The prize-winning Kurdish poet Ilhan Sami Çomak has been in prison in Turkey for 28 years, since he was 22 years old. During his confinement, Çomak has written eight award-winning collections of poetry. His first collection in English, Separated from the Sun, edited and with an Introduction by Welsh poet and translator Caroline Stockford, was published in September by Smokestack Books. During his confinement, Çomak has become a highly-respected poet, with a growing international reputation.
Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann is honoured Ilhan Sami Çomak has accepted to be our first Honorary Member. Please find below Ilhan Sami Çomak’s powerful letter to Irish PEN members.
I think the reason why people make so many mistakes in life is that they have no access to the possibilities of words, to the opportunity to speak and write. In fact, speaking is a youthful behaviour, while silence is ancient. But it is this youthfulness, above all else, that has the capacity to change the world or us as people.
However you look at it, words and writing are the resistance point as we reach into the infinitely distant expanse that we call the future. When those of us who reject the tyranny of the present seek to invoke the new and beautiful, words are the most viable and humane invention we have at our disposable. I’m sure you already know this story, but I feel the need to share it with you again as it has had a great effect on me: According to belief, Saint Patrick prayed with such fervour and sincerity in the yard of the church on Church Island that the imprint of his knees was left in the ground stones. I think this is a very accurate representation of the proven power of words – be it prayers, poetry or novels – to bring about change and the place this has in our lives. That’s why I sincerely believe that words and writing are a critical factor in our tenacious grip on life.
As far as I can see, this is the reason why every poet and writer writes – more than anything, it is to change their life and themselves in line with their beliefs.
I write poetry for the sake of life and to stay alive, for my deep connection with life, because I miss life, because it brings life to my cell, because I love life and people with a passion and because I believe in life and myself. The continuity of this belief is all I have.
Discovering and understanding life through poetry, together with the persistence of my efforts, eventually altered me and my expectations from life. In fact, life has changed with me. Over these 28 years of unrelenting confinement, I missed life so much, I spoke of so many longings that in the end the longings took on a life of their own; with poetry, above all with poetry, I woke up to life.
Poetry took me by the hand; as I negotiated the unending contradiction of living between the heavy, poisonous pain of my experiences and the beauty and lightness of the things I wanted to experience, it gave me the acute insight I needed to keep my balance. It protected me from reality by supporting my dreams in the circumstances of this place, where time and space are defiled by constant repetition and high walls. The fact that I am still alive and well, despite all these years of unjust confinement, is undoubtedly due to my unrelenting efforts to reach the life envisioned by poetry, and through the act of writing about them, to reach all the things I miss. I may not have the fervent power of St Patrick, but I do have avid, tireless desires that know where and what they should gravitate towards. I want to live; that is why I cling to words and writing, the greatest invention of humankind.
Dear friends, despite this immense ordeal, my voice and my words crossed the seas to reach you. You called out to me with your friendship, taking my hand and my poetry. I see that as proof of poetry’s mighty heart, which can overcome any adversity. And I also see this call as a beacon, signalling that somewhere in every time and space there are warm-hearted people who know what is good, who create goodness and recognise the capacity of words and imagination to change the world.
It is an honour to be accepted as a member of Irish PEN. The step you have taken has given me great strength. Now I am closer to the outside, nearer to clean, fresh air. It’s beautiful to feel the warmth of your hand of friendship! I thank you with all my heart.
“Words and Bullets” isan online media project launched by the Ukrainian cultural and publishing media Chytomo and PEN Ukraine with support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). This is a series of interviews with writers and journalists who became soldiers or volunteers following the Russian invasion.
The authors and journalists featured in this project all see their lives as divided into a “before and after”. The explosions that rocked Ukrainian cities on Feb. 24 forever changed their personal trajectories. Some left their homes and rushed to save children or elderly parents, others joined the volunteer movement that helps supply the Ukrainian army, and many joined the Ukrainian territorial defense forces or the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
The project started in June 2022, more than ten interviews with authors and journalists who became soldiers or volunteers due to the war will be published in Chytomo.
Award-winning Peruvian investigative journalist Paola Ugaz co-authored – with Pedro Salinas – a book entitled Mitad Monjes, Mitad Soldados (Half-Monks, Half Soldiers),in 2015. The book uncovers an alleged pattern of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse within the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a Peruvian Catholic organisation. Paola Ugaz has since faced numerous lawsuits arising from her reporting.
