“Set Them Free” was hosted at local KWMR Radio Station in San Francisco

“Set Them Free” was hosted at local KWMR Radio Station in SF

On November 9, 2017, SF “Pieces of Peace” radio show host Susan Santiago invited a group of activist women to her show on to explain  “Set Them Free” project that initiated a few months ago. During the 30-minute-show, the motivation behind the project, and the related activities about the promotion of children and women rights were covered. Susan invited the crew again for a follow-up in the near future.

For a full coverage of the show, please visit Set Them Free Youtube channel:

Children and Women Advocates in Canada, Toronto

Children and Women Advocates in Canada, Toronto

Volunteers including mothers and children gathered in front of City Hall, Toronto on the 4th of November, Saturday afternoon to call attention and raise awareness on the 17,000 women and 668 babies, who have been arbitrarily jailed in Turkey following the failed coup attempt of July 2016.

As people walked nearby and asked questions about the event, volunteers set up a self-standing jail cell with different sizes of dolls in the position of crawling or holding bars in it. There was also a speaker system playing out the sound of a baby cry that captured the people’s attention more.

Volunteers were handing out fact sheets about “#SetThemFree”, in the reference to the “#668Babies” (under the age of 6) and “#17000Women” detained and jailed across Turkey as a result of being victims of “witch hunt” of the current rule of AKP government which violates human rights. The universal principle of presumption of innocence is being disregarded when alleged members of the Hizmet Movement, mothers, children and babies suffer in prisons for no legitimate reasons. Parents are being detained arbitrarily for months/years without accusation or indictment.

Another fact sheet was also given to the people was about the conditions of the prisons which even are not adequate, healthy and human for adults as child victims are forced to stay in. Such an unhealthy environment causes long-term personality disorders in children such as Anthropophobia and effective disharmony, among other cognitive developmental issues. Having no personal space while growing up can lead to problems in developing self-confidence as well as interrupting personal development.

The event continued in the late afternoon by handing black balloons along with the brochures and releasing some of the balloons in the air as demanding freedom for the 668 children and 17000 women in Turkey.

Set Them Free Advocates in North America

Set Them Free Advocates in North America

Last weekend on Nov 4th, hundreds of activists in North America flocked to the streets to bring awareness to the dire situation of innocently jailed women and children in Turkey. There are currently about 18,000 women and 668 children jailed without trial in Turkey. In Northern California, the cities of San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto, and  San Jose had volunteers handing out black balloons with the hashtag “#668children” and “#SetThemFree” to bring social media awareness to the general public.

Amongst the activists some wore prison jumpsuits, while others walked around with a pacifier attached to a police cuff to indicate child imprisonment. Today, there is no official response yet from the Turkish government, but thousands are still hopeful that the world will evolve into a better place for those innocent lives in Turkish prisons.

Freedom Call in Chicago

FREEDOM CALL IN CHICAGO

Black balloons ascended for 668 child prisoners who yearn for the sky. Following the demonstrations in Europe that took place on October 28th, black balloon demonstrations were held in 15 different places around the United States and Canada on November 4th for children who were held in prison with their mothers in Turkey.

Following the coup attempt in Turkey on 15 July, 17,000 women were taken into custody for association with the Gulen Movement, with no evidence of crime. Currently, 668 children are being held in prison with those women. The black balloon demonstrations were held to ensure that the jailed children and women’s voices could be heard all over the world.

Chicago was one of the cities that held the demonstration. Turkish American supporters of the cause gathered at the Millenium Park for children who yearn for the sky and walked all the way down to the Chicago Tribune, as they gave out black balloons to Chicagoans. The message was received with concern from Chicagoans who showed tremendous interest in the cause and joined the march down the Michigan Avenue. Once the marchers finally arrived at the Chicago Tribune, a Press Release was read to demand the freedom of innocent people in jail. Finally, the local and federal government was called to action to raise awareness and stop the plight of thousands innocent children subject to discrimination on several grounds prohibited by the United National Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Following the press release, the marchers released their balloons and watched them as they rose to the sky in front of the Chicago Tribune.

