The founder of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade was honoured for her work in protecting human rights.
By Menekse Tokyay and Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Istanbul and Belgrade -- 04/10/13
Serbian human rights activist Natasa Kandic was named a recipient of Turkey's In-ternational Hrant Dink Award. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
Serbian human rights activist Natasa Kandic, known for her documentation of war crimes, was honoured for her work as she was named a recipient of the fifth annual International Hrant Dink Award.
The award is named in memory of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who called for peace between the Turkish and Armenian communities and was prosecuted for violat-ing Turkey's law that prohibits denigrating Turkishness. He was assassinated in 2007 in Istanbul.
In 1992, Kandic founded the Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade, a non-governmental organisation that investigates the murder and torture of people during the war in the former Yugoslavia. She also was named an honorary citizen of Sarajevo for her efforts to bring the perpetrators of the genocide in Srebrenica to justice.
The nominees for the award are determined each year by an international jury. The award is presented to public activists, journalists, organisations or groups advocating human rights and freedom of speech, and working for a world free of discrimination, violence and racism.
Two recipients are named each year, one from Turkey and another from abroad. This year's honouree from Turkey is the Saturday Mothers, who have been gathering each Saturday on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul for nearly 15 years to draw public and politi-cal attention to family members who have been missing since the 1990s.
"This year’s awards were focused on two important themes. First of all, remembering and coming to terms with the past. Secondly, the courage for peace. Yes, courage is contagious. Sometimes the contrary is also true: Fear might also be contagious," Ayse Kadioglu, a member of the award committee, told SETimes.
"However, this prize is aimed for embracing courage and giving it a standing ovation," she added, emphasising the importance of standing together against similar difficulties in different parts of the world.
During the ceremony, Kandic said she was pleased to receive such a meaningful prize in memory of Dink, and added that empathy can lead to peace with the past and with others.
"The only condition of peace is empathy," she added during her acceptance speech in Istanbul.
In an exclusive interview with SETimes, Kandic said she is impressed that the award brings together many intellectuals and has a strong impact on public opinion in Turkey.
"Serbia and Turkey both have serious problems regarding human rights in their past. As for the former Yugoslavia, a terrible war resulting in 130,000 deaths incited the governments, civil society and the international community to react and bring the criminal trials to the domestic and the international war crimes courts. There is a highly developed civil initiative, and now we're on track to have a regional commission that will deal with establishing the facts about war crimes and victims," Kandic said.
Kandic said Turkey's criminal trials in human rights and murder cases are complicated and influenced by intolerance, and that they should be more transparent. But she added that there are signs of progress in the country, as civil society groups in Turkey have demonstrated strong efforts to document forced disappearances and have been helping the victims of human rights violations.
"My impression for Turkey is civil society is involved very strongly and begins com-municating with the neighbouring countries with which it shared a common past," Kandic said.
Ali Bayramoglu, a well-known Turkish journalist and the head of the selection com-mittee, told SETimes that the awarding of such an international prize in Turkey, where there are still significant problems in human rights and democracy, is unique.
"This prize is basically a support and a contribution for those, like Kandic, who are taking risks with their lives and who want to break the routine to follow the footsteps of a struggle as done by Hrant Dink during his whole life," said Bayramoglu, who was a friend of Dink's.
Bayramoglu said the prize adds meaning to the struggle to defend human rights in the Balkans and Turkey even under difficult conditions, and shows that people continue to have courage to fight against discrimination or torture, regardless of religion or ethnicity.
"I was awarded with such a unique prize because the civil society in Turkey wants to share experiences with those who worked on such topics," she said. "The aim is to obtain justice for the victims of human rights violations and for their families to know the truth and to punish the perpetrators, as well as to reduce discrimination against minority groups."
In what ways can Turkey and Balkan nations work together to defend human rights? Share your thoughts in the comments section.