On the 13th November, the Sunday before the internationally recognised Day of the Imprisoned Writer, Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann will host the screening of a powerful documentary by Iranian human rights advocate Narges Mohammadi.
Entitled WHITE TORTURE, this documentary explores the devastating effects of solitary confinement on prisoners in Iran. Professor Roja Fazaeli, Associate Professor in Islamic Civilisations, Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, Trinity College Dublin, will introduce the film.
Dr Roja Fazaeli Dr. Roja Fazaeli is Associate Professor in Islamic Civilisations and a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin. She has published widely on the subjects of Islamic feminisms, women religious authorities, women’s rights in Iran, and the relationship between human rights and religion.
‘Be careful when you use the words ‘change’ ‘dream’ and ‘democracy’. Those things don’t come so easily to us.” (Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, The New York Times, 2 June 2009).
English PEN featured writer, Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, has been named as the winner of the 2022 PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage.
Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace is an award-winning academic, activist, and blogger from Bahrain. He has spent the last decade in prison, where he is serving a life-sentence for his role in the 2011 pro-democracy protests. In July 2021, Dr Al-Singace started a hunger strike to protest his ill-treatment in prison.
Join English PEN campaign and send a message of congratulations to Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, winner of 2022 PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage:
“In a world where human rights continue to be under attack, Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival sets out to celebrate the people who have stood up for them around the world and throughout history, and highlight the role artists can play in promoting a more just society.”
– Kevin Courtney, Irish Times
The Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival is an annual, international festival organised by Smashing Times International Centre for the Arts and Equality and Front Line Defenders, a Dublin based international organisation working to improve the security and protection of human rights defenders at risk, in partnership with Amnesty International, Fighting Words, Irish Council for Civil Liberties, National Women’s Council of Ireland, Trócaire, Poetry Ireland, and Irish PEN. This year’s festival runs from the 14 – 23 October, with the theme ‘In Solidarity: A Celebration of Human Rights’.
The festival aims to promote human rights and justice for all, and the vision of a world where all people are treated equally, with dignity and respect – linking the arts to civil society, active citizenship and politics. The extraordinary work of human rights defenders in Ireland and around the world, past and present, and the role of the arts in promoting human rights will be showcased and highlighted at the festival, aiming to celebrate and unite community connections, artists, human rights organisations and human rights defenders.
The festival will showcase world-class and diverse acts, artists and speakers, including up and coming performers. It brings arts and human rights together through interdisciplinary events which include workshops, theatre performances, musical performances, visual arts, exhibitions, film screenings, panel discussions, poetry and literature events, historical memory performances, live art, digital installations, and more.
The festival is funded by the Arts Council of Ireland. The artistic curator for the festival is Mary Moynihan, Artistic Director of Smashing Times; and the human rights curator is Laura O’Leary, International Events and Promotions Coordinator at Front Line Defenders. The festival will be a hybrid programme delivered over 10 days and hosts an exciting blend of over 80 events happening in-person (following current government guidelines) and online, featuring Irish and international artists and guest speakers. There will be something for everyone interested in the arts for equality, human rights and diversity, reaching audiences locally, nationally, and internationally.
Join us to illuminate stories of courage and inspiration and shine a light on stories of ordinary people who stand up for human rights and impact on the lives of others. We will bear witness to, and remember the past, explore the present and celebrate the future linked to equality and rights for all.
There are two flagship events to highlight in the festival programme:
State of the Art: Transformative Memories in Political Violence exhibition, a four week live, on-site multi-media installation and exhibition displaying a selection of artworks that reflect on themes of arts, human rights and transformative memory in political violence with artists exhibiting their work interrogating political violence in communities across the globe, funded by the Arts Council.
Theexhibition features artworks in a multitude of forms including film, poster art, performance, installation, visual art, painting and music and can be viewed on site and online. The artworks are by a diverse group of artists from across the world and include; Erike Diettes, visual artist, Colombia; Alit Ambara, poster artist, Indonesia; Peter Morin, performance artist, Canada; Jeff Korondo, musician, Uganda; Juliane Okot Bitek, poet, Uganda. The exhibition is hosted at Chocolate Factory Arts Centre and runs from the 26 September to 23 October including the duration of the Dublin Arts and Human Rights festival which runs from the 14 to the 23 October 2022. In addition to the onsite exhibition, the work is available online via the Smashing Times Dublin Arts and Human Rights festival gallery.
