Statement of Support for Ayse Gül Altinay from the Columbia University Center for the Study of Social Difference and Women Creating Change

May 23, 2019
Statement of Support for Ayse Gül Altinay from the Columbia University Center for the Study of Social Difference and Women Creating Change

Our colleague Ayse Gül Altinay, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Gender and Women’s Studies Center at Sabanci University in Istanbul, Turkey, was sentenced to 25 months in prison earlier this week. She is one of over 2200 Academics for Peace who three years ago signed a statement “We will not be a party to this crime” appealing for an end to violent state-sponsored persecution of Kurdish citizens of Turkey. The investigation in Istanbul has covered only the first 1200 signatories so far, but it might be extended to the second 1000 as well. In this, her fourth, judicial hearing, Altinay was charged with “willingly and knowingly supporting a terrorist organization as a non-member.” The court’s charge and thus the sentencing have no merit.

Ayse Gül Altinay has been a Faculty Fellow of Columbia’s Center for the Study of Social Difference since 2013. She is a co-organizer of the Working Group on “Women Mobilizing Memory” and a co-editor of the forthcoming Women Mobilizing Memory volume (Columbia University Press, 2019). Last September, she was also an invited speaker at the Center’s tenth anniversary conference “What We Can Do When There’s Nothing To be Done.” Her collaborative project “Curious Steps”— a gender-memory walk through Istanbul – spurred other such memory walks in additional sites including Harlem. Ayse Gül Altinay’s contributions to the Center’s work have been immeasurable: her feminist commitment to nonviolent protest and to transformative activism; her sharp insights into the workings of power and militarism and her determination to fight them; her fierce hopefulness combined with personal kindness, warmth and radiance have been an inspiration to all of us fortunate to be working with her.

In the spirit of collaboration and solidarity that Ayse Gül Altinay represents, it is important to point out that she is not alone in this struggle. Hers is one of a large number of cases receiving 25-month sentences that cannot be commuted. These cases, hers included, are in the process of being appealed. Some shorter sentences have been commuted, and many other colleagues are awaiting court dates over the next months. This is the time to speak out forcefully on all of their behalf and on behalf of freedom of expression and academic freedom.

On May 21st, 2019, Ayse Gül Altinay made the following statement to the court:

Every individual, every family living in this geography has suffered from past wars, migrations and experiences of violence. In terms of the cycle of violence that trauma studies alerts us to, we live in a challenging, vulnerable geography.

Yet, what we make of these past experiences of pain is up to us…

Are we going to turn our pain into more violence, hate, pain and injustice, or into steps that multiply life, beauty, love, peace and justice?

This is the main question that shapes my work and my life.

I firmly believe that we all have new steps we can take towards healing the traumas that have been transmitted from one generation to the other, and to break out of the cycles of violence that we are living through.

We, at CSSD and Columbia Global Freedom of Expression stand in solidarity and admiration for Ayse Gül Altinay and all of our academic colleagues who are being persecuted for their courage to speak out against violent aggression. The injustice of these sentences cannot be tolerated.