The # 668Children hashtag received support messages from around the world on Twitter and Facebook.

668 Babies in Prison Campaign in Atlanta

THE IMPRISONED CHILDREN OF TURKEY’S STATE OF EMERGENCY

The “668 Babies in Prison – Speak Up” campaign demonstrated across the globe continues to raise awareness in the media.

One of these protests took place in Atlanta’s historic Piedmont Park under the coordination and volunteerism of the Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST) organization. Black balloons with the phrase “freedom for 668babies” were handed out to those enjoying the park to increase awareness of the dire situation currently taking place in Turkey. Atlantans were informed of the despair in Turkey via pamphlets embellished with the slogan “speak up;” urging them to help the 668 babies and 17 thousand innocent women currently imprisoned in Turkey’s prisons.

The protest organized by the AST aims to ensure the swift release of children and women wrongfully and unjustly  imprisoned. The AST members who described the number of women and children in prison emphasized that such incarceration is currently in clear defiance of international human rights laws. The volunteers who stressed that the place of children is in their homes, not in prison indicated that they would not cease their protests until global awareness is increased and these women and children are liberated.

Black Balloons in Washington DC

People in different cities including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, London, and Toronto have been coming together to raise awareness on the 668 babies and over 10,000 women who are being held unlawfully in prison in Turkey. To join this effort, the Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST) members of the District organized an event to inform the people of the nation’s capital.

On November 11, AST, Set Them Free members, volunteer participants, and their friends in the DMV area came together to speak up for the victims of Turkey’s ongoing purge. They stood in solidarity at Lafayette Square, in front of the White House. By distributing more than 800 black balloons that said “#688 babies”, and over 1000 flyers, they worked to raise awareness about the injustice going on in Turkey, and its effect on innocent children. Some signs and banners read, “Behind Blankets, Not Bars,” “Tiny Fingers, Giant Bars, “668 Babies will take their first steps in prison,” and “Set Them Free!”. The event organizers’ declaration informed the people about the violations of the “UN Convention on the Rights of Children” in Turkey, and the broader government crackdown on the Hizmet Movement.

Throughout the event, sadness mingled with peace and solidarity in the chilly air. The participants were interviewed and expressed their concern for the victims, were shocked that they had not heard about this before, and shed tears as they heard more about the harsh conditions of the Turkish prisons.

Two graduate students from American University came to offer support. “It’s unconscionable” they said, “there’s no way to agree with this. No matter who you are, what you are, any political ideology, this is not something that is all right.” They highlighted that most people walking in the square would have never known about this. When Molly searched about the situation before coming to the event, she found very little information on Google. Ken agreed, and noted that the flow of information, or rather the blockage of it, is as unconscionable as the injustice itself.

The volunteers informed both the participants and the people passing by that they aim to increase national and global awareness through peaceful events like this until the women and children in prison get the freedom they deserve.

Black Balloons in New York, Bryant Park

Throughout the USA and Canada, Set Them Free have organized demonstrations of black balloons to raise awareness on the arbitrary detention and arrest of 668 jailed children under the age of six and 17,000 women in Turkey.

New York was one of the cities, among the other 15 locations that held the event. Turkish American supporters have been gathered around Bryant Park to give away black balloons to demand the freedom of innocent children jailed in Turkey.  Participants gave out fliers to New Yorkers which had information about the violation of children and women rights in Turkey. The event was focused on the plight of thousands of children in Turkey and abroad who are subject to discrimination on several grounds prohibited by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Hundreds of advocates joined the crowd to be the voice of innocent babies and demand freedom for mothers in jails. Mothers and women were particularly interested in the event and expressed their concern and regret for the babies and mothers. Set Them Free called on participants` attention to continue raising awareness on the jailing of children and mothers, who have become the victims of unlawfulness in Turkey, and support our social media campaign on Twitter via @sethemfreetr account. The event ended as the advocates have distributed more than 900 balloons.

