Storytelling4Freedom Workshop

Storytelling4Freedom Workshop took place in collaboration of InterPlay Leaders Ruth Schowalter, Christine Gautreaux and Hafsa Girdap of Set Them Free for the fourth storytelling workshop with the Turkish community here in Atlanta. The goal of this InterPlay workshop was to offer the Turkish women  “embodied” ways to tell their own stories and the stories of other women and children who are unjustly imprisoned in Turkey. Lasting three hours, we experienced tears, joy, empathy, kindness, fun, connection and support.

Set Them Free joins Women`s March in Washington DC


Women’s March 2019 happened in 9 different states with the slogan #womenwave. Thousands of people participated the March in Washington DC, starting from freedom plaza. Many NGOs walked together and brought attention to ending violence against women, reproductive rights, workers’ rights, and women immigrant rights. The volunteers of Set Them Free held banners to protest the violence against women, false imprisonment and violation of women`s rights in Turkey.

Set Them Free UN Women CSW 63 Panel Series

Set Them Free attended the Commission on the Status of Women 63rd Session by organizing 3 panel sessions on the social integration of women refugees into their host countries and promotion of the women and girls rights.

The events started on March 13, Wednesday with the “Role of Education in Challenging Cultural Barriers for Women`s Empowerment” panel discussion where the panelists discussed the most widespread cultural challenges girls and women face all around the world. The panel was organized in partnership with the Set Them Free Atlanta Youth Group. Professor Monserrat Washburn was the moderator of this session. The panel started with the remarks of Monica Bajraktarevic, the Dean of Students at the Pioneer Academy. Ms. Bajraktarevic discussed the impact of cultural obstacles on women`s empowerment. By sharing her various professional experiences, she talked about how access to good quality education empowers young girls and change their lives. Sueda Polat, Freshman at the Emory University, discussed the justice system in Turkey and by providing some statistics, she overviewed several case studies of sexual assaults from Turkey. Lastly, Sibel Olcal, Sophomore at the Forsyth Central High School, and Gulsima Duranel, Freshman at the Fulton Science Academy School, talked about how child marriages hinder girls` empowerment.

March 15, Friday set off with the Set Them Free panel discussion on the “Civil Society Contributions to the Integration of Refugee Women”. Esra Aydin, the Communications Director of the JWF and NY Representative of the Set Them Free, gave an overview of the Turkish refugee women in Turkey and talked about Set Them Free`s best practice of “Sisters Without Borders: ESL & German Online Language Classes”. Following Ms. Aydin, Yalda Afif, the Employment Specialist of HIAS New York discussed the CSO contributions to the socio-economic empowerment of refugee women. Youstina Youssef, the Gardner Public Service Fellow of the International Refugee Assistant Project discussed the legal perspective of the refugee women`s journey and how legal assistance can create major differences in refugee women`s empowerment. Lastly, Attorney Ann Graham contributed to the law perspective with her years of experience and shared several CSO best practices that she contributed in Texas.

Following this discussion, the “Women as Survivors of Conflict” panel took place in partnership with the Advocates of Silenced Turkey. Moderator Heidi Hoover from the Beth Shalom v`Emeth Reform Temple, set the platform to discuss the challenges that refugee women face in their resettlements. The author Patricia Holt from Atlanta, shared several important figures and facts on the experiences of refugee women. Following her remarks, The Atlanta Leader of Interplay, Christine Nichols Gautreaux, talked about the best practices to support survivors of conflict. She also engaged with the audience and invited everyone to practice several skills that will enable women to handle challenges in a more convenient way. Zeynep Begum Girdap, a Sophomore Student at the Denmark High School, presented a specific evaluation on the persecuted women in Turkey. Ms. Girdap talked about the social difficulties that surviving women in Turkey face in terms of finding new jobs and empowering themselves. The last speaker of this session, Bahriye Agu, a Junior Student in Milton High School, mentioned about the problems that Turkish Refugee women face while escaping the witch-hunt in Turkey.

Urgent Action for Fatma Gormez

The Critical Health Situation of Fatma Gormez and Urgent Action for the Release of Bekir Gormez on the Conditions of Pending Trial Without Arrest

Under the state of emergency, imposed after July 2016 attempted coup and lifted on July 2018, President Erdogan presided over the cabinet, which could pass decrees without parliamentary scrutiny or the possibility of appeal to the constitutional court. Public officials continued to be dismissed or suspended by decree without due process, with more than 170,000 dismissed since July 2016. Those dismissed from their jobs lost their income, social benefits, medical insurance and even their homes.

Fatma Gormez, a former teacher who was removed from her job in the aftermath of a failed coup in Turkey on July 2016, now weighs only 29 kilograms due to a series of health problems, Fatma is calling for the release of her husband to enable her to continue living via a video message posted on her Twitter account.

Stockholm Center for Freedom reports that Berk Gormez, a 14 years old disabled son of that couple who were both purged, lost his life in January 2018. Berk`s father, Bekir Gormez was not permitted to visit him for the last 17 months despite of his and his mother`s severe health problems. During the funeral of Berk, Bekir Gormez was not allowed to take off his handcuffs.

