Alp Ayan



"A political stance and one that advocates for clients is important. And of course the empathy and encouragement to be willing to walk with them step-by-step down into their hell and not be afraid of it. Whichever method matches to the unique conditions of the client and is used, my therapeutic objective is to attain a state where the client can redefine him/herself independent from the shadows of the torturers and look toward the future with a new and permanent sense of hope, strength and motivation." 

                                                                    - Alp Ayan, Human Rights Foundation of Turkey







Dr. Ayan, M.D., a Turkish psychiatrist and psychotherapist, has dedicated his professional life to the treatment and rehabilitation of torture survivors, individual and systems advocacy for victims, and to the development of techniques for the detection and documentation of evidence of torture.

In 1990, Dr. Ayan helped to establish the internationally-respected Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) to address the problem of torture, particularly in detention centers. Since 1994 he has worked at great personal risk as a psychiatrist at the HRFT's Treatment and Rehabilitation Center in Izmir. Since its founding, the HRFT has provided torture treatment and rehabilitation to some 10,500 people and currently treats about 850 clients annually. Utilizing milieu therapy where Dr. Ayan and his colleagues establish an atmosphere of safety and equality, many therapeutic techniques are incorporated that are helpful to the individual needs of clients.

Of the torture survivors who are presently being treated by the HRTF, 90% were beaten in detention, 20% have received a psychological diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, and 55% had physical wounds. Of HRFT's client base, 70% did not have access to lawyers while in detention, and 63% were released from custody without ever being charged or appearing before a judge. In 2003, the HRFT monitored 41 trials in the Turkish judiciary of individuals who were accused of involvement in torture. Only four of the defendants were sentenced to prison time. Thus, the HRFT works in an environment where torturers continue to enjoy impunity.

Internationally recognized as an authority on the treatment and rehabilitation of tortured people, Dr. Ayan has published extensively and presented papers about his research and experiences at the HRFT's Izmir Center at numerous scientific conferences. He has long been committed to training other health professionals to work in this area as well.

Dr. Ayan is a contributing author to the Istanbul Protocol, a manual for the effective investigation and documentation of torture, and a joint project of the HRFT, Association of Forensic Medical Specialists (ATUD), and Turkish Medical Association, among other organizations. After submission to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in August 1999, Dr. Ayan and a team from these three institutions prepared training modules based on the manual for physicians and lawyers and organized seminars in several Turkish cities. Later, he became a part of the team that spearheaded the Istanbul Protocol Implementation Project (IPIP). In this capacity, he collaborated in the preparation of an International Generic Module, which is being used for training in five pilot countries in five different regions of the world.

From 2000 to 2001, Dr. Ayan was the spokesperson for the Izmir Anti-Isolation Platform, a nongovernmental organization founded to peacefully speak out against the Turkish government's use of new maximum security F-type prisons'consisting solely of single cells or cells for three prisoners'and to inform the public about the negative effects that the harsh conditions of confinement in such prisons have on the physical and mental health of those incarcerated therein. The Platform's concern that the isolation of inmates in F-style prisons would make them particularly vulnerable to increased abuse by prison guards and officials has been heightened by reliable reports of mistreatment, including torture and extended periods in solitary confinement.

More recently, since 2002, Dr. Ayan has been the HRFT representative to the Independent Prison Observation Group (IPOGI). IPOGI was formed by the HRFT, the Izmir Bar Association, the Izmir Medical Association, the Human Rights Association, and the Union of Chambers of Architects and Engineers in Turkey to research the negative effects of isolation on the psychological health of prisoners and to use its findings to advocate on their behalf. According to Dr. Ayan, the IPOGI's initial request to the Ministry of Justice for direct access to prisons within the province of Izmir was denied. Despite this and other obstacles, the IPOGI is developing a methodology that it hopes to use to do a "civilian audit" of prisons in Izmir.


Over the years Dr. Ayan has been repeatedly harassed by the Turkish authorities because of his work and because he has peacefully expressed his opinions with regard to torture and prison conditions in his country. Since 1996, he has been a defendant in 41 cases in which the authorities have accused him of wrongdoing and has attended approximately 200 court hearings. To date, Dr. Ayan has been acquitted in all but two of these cases, often following lengthy trials and numerous court appearances. At times, he has been jailed during part of the legal proceedings against him.

Dr. Ayan is now appealing guilty verdicts before the Supreme Court of Turkey (Yargitay) in the two cases that remain pending against him. If the higher court upholds these convictions, Dr. Ayan faces a prison sentence of three years and one day. He is currently at liberty, pending the outcome of these appeals. Amnesty International has stated that, if he is imprisoned, it will consider Dr. Ayan to be a prisoner of conscience.

During the 2005-2006 academic year, Dr. Ayan was a visiting scholar at Harvard University and the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. Nominated by the Committee on Human Rights of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, he was selected for this position by Harvard University's Committee on Human Rights Studies and by the Scholars at Risk Network. During this time Dr. Ayan worked on psychophysiology with Dr. Roger K. Pitman and his PTSD Research Laboratory team.

While his work remains incomplete, Dr. Ayan has focused his attention on three topics'the psychological effects of isolation, "care for caregivers," and ways to conceptualize and address trauma on a societal level.