[Front Line Defenders Event] – David and Goliath: Front line communities challenging corporate abuse
Land grabs, violent evictions, widespread deforestation and destruction of biodiversity, poor working conditions and more, are just some of the negative impacts of corporate abuse- companies operating with impunity for their human rights violations – companies that grow and process products that we use everyday in Ireland.
Communities around the world are on the front lines of challenging these companies, but sadly, human rights defenders that dare to speak out on these harmful practices risk dangerous retaliation, harassment, threats, attacks and criminalisation, and even murder.
At this event, two international guests – women human rights defenders Grecia Eugenia Rodríguez Navarro from Mexico, and Bidya Shrestha Maharjan from Nepal -will share the realities of what it is like challenging corporate abuse on the ground. Both are working hard to expose, and prevent, corporate-related human rights abuse in their communities, and have faced backlash for their defence of human rights. The event will also include an exclusive screening of the new Trócaire Documentary ‘Make It Your Business’ – a new short documentary which goes on a journey to explore corporate accountability, meeting experts and human rights activists on the front lines of corporate exploitation and abuse, and how we might improve on this in future.
Second Front Line Defenders event:
Housing as a Human Right: Stories from the Frontline October 23 @ 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm IST Venue: Toast
Housing precariousness has reached an unprecedented scale and worldwide housing is rarely treated as a human right. On the contrary, those people organising and acting to defend and promote this right are often targeted with criminal lawsuits, defamation campaigns and physical attacks.
At this discussion, we will talk with activists in the forefront of housing movements around the world, hear about the obstacles they are facing and the strategies they are using to advance housing rights in their countries.
This round table discussion involves talks with human rights defenders from Cote D’Ivoire, South Africa and Brazil. Full bios and details in link above.
The Dublin Arts and Human Rights festival 2022 is presented by Smashing Times International Centre for the Arts and Equality and Front Line Defenders in partnership with Amnesty International Ireland, Fighting Words, Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), Poetry Ireland, Trocaire, and Irish PEN.
Smashing Times is an international organisation for the Arts and Human Rights. Our mission is to lead the development of the arts to promote and advance equality and human rights and to connect citizens to the arts, human rights, climate justice and gender equality, working with artists and communities to create collaborative art practice in local, national, European and international settings. The centre operates as a world class arts space and digital hub for artists, citizens, communities and the general public across Ireland, Northern Ireland and internationally. Core services consist of membership, resources, advice and the implementation of a range of innovative projects promoting professional and collaborative arts practice and a youth arts Ensemble. The centre promotes membership, networking, training, guidance, support and advocacy in relation to using high quality creative processes, collaborative arts practice, research and new digital technologies to promote equality and human rights for all.
Led by Director Mary Moynihan, the centre produces an annual and multi-annual inter-disciplinary arts programme. All artistic mediums are supported with a focus on the performing and collaborative arts including theatre, film, visual arts, dance and music. Smashing Times’ vast experience conducting arts-based projects both nationally and internationally and its global reputation for excellence in relation to using professional and socially engaged arts practice to promote human rights is drawn upon in the creation of this innovative space. Through artistic endeavour, the centre promotes the cause of human rights. Our vision is a world where all people have access to the arts and the arts are open for all to enjoy, creating a fair and inclusive society where equality, human rights and diversity are fully recognized, valued and protected.
Second Floor, Grattan House, Temple Road, Blackrock, Co. Dublin
Contact Person: Laura O’Leary, International Event & Promotions Coordinator
Front Line Defenders was founded in Dublin in 2001 with the specific aim of protecting human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk, people who work, non-violently, for any or all of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Front Line Defenders addresses the protection needs identified by human rights defenders themselves. Front Line Defenders maintains its headquarters in Dublin, an EU Office in Brussels, and regionally-based field staff in the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Contact Person: Kate O’Sullivan, Communications Manager
Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 7 million people who take injustice personally. We are campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. In Ireland, our 20,000 members and supporters campaign on issues like reproductive rights, ending torture and protecting migrant and refugee rights, among others. We are independent of any political ideology, economic interest or religion. We are funded by our members and supporters.
The National Women’s Council (NWC) is the leading national representative organisation for women and women’s groups in Ireland. We are a feminist organisation, representing over 190 member groups from 5 across a diversity of backgrounds, sectors and geographical locations. Our mandate is to take action to ensure that the voices of women in all their diversity are heard. Our vision is of an Ireland and of a world where women and girls can achieve their full potential in a just and equal society.
