’