Given the arbitrary detentions of thousands of people due to lack of rule of law in Turkey, hundreds of thousands of people, including family members, are being affected and exposed to severe human rights violations. Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, HDP MP, stated on Twitter through his personal account that the case of Fatma Gormez was submitted to Supreme Court requesting her husband`s release by the court pending trial.

We strongly urge the Turkish government to take the case of Fatma Gormez into consideration immediate effectively and release her husband on conditions of trial without arrest.

Walk for Child Victims of Turkey Purge


On the Occasion of the UN Universal Children`s Day


17 November 2018, Saturday

On Saturday, 17 November 2018, Set Them Free volunteers walked for the rights of the child victims of Turkey Purge from UNICEF House to New York Public Library to raise awareness on the arbitrary detention of children and mothers in Turkey.  

The Government of Turkey has jailed 668 infants and babies as political prisoners along with their mothers in unhealthy conditions, denied their rights to nutrition, food and access to basic healthcare. Without any evidence, the purged mothers, whose majority is educators and academicians, and their children are accused of plotting the failed coup-attempt of July 2016 in Turkey. 

The arbitrary imprisonment of pregnant women and mothers with children devastated the lives of thousands of families. As the purged families` right to health care benefits are cut off, many disabled or sick children with severe diseases are left without the required health services. Right to access the health services of thousands of mothers is violated during their pregnancy or postpartum periods, affecting the health of innocent children. Tens of mothers miscarried their babies due to the persecutions and harsh conditions in Turkey. 

Apart from the severe violations of women and children rights in jails, many children died drowning in Evros River as the purged families have no other alternative to live their lives and forced to escape the witch-hunt in Turkey. Tens of thousands of babies and children are left without any parental care, as in many cases, both parents are arbitrarily detained. Indeed, most of the jailed parents are still waiting for their indictments to be prepared. 

Today, we are gathered in different locations through the USA, Canada and Europe to stand for the rights of the children victims of the Turkey purge. We demand the freedom of innocent children jailed in Turkey and the protection of the rights of purged children. The aim of these walks throughout the world is to raise awareness about the plight of thousands of children in Turkey and abroad who face discriminations on several grounds prohibited by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We call on local and international media to continue raising awareness on the jailing of children and  mothers, who have become the victims of unlawfulness in Turkey, and support our campaign on Twitter via @sethemfreetr account. We finally request the collaboration of civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders to address the human rights violations against children and mothers in Turkey.

What I brought in My Luggage!

The state of being an immigrant is a legacy of the United States; it is passed down through the generations and finally reached the Turkish people in current day. People gathered in the hall of Pacifica Institute on a weekend to see what people have brought in their luggage through their escape to the United States.

The state of being an immigrant is a legacy of the United States; it is passed down through the generations and finally reached the Turkish people in current day. People gathered in the hall of Pacifica Institute on a weekend. A “Thank You Brunch” was offered in honor of the conversation partnership program that helps immigrants learn English through volunteer one-on-one tutoring.

In addition to journalists, academicians, and high-ranking officials, nearly 18000 women, and 668 children are in jail in Turkey, and the tragedy touched almost everybody’s life. “Pray for my brother. He has a court date soon” was the sort of sentences being exchanged recently within the Turkish community. As the chaos grows, hearts are more pained and eyes are tearful. What brought tears to the eyes this time was a photo exhibit: “What I brought in my luggage!” The backgrounds were black, reflecting the situation. Pictures, on the other hand, were as colorful and bright as our hopes and dreams. Each photo revealed a souvenir item brought by Turkish immigrants. In one of the pictures, there was a scarf, which once belonged to an immigrant’s mother. The owner described it as her comfort object; it is something she resorts to whenever she is overwhelmed by loneliness or feels homesick. Some of the other objects were a prayer rug, prayer beads and a tiny teaspoon that represented happy memories back in their first homes.

A participant stated that she was moved by what she saw and that she hoped they would start collecting good memories from their new homes here soon.

The Congregation Etz Chaim Synagogue hosted the “Salaam Shalom Music Project” performance.

The Congregation Etz Chaim Synagogue hosted the “Salaam Shalom Music Project” performance in partnership with the Niagara Foundation in the evening of Saturday, October 28th.

Before and after the concert, attendees had the opportunity to tour the “What I Brought in my Luggage” mini-exhibit, featuring items brought to the U.S. by refugees fleeing the governmental witch hunt in Turkey, following the orchestrated coup d’état.

After the attempt on July 15, 2016, thousands of citizens including teachers, academicians, housewives, judges, and prosecutors were unjustly arrested or imprisoned. Many who did not foresee a possibility of survival were forced to leave behind their loved ones made up a different part of this crisis. In an effort to highlight and voice the struggles of the refugees, few items that some of them had to pack into their last-minute luggages were photographed. Among the photos, there are items such as, a woman’s engagement ring to her husband, who she had to leave behind in another country, to the diary of a daughter who had to flee the border with a latex boat. The displayed items emotionally touched the attendees. While some viewers took photos of the displayed items and their stories, others discussed with the display organizers and expressed their sorrow. The night ended with the “Saalam Shalom Music Project” performance. The performers received a standing ovation from the attendees.