With regard to the first topic, Dr. Ayan's goal was to develop a methodology that the IPOGI can use to conduct a multi-layered research project in prisons in the province of Izmir in Turkey. To do this, he examined the research methodologies used previously in studies that have been conducted in maximum security prisons in Europe and the United States to document isolation's negative effects on the psychological health of prisoners. He also sought suggestions and feedback on his proposed methodology from Harvard academicians and other interested colleagues.

Over the course of the last decade, Dr. Ayan has given considerable thought and professional attention to the second topic of "care for caregivers." He is keenly aware that professionals and volunteers'including physicians, lawyers, human rights activists 'involved in work with torture survivors often experience "secondary trauma" and need prophylactic support to avoid burnout. Despite exceptional difficulties and challenges, in almost 15 years of work, the HRFT team in Izmir has not lost a single member. He attributes this to actions that the team has taken to mobilize its own inner resources to provide "interactive group supervision" for one another, as well to volunteer therapists who facilitate a "care for caregivers" program for the team. This year he observed and began to participate in "care for caregivers" activities facilitated by those working in the field in the U.S., with an eye on finding ways to further strengthen the HRFT-Izmir program and establishing other such programs throughout Turkey.

Through his work on the third topic, Dr. Ayan has sought to prepare himself for the day when it becomes possible to openly discuss the reality that Turkey is a "traumatized society." Turkey endured a 15-year civil war that lasted from 1984 until 1999 and resulted in over 40,000 casualties. Estimates are that more than one million torture survivors live within Turkey's borders. According to Dr. Ayan, approximately eight percent of Turkey's population has been directly affected by the "man-made trauma" of torture and the mental disorders associated with it. Post-traumatic stress disorders, major depression, and somatoform disorders are present on a massive scale and are contributing factors for serious social problems that must be faced by the nation. He is studying how other traumatized societies, such as South Africa, Rwanda, and Guatemala, have sought to address similar problems. He has begun to explore how best to facilitate a "mourning process" for Turkish society as a whole.

Dr. Ayan's brilliantly conveys the tremendous importance and positive impact of the many dedicated souls whose lives are dedicated in helping to heal tortured people:

"There is a network of hundreds of centers have evolved worldwide, including human rights activists, professionals and volunteers who have dedicated themselves to working in solidarity with those who have suffered torture. I feel extremely lucky to work with very experienced and motivated teams -- physicians, social workers, medical secretaries and innumerable other volunteer colleagues in Izmir at one of five national centers in Turkey -- which is representative of this international network of thousands of volunteers seeking to struggle against torture in worldwide in all its forms. It is encouraging that despite the enormity of this horrific problem, the even greater scale of the response to torture is inspiring. Even in this negative political climate, it is important to note that our movement is not weak. Both in Turkey, the U.S., and in countries around the world, people continue to struggle against injustice, boding extremely well for future generations.

In spite of many obstacles, in spite of many difficulties I most sincerely believe that eventually humanity will prevail...We shall prevail...We shall overcome..."

Regarding the Barbara Chester Award

“It is well known that providing bio-psycho-social support for victims of ‘human made trauma’ as well as being engaged in active struggle against human rights violations including those committed in detention centers and prisons is a matter of teamwork. When I heard in 2006 that I was deemed worthy of the Barbara Chester Award, I was deeply honored and interpreted this decision as a ‘salutation’ to the efforts of many in this field in my part of the world.

My first thought was to split the material award among four organizations that I was working with: Human Rights Association (HRA) and Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT), a Cultural Center which contributes to democratic processes in my region, and as a fourth, a political periodical in which I write from time to time. These centers contribute to treatment of torture victims and to promoting democratic processes in my region. My departed wife was a founder of that Cultural Center.

The founder of our foundation and representative of its center in Izmir, Prof. Dr. Veli Lök, found my intent and justification for making these gifts meaningful but lacking, and shared his perspective: ‘Our involvement in these activities diminishes also the time which belongs to our children.’ I was persuaded and chose to split the money in six even parts – among these institutions and my children. Staff at these institutions welcomed the donations as offering a ‘possibility to take a breath’, while the amazement and cheering of my two sons was a joy for me.

The silver eagle feather sculpture handcrafted by Floyd Lomakuyvaya in its original form and the colored print of it remain right in front of me for six years now, giving me strength and energy ever since. I had the sculpture and print with me at either my working place or in my home. So far all who have listened to its story from me and could read Floyd’s poetic depiction have been ‘very impressed’.

Because of the special situations of my mother and my son, my level of ‘activism’ has clearly decreased. I can’t say for sure how far the Award had an effect on the remaining criminal cases taken against me, but all resulted in acquittal. The two cases at the Supreme Court in which I was convicted to a total of three years in prison dragged on until they became barred. Let me just say that I think that the Award was a positive factor in this outcome.

What is far more important for me is that the silver feather sculpture ‘enriches’ me. I don’t know if it is visible in my face, but the feather made me smile inside ever since I have laid an eye on it. I have to say that I draw a lot of spiritual power from it … and from the poem as well. I think Floyd’s verses can be printed and multiplied like an ‘edict’, ready to be widely dispatched, which shows that being an artist doesn’t only manifest itself in one area.

The silver feather and the verses are a constantly open channel or a bond to the Hopis and my other friends across the Atlantic, reminding me of my luck to have known these people. And so it will stay.

Good that you exist. Good that we exist. We shall prevail. Humanity shall prevail.”