Hatice Cengiz's speech at the Helmut Schmidt Lecture

Human rights activist Hatice Cengiz opened Helmut Schmidt Lecture in Berlin

Honourable members of the parliament…
Distinguished guests…
Dear Friends and colleagues…

There is a say, “who does not thank people, does not thank God”; therefore I would like to thank the board and management team at Helmut Schmidt Foundation for their kind invitation to be part of this incredibly special event. 

I want to thank Dr. Julia and her amazing team for their excellent cooperation and support during the program preparations. 

Dear All

I would like to welcome everyone here tonight…

Everyone here, might have watched what was happening on TV or read it on the news, allow me to go back briefly to what has happened. Me and Jamal went to the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, to obtain the necessary documents for our marriage… we were informed that they would be ready in a few days, therefore, we had to go back again on 2nd October 2018.

We went on that day, with hopes that, everything is going to go smooth, on the way our conversations were about our plans during and after the marriage. we felt happy. In fact, Jamal was more excited and interested in the trivial details, he told me for kitchenware, do not buy them alone, all these beautiful and different details made me feel that marriage is going to involve lots of fun. He talked a lot about some of his memories and experiences, it was such an immense pleasure to listen to his chat elaborating on his experiences, in life, as a person other than his identity as a writer and thinker. 

We arrived there, Jamal entered the consulate, and the waiting for me began. Meanwhile, I was thinking about the various places we needed to go to conduct our civil marriage, thinking about the actions we needed to make when he come out with the necessary documents, making our way to the municipality immediately, book a date for our wedding, it never occurred to me that it would never happen. The waiting time was building up and adding, Jamal did not come out, the clock was ticking, and Jamal did not show up, I was getting worried. 

My first action was to call the consulate, my subconscious mind was telling me that everything is OK. While on the phone, I thought that the delay might have been due to something unexpected, the shock was when the person answering the phone informed me there was no one inside and the consulate is now closed. I said it is impossible, I am here still waiting for my fiancé and that I pretty sure he has not come out of the consulate door, Jamal told me to wait for him here.

This conversation awoke me and made me realise that something was seriously wrong. Immediately I thought of contacting the highest government official I could reach, I also made several calls on the one hand, and on the other hand, I was still waiting for Jamal to come out at any moment, but my thoughts were telling me that he might have been kept in custody inside. 

I waited there until late that night, I managed to contact the necessary authorities, then journalists started flocking to the scene. That night was a very bewildering and frightening one, for the following few days I kept going there; the front of the consulate turned into a media hub. A few days later, when news was emerging about the squad arriving from Saudi Arabia prior to our visit to the consulate my concerns increased, everyone started talking about Jamal’s assassination. 

I did not really believe this news or did not want to believe it. It was not an official statement yet; it was just media reports. Deep inside believed that Jamal would come out, because he told me to wait, he should come out, I kept praying night after night for him to come back alive, I remember that I could not believe what had happened, it was a reality, but I could not accept it.

October 19th is the day when everything changed forever, and the story of my struggle for truth and injustice began, it is the story that caused me to speak here today. On the night of October 18th, Saudi Arabia made an official statement and confirmed that Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside their consulate in Istanbul. 

I will never forget the grief and sadness I felt when I first heard the news. It was such a severe pain that no human should experience, I tried to comprehend for a few minutes what has happened, was it the truth I was reading? I became alienated from all people, including the things around me, I thought that life was nothing and that I was nothing, I felt lost. 

On that day and for the following week I tried to keep myself up, tried to think, but did not know what to think about; despite everything I knew I must do something; but where to start? What to do? Well, there are challenging times when a person needs to make tough decisions like never before, like the loss of a loved one. There may be times when a person wants to feel safe, but he is not aware that he has entered an unsafe path. 

What was I supposed to do at that moment instead of thinking about the magnitude of this matter? What exactly am I supposed to do right now? How was I going to deal with this new reality? It was scary, it was terrifying. Believe me.

My mobile phone screen was constantly on, calls and messages never stopping, it even were on the increase, I looked at myself and said: you need to tell your story, you need to speak up, I do not know how, I do not know what to say, but I must try, I don’t want to sit here alone and cry. 

I thought I could not stay standstill in the face of something this big. I was moved by the feeling of being human. Talking, telling, and mobilizing people, do something, all I have was myself and my own voice and still being alive.

I did not have the strength to live, my grief was so big, my heart was boiling but I could not tell anyone, I chose to act no matter what the consequences are. My emotions were pulling me down, but my thoughts were pushing me forward. I remember telling myself this and repeating it over and over: Do what you must do, do not think about anything more, if you do not know the way, you know you are seeking the truth, the truth will prevail on the way towards it, such an issue is too important and too serious to consider letting myself go behind my weak emotions. 

I was invited for my first TV interview and was going to speak there to the entire world for the first time, I remember experiencing great pain while describing my experiences on the air. I could not hide or control my emotions, I cried several times, it was a new experience for me, it was difficult, but it was necessary, it taught me how important it is to speak up, I saw that in the reactions of the people there. 

It is not easy for a person to understand or overcome such a loss easily, but sharing my story was especially important. This journey that I started as a person who has faced great suffering has led me to a long and difficult but worthwhile goal, I learned that rights are not lost as long as someone demands. Over the years I was able to discover that few people in this world were destined to speak up, to tell other people about the experiences they faced. 

