Deutschland: Seyran Ates

I am on a long narrow path I walk day and night I do not know in what state I’m in I walk day and night. . . .” Asik Veysel

— Seyran Ates

Seyran Ates, born in Turkey in 1963, works in Berlin as a lawyer opposed to forced marriages and so-called “honor killings.” In 1984, working as a law student in a counseling center for Turkish women, she was shot by an assailant. Another woman died on the spot. Despite this painful experience, Seyran Ates did not give up her public support for women’s rights. When Berlin was struck by a series of “honor killings” during the winter of 2004/2005, she asked the government to strengthen certain criminal laws. In reaction, a popular Turkish newspaper started a campaign against the “crazy lawyer.”

Seyran Ates (42) sits in her office in the center of Berlin and rocks her infant daughter. It is Saturday, and the lawyer of Turkish-Kurdish background would rather be playing with her little daughter than meeting with the press. But she has no time during the week. Seyran Ates is a woman in great demand, always busy giving interviews or speaking at meetings. Media interest in her has increased recently, when Berlin was the scene of five “honor killings” within four months. Five young Turkish women who lived their own lives and did not agree to forced marriages were killed by men from their own families for offending the family’s “honor.” Seyran Ates tries to help women before it is too late. She represents them in court when they annul their forced marriages or divorce their violent husbands. And she represents them in public politically. Her public speeches put her at risk. After having been shot and wounded in 1984, she is aware of this danger only too well. Her left arm was paralyzed and still hurts. She needed several years to recover her inner balance. Now, she feels threatened again, as the popular Turkish newspaper "Hürriyet," widely read in Germany, has started a campaign against her. “This lawyer has gone crazy,” the paper stated, saying she claimed that all Turks were thugs. Of course, Seyran never said that. She is neither a man-hater nor an Islam-hater. She tries to argue in as careful a manner as possible. But she will not abandon her belief that women have the same rights as men. Her clients know and appreciate her position. “Many say that I give them courage and strength,” Seyran Ates says and beams with joy. “Every woman who leaves my office happy is a success for me. Women’s rights are my life’s work.”