Turkish political prisoners Ayse Mücella Yapici, Tayfun Kahraman, and Can Atalay awarded European Prize for Architecture

Speaking Truth to Power

Turkish political prisoners Ayse Mücella Yapici, Tayfun Kahraman, and Can Atalay awarded European Prize for Architecture

Can Atalay, Mücella Yapıcı, and Tayfun Kahraman are architects, scholars, and urban planners who were given 18-year prison sentences for criticizing the Turkish government’s response to the 2023 earthquakes. This September, each will be awarded the European Prize for Architecture. (Courtesy The European Centre)

On September 15 in Athens, Greece at the foot of the Acropolis, three Turkish political prisoners will be named the 18th, 19th, and 20th Laureates of the 2023 European Prize for Architecture. Ayse Mücella Yapici, Tayfun Kahraman, and Can Atalay are scholars, architects, and urban planners in prison for criticizing the Turkish government and its complicity in the mass destruction that ensued after the 2023 earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Each has been recognized by the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies and The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design for their activism.

The honor is European architecture’s highest award given to individuals “who have made a commitment to forward the principles of European humanism and the art of architecture.” Last year’s winner was the German architect Christoph Ingenhoven. Past winners have included Bjarke Ingels, Santiago Calatrava, Henning Larsen Architects, and Wolfgang Tschapeller.

The award committees selected Yapici, Kahraman, and Atalay after they were given 18-year prison sentences for treason and “speaking out against social injustice in Turkey and for warning in advance about the devastating consequences of the February 2023 Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria” a press release stated. Each was accused by the government for trying to organize a coup d’état and “attempting to overthrow the Government of the Republic of Turkey by using force and violence.”

While in prison, Tayfun Kahraman reported for AN on the devastating toll of the recent earthquakes that rocked Turkey and Syria. Previously, the 42-year-old Kahraman was executive board chairman of the Chamber of Urban Planners in Turkey. Can Atalay is an attorney for The Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects. Before her 2022 sentencing, the 74-year-old architect Ayse Mücella Yapici was in the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects. The European Centre notes her role as a leading figure of Taksim Solidarity and an outspoken critic of the construction boom that’s taken place during Erdogan’s regime which was cited as a main cause of the massive destruction that ensued from the 2023 earthquakes.

Six other defendants were sentenced to prison terms in Turkey on similar charges without evidence. They include Çiğdem Mater, a Turkish film producer and journalist; Hakan Altınay, director and professor of Political Science in Boğaziçi University and founding president of the Global Civics Academy; Mine Özerden, film director and producer; and Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, professor, human rights activist and founder of the Nesin and Mesopotamia Foundations, and a member of the founding board of Istanbul Bilgi University. Osman Kavala, a 64-year-old publisher, human rights defender and philanthropist was sentenced to life in prison.

“This is barefaced, unashamed political persecution, the absence of any moral compass whatsoever, using a state’s twisted, corrupt legal apparatus to outrageously frighten, intimate, and severely damage any and all innocent dissent,” said Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, president and CEO of The Chicago Athenaeum. “These preposterous convictions are connected to the initial 2013 Gezi Park protests when urban/architect activists came together to campaign against the Turkish government’s plans to demolish the park to build a replica of the Ottoman-era Taksim Military Barracks that would include a shopping mall,” he continued.

“Our American and European institutions that bestow this prestigious Prize dedicated to the highest standards of European civilization to these three heroic Turkish architects and champions of human rights stand with them resolutely, and we fervently support and echo all those around the world in calling for their immediate release from prison,” said 2022 winner Christoph Ingenhoven. “Mr. Kavala told the court in his final remarks, before his verdict and life sentence was announced. It is an assassination by the use of the judiciary,” he added.

The European Centre’s Museum in Athens will host the gala dinner at the Acropolis in honor of the political prisoners.