Four years have passed, throughout I experienced the real politics, I was personally acquainted with the concepts of the world system and the calculations behind closed doors, the economic interests of countries and the balance of power. 

The places I went to, led me to meet many people who struggle against injustice, I found myself listening to each story more carefully, then I realized that the suffering is more than what we think, and people are weaker than what we see. 

A lot of people came into my life telling me their stories, by then I realized that being a human rights defender did happen because of victimization, this is an area in which there is a lot of pain, and the results might be seen after a very long time, sometimes it might not be seen, that is why Mandela’s words are now more meaningful to me, “it is a long walk to freedom”. 

With time passing, it was difficult to tell the same things repeatedly, for me it is an emotional and human story, the media on the other hand, call it news. So, I am just a news object for journalists and media. And with time is passing, I thought justice would not be served, deep feelings inside me were telling me that I need to keep the struggle going on and I need to keep speaking up. 

With the speeches I made, the programmes I attended, me being the subject of the news and testimonies, the issue is now not only legal, but it is a human being struggle for justice. Jamal assassination is not my story anymore, it is now OUR story, it was not easy for me to understand this at the beginning, but it would be a great injustice for Jamal to have the opposite of this, as he has become the hero of free word, the price was not easy, he paid for this with his life, therefore his fight for justice is continuing, the struggle for Jamal is: turning his wishes for a better world for all humanity. 

Jamal Khashoggi became a symbolic name that everyone by now knows, everyone also knows that the murderers have been condemned countlessly. This was part of the justice for me in a world where the order of justice is so distorted, certainly justice is not to forget Jamal and to do something in honour of his beliefs. 

Lately, I started experiencing the feelings that Jamal experienced before and he was trying to interpret it to me when he was alive, he used to talk and write about the fighting in the face of injustice and wrongful accusations, his struggle has become my struggle, I need to speak up and for the purpose of fighting for human rights despite the difficulties, it is like walking down a thorny path, as meaningful, as it is difficult. 

If I summarize my speech,

I have had a difficult experience, I have tried and am trying to turn this experience into useful action, I am at the start of a long road.

Speaking up is a quest for justice, not being silent and continuing to harass criminals, it is one of the most important things to remind us of our human rights and values against those who want to take our humanity from us.

This new reality that I was born into is a human struggle, talking, spending a lifetime in seeking justice, raising awareness to protect our human rights, and maintaining this has become the most important issue for me, I am trying to turn my human values and life experiences into a useful and meaningful tool to both hope and help people who are victims like me.

Why is it important to seek the truth? It matters… because one can only live for virtue and honourable truth.

Finally, few messages I would like to share with you

First to world leaders and politicians, the biggest crisis that we are going through, is that people have forgotten their humanity, and this is the period when the value given to humanity is at low level. In a way, we think that we are incredibly lucky, feeling we have everything, and our life has become much easier than before, but we are living in one of the darkest ages regarding humanity and the most basic needs of humanity are dignity, justice, and freedom.

A hundred years from now, those who read about this issue will not be able to find serious actions especially from the free world. Politics… has turned into a relations mechanism purely reduced to economic interests, they will find out that the necessary actions from the leaders never came. 

Today the entire world learn about democracy and humanitarianism from the West. When Europe is mentioned, development, human dignity, values, and freedom comes to mind. But in some parts in the East, people still do not have freedom of speech as one of their simplest rights, that is why Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated, because he criticized his country's administration and did not agree to further restrictions on freedom. Jamal will continue to live for ages in our hearts as an honourable and virtuous person, who paid a heavy price with his life for speaking up. 

My second message is to all people, including myself, today, as human beings, we have reached the ultimate level of greed and injustice. However, in these times when borders are more uncertain than before, we all need each other, this can only happen with respect, love and understanding. Fair regulations and institutions can do this, as humans, we are the ones who need to be aware of this. Today, a world that has moved away from human values is experiencing a crisis, this is no less important than the energy crisis or a potential nuclear war crisis. 

As a result, we can also understand this by looking at the climate change crisis and looking at what nature is trying to tell us, this is because as human beings, we have managed to harm everything, the fact that we are living a life devoid of human values will end humanity.

Life is short, therefore, there is no reason a person would not choose an honourable and virtuous place for himself in this world. Life has values when lived for a real purpose, the first of those values is to love each other, valuing people for being human, to establish justice, to fight for an honourable life and to support those who struggle and to keep speaking up no matter what the consequences are.

My third message is to Jamal,

Dear Jamal, I think you have fought to remain human, you forced yourself to remain virtuous until the last moment, you stood up to injustice, you spoke up at a very difficult time, you spoke up against the strongest oppression. Your courage and belief in virtuousness introduced you to countless people here today, you will continue to be an inspiration to many people in your own country.

As the person who met you in the last period of your life, I realized that these three things about life are indispensable: The first is security, to live a life of virtue and dignity, one must be in a place of safety… feeling secure… Jamal chose forced exile to feel safe. 

The second is love, the biggest thing a person needs in difficult journeys is love, there was a great and deep love between us.

Thirdly and finally, when I look at what kept you going on through so many difficulties, is your faith in doing good things about life for the future, you were a person whose perseverance and goal never faded, now we all repeat in what you did believe. 

Rest in peace and thank you.

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