Status: On Trial
Ayşe Berktay was released from Bakirköy Women’s Prison in Istanbul on December 20, 2013. She still faces a lengthy trial process, after which she could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the charge of “membership in an illegal organization.” Additionally, on August 9, 2016, she was one of several staff members of Özgür Gündem whose passports were ordered to be canceled by Istanbul’s 14th Court of Serious Crimes. On May 21, 2019, an Istanbul Court acquitted Berktay along with other columnists of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization.”
Ayşe Berktay is a translator, scholar, author, and cultural and women’s rights activist. Her publications include History and Society: New Perspectives, 2008, and The Ottoman Empire and the World Around with Suraiya Faroqhi; and she is the editor of Women and Men in the 75th Year of the Turkish Republic. Her translations include The Imperial Harem: Gender and Power in the Ottoman Empire, 1520-1656 by Leslie Penn Pierce; and The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 (New Approaches to European History) by Donald Quataert.
Over the past decade, Ayşe conducted work at the History Trust, where she was part of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Board on Human Rights; the Women’s Human Rights Trust, where she prepared publications; the Compatriots for Peace Initiative; the Truth Behind Diyarbakir Prison Research and Justice Commission, where, in 2008, she met with individual prisoners that had been detained from 1980 to 1984; and the Women for Peace Initiative.
In December 2009 Ayşe became a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which had 36 elected representatives in the Turkish Parliament. In March 2010 she was elected to the BDP Istanbul Province Executive, where she worked in the Press Committee. In October 2010 she was elected to the BDP Central Women’s Committee, where she worked in the Foreign Relations Office.
Berktay is the recipient of the 2013 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
Police arrested Ayşe Berktay and raided her home at 5:00 a.m. on October 3, 2011, and seized personal papers and materials, though no arrest or search warrant had been issued. She was eventually charged under Turkey’s anti-terror legislation of “membership in an illegal organization” for allegedly “planning to stage demonstrations aimed at destabilizing the state, plotting to encourage women to throw themselves under police vehicles so as to create a furor, and attending meetings outside Turkey on behalf of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK),” a banned pro-Kurdish party. The indictment specifically refers to international conferences she attended, where she is accused of having served as the organization’s “international advocate.” Ayşe Berktay is one of more than 1,800 people, including many writers and academics, who have been swept up in mass arrests of supporters of Kurdish rights in Turkey.
In a November 2012 letter sent from prison, Ayşe Berktay writes: “Growing up, I learned that it is a virtue to oppose injustice, inequality and unfairness. I was taught to read, research, to question, and never stop learning. I’ve never lost hope on our belief that our conflicts can be resolved through democratic means and not with violence. We have something to say about peace, and the power to make it a reality. We still do.”