I believe that everyone who reads the title of this article will agree with me. Can there really be a festival for human rights?
Two things lead me to ask this question. First, the meaning and scope of the term “human rights.” Second, the meaning and implementation of the concept of “festival.” In law, human rights are divided into three: positive status rights, negative status rights, and mixed rights. In Islamic law, these are called God’s rights, human rights, and mixed rights where both are present. Positive status rights are acquired rights. They are the rights obtained through human effort and endeavors. Negative status rights, on the other hand, are inherent rights such as the right to life. When it comes to mixed rights, it’s the combination of the two. In Islamic law, negative status rights are called God’s rights, and positive rights are called human rights.
As for the festival, Wikipedia defines it as: “A festival is generally a set of activities traditionally celebrated by a local community at predetermined dates and has become the image of the region where it is held. The word ‘festival’ comes from the Latin word ‘festa’. It was first used in the early 1200s. Festivals are generally characterized by lavish meals, beautifying and cleaning the surroundings.”
There’s also a definition in terms of cinema and theater: “It’s a series of national or international shows where films or plays produced in a certain year or on a certain topic are shown, and awards are given to the best ones at the end.”
Religion also has a take on the concept of a festival. In this context, a festival is a “standing in the presence of God or gods.” In Christianity, this corresponds to Christmas and Easter, while in Islam, it’s Ramadan and Eid al-Adha. However, sources say that Muslims use the term “holiday” rather than “festival.” Essentially, our religious holidays seem to correspond to the festival concept.
Doesn’t our initial question make more sense now? The concept of a festival in this context and human rights. How are they related? How can these two concepts come together in an event?
Let me briefly describe the program, and you can decide. Our organization, AST (Advocates of Silenced Turkey), has organized another event to publicize the ongoing human rights violations in Turkey. Since July 15th, they have been highlighting, with the verification of experts and observers, the ongoing atrocities that amount to social destruction and even genocide unfortunately executed by the state. They have displayed visual materials once again to create awareness and be the voice for the oppressed.
What first caught my eye at the festival was the sign reading “We will remember and pray for you forever.”
This board displayed the names of 884 people who, up until February 2023, had either died in prisons due to torture, health issues, or while escaping or hiding from the regime’s gestapo forces. Sadly, this number has now risen to 916 since February 2023.
Another section featured photographs of many public figures who became victims during the “witch-hunt” phase and descriptions of the hardships they faced. I quickly passed through that section. I felt suffocated. As I was rushing out, I ran into a friend. “I can’t bear it,” I told him. But what I couldn’t bear to see, read, or face, those people had lived through, and there are still hundreds, thousands living those same realities.
Let’s get back to the connection between the festival concept and human rights. Life goes on. Everyone present, locals and foreigners, had families. Some had babies, some had children below the age of discernment. They’re all just waking up to life. They wouldn’t understand these hardships even if you explained them. Food and drink are basic human needs. Especially for Americans, the word “festival” brings fun to mind. But when you say “Human Rights Festival,” it makes one think and piques curiosity. This very reason attracted many to the festival. Especially for children, having fun was an essential part. On one side of the festival were adults who were aware of and even experienced these hardships. On the other side were activities for children, giving the festival a whole different meaning.
In conclusion, after completing his university education, a friend who had worked in various countries at schools affiliated with the Hizmet movement and had sought asylum in America due to passport renewal issues shared his story. He had entered the country illegally. After crossing the border, he was stopped by U.S. police. He was on the verge of tears as he narrated his first encounter. The officer had asked, “Where are you from?” Even though he had lived abroad for years and sustained his life with the English language, he was choked up. “I couldn’t say I am from Turkey,” he told me. Seeing his state, do you know what the officer said? “No worries. This is America. You are safe now.” He paused and shared his feelings at that moment. He prayed, “God, make those who brought us to this state stateless.”
Since its foundation, AST has organized hundreds of such events. I wholeheartedly congratulate AST and all the volunteers supporting them. As true representatives of the saying “Unity is strength,” I am grateful for their faithful and loyal efforts to be the voice of the oppressed, innocent, and victims across the world, without discrimination of identity and affiliation.