ISTANBUL – On September 15, on Hrant Drink’s birthday, the Hrant Dink Foundation presented the ninth International Hrant Dink Award this year to lawyer and human rights activist Eren Keskin from Turkey and artist Ai Weiwei from China.
The award is presented annually to people who work for a world free of discrimination, racism and violence, take personal risks for their ideals, use the language of peace, and by doing so, inspire and encourage others. With this award, the foundation aims to remind all those who struggle for these ideals that their voices are heard, their works are visible, and that they are not alone, and also to encourage everyone to fight for their ideals.
Lawyer Eren Kesin, has fought to bring awareness for human rights violations in Turkey for countless years while artist Ai Weiwei has drawn attention to inequality and human rights violations throughout the world through his works of art.
The award ceremony was hosted by Ece Dizdar and the opening speech was made by the President of Hrant Dink Foundation, Rakel Dink. During her speech, Dink also referred to the ones who got in jail for expressing their thoughts, and concluded her words by saluting the human rights defenders who were detained and arrested on July 5th.
The award ceremony started with Ayşenur Kolivar’s performance of “Da im Yusuf Orti,” a traditional Hamshentsi song. Brenna MacCrimmon, Muammer Ketencoğlu, women from Sayat Nova Choir, Helesa and Dalepe Nena also took the stage during the night.
2017 awardees were announced at the end of the award ceremony.
Ai Weiwei was born in Beijing in 1957. After the Cultural Revolution, he returned to Beijing. He studied animation at Beijing Film Academy. In 1983 he went to New York to continue his arts education. He left school and made a living by painting portraits on the street. In 1993 he returned to China. In 2008, after the Szechuan Earthquake he visited the region and realized that the government did not provide factual information on the disaster. Creating a ‘Citizens’ Investigation’ website, he released information on faulty construction and sub-standard materials used in schools which caused the death of countless people, shared stories of students who had perished, and published articles about the earthquake during the investigation process. The site was closed by official decree. In 2010 a demolition order was issued for his newly built studio in Shanghai, where he wanted to teach architecture classes. He was ordered to be placed under house arrest; although the order was rescinded the next day, it was followed by attempts to prevent him from leaving the country. In 2011 he was apprehended. His studio was searched, materials confiscated, co-workers detained. He was held for three months. Since 2015 he uses his art installations on the flight from Middle East to Europe, to draw the world’s attention to refugees’ struggle to survive.
Eren Keskin was born in 1959 in Bursa, Turkey. She graduated from the Faculty of Law of Istanbul University. She joined the Human Rights Association of Turkey in 1989, where she worked for many years as a director. During the state of emergency of the early 1990s, she took part in committees formed to fight against the grievous human rights violations in the Kurdish-majority areas; during visits to the region she became the target of verbal as well as armed attacks. In the 1990s, nearly 200 court cases were brought against her. Because she had used the word ‘Kurdistan’ in an article published in the newspaper Özgür Gündem [Free Agenda] in 1995, she spent six months in jail. In 1997 she founded the Legal Assistance Office against Sexual Abuse and Rape in Custody. In 2002, in a case brought against her for a speech she gave on the subject of sexual torture by the state, she was sentenced to ten months in prison. That same year, the Disciplinary Board of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations issued a decision to bar her from working as a lawyer for one year. During this period, the mainstream media engaged in a smear campaign against her. Within the framework of a support campaign for the Özgür Gündem newspaper, she served for three years as its co-editor in chief. Today, there are still 143 open cases against her, one for a speech she made, and the others concerned with this duty which she performed voluntarily.
Ai Weiwei and Eren Keskin received their awards from the jury members Murathan Mungan and Ahmet Özmen representing Diyarbakır Bar Association.