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Aylin Kuryel

Aylin Kuryel
“In 2016, hundreds of academics signed a petition in Turkey, asking the state to put an end to violence inflicted upon Kurdish people. Academics for Peace have been criminalized and put on trial with the charge of terrorist propaganda. A Defense portrays one of the Academics for Peace while preparing for her upcoming appearance in court in 2019. A psychodrama is put on stage in a house, where the person is both the state, the judge, the academic and the cook. It’s a self-portrait on the violence and absurdity of the ways in which the state sneaks into the house of an academic, forcing her to adjust her words, body and gestures.”
Aylin Kuryel

You stage the preparation of your defense for an upcoming court appearance, which entails playing all the parties involved in the trial. How did you come up with the idea for this device?

A group of academics formed Academics for Peace in 2012 in Turkey to contribute to the ongoing peace process between the government and the Kurdish part, and organized numerous activities since then. In 2016, the petition prepared by the Academics for Peace, “We will not be a party to this crime!”, was signed by 1128 academics from different cities and universities to react to the human rights violations and civilian deaths that occurred following the break-up of the peace process. This was again a very dark period in Turkey and there was not much space to react to all these in the western part of the country. Signing the petition was just one way of raising voice for peace. Maybe a way of gathering, when the streets were increasingly restricted. Soon after, the signatories were criminalized and put on trial with the charge of terrorist propaganda. The price to be paid was heavy for many people. Hundreds of academics have been dismissed from their universities and prevented from finding jobs. Some were imprisoned; hundreds have been robbed from the right to work; all faced individualized court. A Defense portrays a very thin and personal slice of this long and complicated process: me preparing my defense for my court appearance in 2019, as one of the signatory academics from Turkey working outside the country. We were recording the process of preparing the defense without thinking it might take the form of a film later. I discovered much later while editing how one is forced to come up with methods to be able to defend herself against the law: trying to imply things without really naming them, strategically identifying with the opponent and staging the future.

You create a rehearsal space that is reminiscent of an actress’ space. Can you comment?

The moments of preparing for the court appearance reminded me of the ‘mock defenses’ we organize with colleagues before defending theses at the university, where we impersonate the jury and ourselves as defendants. But here, what you have in front of you is not an academic committee who ask you questions about your research, but the state who wants to intimidate you and demands to hear your regret. Creating a rehearsal space and positioning yourself as the actress with multiple roles there has an empowering aspect. It doesn’t only help you to get prepared but also mock the situation. Then, there is also the question of staging of this rehearsal in the form of a film, which brings other questions: How to connect a micro-story to a collective, yet highly fragmented, process? How to navigate between personal and collective voices?

You put in parallel the stages of the preparation of a dish in the intimacy of your apartment and that of your public defense. Why did you choose to stage this?

There are many different experiences that came out of this long process of the violation of the rights of the academics, who were in fact reacting to the violation of the rights of the Kurdish citizens. What I could tell was the absurdity of the ways in which the state sneaks into the house of an academic, forcing her to adjust her words, body and gestures. I happened to make a mosaic cake while trying to impersonate the judge and get ready for possible questions in the court. Biscuits cracks into pieces, as I try to collect the pieces of my mind together. It is both mundane and symbolic. It maybe reminds that these are moments in which the supposed boundaries between home and public, intimacy and bureaucracy, personal and collective are blurred even more.

Why did you choose to use vernacular and amateur images related to filmed diaries?

It is utterly absurd to be charged with terrorist propaganda for signing a petition to demand an end to violence and to raise voice for peace, although it is not surprising given the political climate. The anger that comes with it perhaps creates an urge to take notes of the process, as a form of intervention, to reveal its absurdity. As a result, the film is indeed more like a scribbled visual diary, rather than a prepared staging, where the camera cannot focus perfectly all the time, the webcam of the laptop produces grains as it moves on your lap, and one feels the urge to take notes without an outcome in mind. Trying to prepare yourself to meet ‘the law’ is full of tension, sloppiness and uncertainties. The visual, affective and political hesitations, and the kind of self-censorship that sometimes you are not even aware of forcing onto yourself, are at the core of these moments. I edited the film with the effort of preserving this core as much as possible.

Can you tell us about the situation of intellectuals and academics today in Turkey and more specifically about the outcome of the judgments related to this petition for peace that you and your colleagues signed ?

After years of trials, in July 2019, the Constitutional Court of Turkey ruled that the signatories’ rights of expression were violated. Although most academics have been acquitted of charges as of now, they have not yet been reinstated to their jobs. As many other violations of rights incidents in Turkey, it will be a long struggle to call to account for years where academics have been threatened, subjected to judicial and administrative investigations, dismissed from their jobs, having their passports confiscated, or being forced to leave the country. But recently, the European Court of Human Rights demanded ‘a defense’ from Turkey for some of the dismissed academics’ files. This might be the start of a more substantial decision in the future. In the meantime, last few years have also witnessed different solidarity networks academics formed, as well as new struggles against the neoliberal and oppressive policies in the universities, the last one being the strong resistance the Bogazici University students and staff continue against the appointment of the rector by the government. That is to say, the struggle goes on.

Interview by Claire Lasolle

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Technical sheet

Turkey, Netherlands / 2021 / 16’

Original Version : Turkish.
Subtitles : English.
Script : Aylin Kuryel.
Photography : Fırat Yücel.
Editing : Aylin Kuryel.
Sound : Aylin Kuryel.
Production : Aylin Kuryel (Aylin Kuryel).
Filmography : The Balcony and Our Dreams, 2020. CemileSezgin, 2020. Heads and Tails,
2019. Welcome Lenin, 2016. Dreams of Military Service, 2016. Aysegul
in Rebellion, 2010. Taboo, 2008.