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Aygen Aytaç - Turkish

Where did you travel for your programmes?
Nine towns in Turkey: Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Bergama, Aydin, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Trabzon and Mersin.

How long were you away for in total?
Four weeks

Are you going back for this project?
I'm going to Strasbourg, Brussels and Vienna for the last part of the series.

Were you moved or upset at any point on your recent trip?

What caused you to feel like this?
I was moved when I worked with children and I was upset when I interviewed some women who had been beaten by their husbands.

I could see that the children - either street-children or those more privileged - were unspoilt. It was quite evident that human beings, when young, have an understanding of equality and caring for others in their hearts. We played a game about what kind of society we would build if we were marooned on a desert island, and even the ones who live on the streets instinctively came up with a perfect declaration of human rights.

The women's stories upset me because they were such vivid descriptions of violence which they thought would never end.

Was there anything that gave you hope?

What was it?
The fact that I could discuss even the most controversial topics with arguably the most rigid people was something positive.

Describe one of the people you interviewed and what they said.
In one such place I wanted to interview women about things like domestic violence and women's rights. But it was impossible to ask the questions I had in mind. Whatever I asked, they insisted on talking about the lack of water. This was a heavy burden for the women, because it was they who had to carry the water buckets over long distances. As well as being expected to clean the house, to cook and so on.

A woman I interviewed said: "if we only had water, I would not mind being beaten everyday." Another told me that although there was a very good water resource near the village, the local landowner (called the Aga) would not let them lay a pipe from that resource.

"Since our village did not vote for the Aga's political party in the last general election, we are being punished," she said.

Has your trip made you think any differently about human rights?

I realised that it is one thing to have ideal concepts about human rights and it is another when local circumstances dictate different realities. People in remote villages, for example, would be happy with small improvements. They are so poor and so much in need of basic things like water that they don't try to change things.

Anything else you want to tell us?
In the rural areas of south-east Turkey, the rules are not those of the Turkish republic. The Agas have their own small armies. They are extremely rich. They even run their own judicial systems.

I listened to many stories like this. Nowadays, it seems there are approximately 30 Agas in east and south east of Turkey and they own almost all of the land and, de facto, the people on them. Not officially, of course, but in reality they act like feudal lords.

According to local traditions, nobody can do anything without asking the Aga first. For example, it's not easy to send your child to school if the Aga doesn't approve of it and the Aga may not approve because he needs labour to work on his lands.

I realised that the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could not have envisaged such a problem even 50 years ago. There are some official policies to break this feudal structure by trying to make investments in the area. But on the other hand, all the politicians go directly to the Agas to get the votes from a particular region. They know that whatever the Aga says, villagers will generally vote for it. It is handy for the politicians of course.

If you find this picture hard to believe in the 21st century, let me convince you by giving you this quote. In November 2000, an Aga, Edip Safter Gaydali, who is also a state minister announced that he was "setting his villagers free."


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