11, 34 Usher’s Quay, The Liberties, Dublin 8, D08 CV6X
Contact: Liam Herrick, Executive Director
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is Ireland’s leading independent human rights campaigning organisation. They monitor, educate and campaign to secure human rights for everyone in Ireland. They are committed to an Ireland that is more just, more free, and where human rights and civil liberties are enjoyed by everyone. They act as an essential defender of human rights and civil liberties and as an effective champion for the advancement of justice and freedom in Irish society.
Trócaire was established in 1973. Our dual mandate is to support the most vulnerable people in the developing world, while also raising awareness of injustice and global poverty in Ireland. Trócaire works with local partners to support communities in over 20 developing countries with a focus on food and resource rights, women’s empowerment and humanitarian response.
Behan Square, 12-16 Russell St, Northside, Dublin 1, D01 WD53
Contact: Colm Quearney, Development and Outreach Officer
Our aim is to help children and young people, and adults who did not have this opportunity as children, to discover and harness the power of their own imaginations and creative writing skills. At its core, Fighting Words is also about something much broader and more inclusive. It is about using the creative practice of writing and storytelling to strengthen our children and teenagers – from a wide range of backgrounds – to be resilient, creative and successful shapers of their own lives.
Poetry Ireland strives to achieve excellence in the reading, writing and performance of poetry in Ireland. Poetry Ireland enjoys rewarding partnerships with organisations at home and abroad. Our commitment to creating performance and publication opportunities for poets at all stages of their careers helps ensure that the best work is made available to the widest possible audience, securing a future for Irish poetry that is as celebrated as its past.
PEN was one of the world’s first non-governmental organisations and amongst the first international bodies advocating for human rights. It was the first worldwide association of writers, and the first organisation to point out that freedom of expression and literature are inseparable – a principle we continue to champion today in all PEN Centres and which is expressed in the PEN Charter, a signature document 22 years in the making from its origins in 1926 and ratification at the 1948 Congress in Copenhagen. The aims of Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann are: to promote literature in and about Ireland both nationally and internationally; to defend worldwide the right of writers to responsible freedom of expression as defined in the PEN Charter; to foster international understanding through the appreciation of literature.
Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann, supported by Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, presents the Ukrainian writer and Human Rights activist, Victoria Amelina. Victoria has accepted our invitation to present two literary events in Dublin in October 2022, as part of the Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival. Victoria Amelina occasionally writes in English and her powerful essay on genocide and cultural memory, “Nothing Bad Has Ever Happened: a Tale of Two Genocides” was republished in the Irish Times earlier this year. “Homo Oblivious” was republished in the Dublin Review of Books in July.
On Thursday 20th October at 19:00, at the Smock Alley Theatre, Ms. Amelina, who is based in Kyiv, will discuss the role of artists and writers who chose to remain in Ukraine after the full-scale Russian invasion of February 24th of this year. She will also focus on the importance of preserving Ukrainian literature and culture, and will read from her own work. Her new project is entitled War and Justice Diary: Looking at Women Looking at War.
Victoria Amelina also writes for children. Her second Dublin Arts and Human Rights Festival event is for Ukrainian children aged 4-10 and is held (in Ukrainian) in Pearse Street Library on the 22nd October at 14:00.
During this event, she tells stories from a writer’s life and teaches the children to draw characters from her latest book, Ten Ways for an Excavator to Save the World (Ееесторії екскаватора Еки).
“Records of war” is a collection of memories of people directly affected by the Russia-Ukraine war. The editors started collecting diaries from their friends and the project grew to include other people who are not necessarily artists, journalists or professional writers; contributors can choose to remain anonymous. The continuously updated archive aims to give a “voice” to the people who either have experienced the war themselves or through people they are close to. “Records of war” doesn’t rely on social networks and has no censorship. The texts are not edited. They can be translated into English and other languages if needed. The project seeks to support the authors (Ukrainians who are displaced, lost their jobs or their normal lives) and pay for their submissions by collecting donations and applying for grants. “Records of war” is a non-profit that is maintaining the publishing platform – the scouting of authors, selecting, editing and translating the texts. The editors, Ukrainians themselves, are volunteering for the job. A charity fund accepts donations and distributes them among the authors.