BLESSED to LIVE , HURT to LEAVE MY LIFE BEHIND

God! Why now? I asked my Lord. I needed to be able to walk more than ever. The pain in my feet amplified the sorrow in my heart . I was so helpless… My loved ones, my husband, parents, and dear friends were not around me.

I have been successful and in the spotlight, all my life. I graduated from a well-respected university with a dental degree. While I pursued my career as an academician, my passion had been to serve people in need in Africa. I was always one to help and serve others, but I had never been in a position where I was so incapable and desperately seeking help from others.

If someone had told me that, there would be a day when I would need to leave my country silently, I  would have never believed it. I would say my country was a part of me.

With my foot hurting, I was not able to walk in the darkness.  “Come on” said my companion ,“we need to get out of here as soon as possible,” she whispered. All the tears that had been accumulating in my eyes since the beginning of this journey started flowing with feelings of weakness. “You should keep going; you should survive,” I told her. “Worst case, soldiers will find me, and then.. we will see what God will bring.. maybe one day we’ll meet in the Hereafter…”.

I was traveling with a family who had two little kids. The 6-month old baby was held tight by the mom, and the 6-year old girl was in daddy’s lap; such cruelty these innocent little ones were facing. We had to tell the 6-year old Leyla that she should not be crying because we had to keep silent.  Who knows how badly these memories of this hard trip that was even testing the adults’ limits would scar these young and unspoiled minds?

“Lean on me sister” said a gentleman. The road that would normally take 10 minutes was taking an hour, but still they did not leave me alone. The One with Infinite Wisdom had gifted me with these companions and eased this trip that was full of hardships with their company. I still pray for them to be among the Lord’s loved ones.

We started seeing some villagers and considered asking for help. Actually, this could have posed another danger for us. They could report and turn us in; but we did not have any other option. They were seeing my inability to walk, perhaps they would show some mercy. It did not go as expected, they were not willing to help, and we left hoping that they would not report us. We all felt desperate. Then a car stopped nearby. We could not understand what this young man was saying, but the language of humanity is the same anywhere in the world.  Indeed, he was one of the villagers, he did not know Turkish or English and did not understand that my foot was hurt. After we left, when villagers translated our request for help due to my injured foot, he wanted to offer help. I then grasped and got the response to my own question: Why now? His Wisdom was not to be questioned, but I did.

       

The young man took us to a secure place where we were able to stay and rest for two days. After my foot started to heal, we moved to Thessaloniki, where we could abandon our fears of being returned to Turkey. After meeting my husband in Thessaloniki, I said farewell to my dear companions, hoping to see them again sometime, somewhere..

Going back and thinking of these bitter memories, I am thankful to my Lord that I survived and I am alive now. Before my trip during my last year in Turkey, I had not been faced with cruelty or harm, and I was used to asking the question: “My Lord! Hardship has come upon many beautiful, innocent people. Why am I at ease, why am I not able to share this hardship with them? Am I not one of them, among the ones that are dear to you?”

“Thank you my Lord for accepting my prayer, and allowing me to immigrate with Your permission under such conditions”. **

       

** In Islam, it is believed that God tests those that he loves with difficult circumstances

           

I BECAME a TERRORIST JUST in ONE NIGHT

Contrary to the disclaimer, “The events depicted in this movie are fictitious and any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental,” what will be told here is completely real. For security purposes, however, the actual names of the characters will not be revealed.

I was a teacher like any one of the thousands who are serving their time with the rest of the inmates in jails nowadays. I used to be a teacher who dedicated 20 years of her life to her students.

I was the president of a charity organization, used to spend all my family time with projects like opening water wells in Africa. I used to be one of the charity volunteers who had been inspired by the Gulen movement and had believed that there could be a more peaceful world.


One night, I was declared guilty -a terrorist- in just one night. A fugitive in one night, and now a refugee.

I couldn’t believe it when my colleagues started mobbing me and blaming me for the coup attempt in July 15 because of the fake news from government media and provocative speech of politicians. I was found guilty just because I prayed that nobody would get harmed in the heat of the incidents and warned my friends not to go outside that night. I was shunned the teachers’ lounge. I was among the teachers who were forbidden to talk to their students. I became a kind of ‘teacher’ who started getting threatening text messages from the colleagues with whom I’d once shared food. I was an educator once, who used to spend most of her personal time trying to serve the youth and the future of her country. And all of a sudden, we, educators, were declared terrorists, were expelled from our jobs and got arrest warrants.

I was still shocked after I lost my job and was thinking that the government would come to realize they had made a mistake and that everything would go back to normal. I was expecting even just a call of support from my closest friends and my students whom I had tutored even in my off days, but all was in vain… I hope no one will ever experience any of this but suppose that it happened to you too, what would you do, who would you go to first? It would be your family, wouldn’t it? Under the effect of the Emergency State declared after July 15, which has been still in effect since then, imagine such a situation of common insanity and lawlessness that your own father would kick you out of their home, your mother would turn you down in case you could get them into trouble too. Or your siblings reporting and turning you in thanks to the money awards offered to snitchers without even the need of any evidence… Living in that nightmare had been impossible for me, every police siren was a threat to me, every single glance at me was full of accusation for the coup that resulted in the death of hundreds of people. I was not an inmate, but every morning I woke up it felt like I was living in a prison as big as the entire country.


Everybody was in fear and feeling panicked. So was the government; a 12-year-old boy was arrested over sharing a caricature on Twitter, as were the youngsters who wore ‘HERO’ t-shirts and some grandmothers who did not even own a smartphone but were accused of downloading a ‘suspicious’ app. I couldn’t breathe anymore. I understood that there was no future for me in the country where I was born and had proudly defended and served. Our elders always say that the Turkish nation is noble and loyal. Unfortunately I lost my faith in this nation and my pride for being a Turk after they cowardly turned blind and deaf to all the things we went through.

We decided to leave everything behind and try starting over in another country but they had banned the expelled teachers from going abroad. If we had stayed, I was going to be arrested and probably would have been exposed to torture or sexual abuse while in custody. Just yesterday, we were only teachers who were rushing to their classes but today we were branded as criminals who were trying to make it to Greece by illegal means. And it all happened in just one night, all the opponents became enemies, all the families were at each others’ throats and Turkey turned into an asylum in just one night! I was not guilty. I did not do anything wrong. I was not supposed to be in fear, but I was afraid. Because if I had gotten caught, I would have been dragged into an uncertainty where there is no law and justice, where all the filth and corruption is hidden under the decrees of an Emergency State.

My husband and I set out on our journey with prayers. Just as we were crossing the Aegean Sea, here hundreds of Syrian people lost their lives; the Greek police caught us on the border and sent us back. But we were determined not to go back, so after hours of walking we were able to reach the shores of Meric River. We inflated the boat we brought with us and set out again. I was puzzled with all the emotions, what had I done? Why was I running away from my country like a criminal? Where was I going? Who would cry over my death if the boat sank in the waves? Would my friends or students remember me as a criminal after my death? Right at that moment, our guide lost the way, we couldn’t find our way to the train station and we saw police lights ahead: “Surrender!”. We had been thrown into police custody, had difficulty in breathing and felt both mentally and physically drained. But, luckily, Greek police had been familiar with the situation in Turkey and so they let us go to Belgium when they learnt that I was a teacher. After staying there for some time, we finally came to the United States.

Yes, this chasing game is over for now but we can never say that we are truly relieved until our brothers and sisters are released, get their freedom back and the law in Turkey is restored again. All the things we went through helped me realize how much oppression there is all over the world and to have more empathy for each person.

All I wish is, not just for Turkey, but also for a better world is that we should be one and stand together against all the injustice and make ourselves heard without playing 3 monkeys.


A Longing Larger than Luggages Touched People`s Hearts

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.