We are excited and honored to award this year’s Mulert Award to Mersedeh Ghazaei, 2022 Fulbright Diversity Program Alumna from Stuttgart, for her exceptional “WIR SIND HANAU” exhibition and for her tireless work as a voluntary human rights activist. In the following, Mersedeh describes the shocking right-wing attack in Hanau in 2020 and her efforts in arranging the “WIR SIND HANAU” exhibition and panel discussions to remember the third anniversary of the attack.
February 19th 2020 – a truly horrible, deeply saddening and life-changing day for many people in Germany. A right-wing, racist extremist shoots 9 immigrants in the city of Hanau, proceeds to kill his own mother and then shoots himself. The country was in shock, it was hard to believe what had taken place that cold Wednesday night. But not only did this heartbreaking event cause a wave of empathy, solidarity and new power in activist work, it also brought a deep divide and much controversy. While most political promises of more preventive work and efforts to effectively fight racism and fascism in Germany proved to be empty words years later, we activists still stand and demand justice for what happened.
Did you know the offender’s father is still harassing the loved ones and families of the ones killed, as well as the survivors? There are so many more things that make the Hanau shooting almost a storybook example for the many things that are not right in Germany. Before the events took place, during the night of the attack as well as after – many things that should never have happened, happened. The emergency exit was ordered to be locked months earlier, without any logical explanation. The perp had mailed the Hanau Police Department multiple times, speaking of his hateful plans to rid Germany of immigrants, he even had a YouTube channel where he published his manifesto – how was this not taken seriously? In the night of the attack, almost all of the distress calls to the police station were not answered, an issue that to this day has not been taken care of. Officers were overwhelmed, they even accused help-seeking survivors of being part of the crime and took their sweet time helping the wounded that died later on.
A couple of months later it was revealed that 13 of the officers on duty that night were part of an extreme right-wing network in Germany, in which talking about white supremacy and annihilating “the others” was part of the daily order. In this cold, devastating night of the attack, families and loved ones of the murdered did not know for hours that their children were dead and where their children’s dead bodies were. Autopsies were performed on many of them without the permission or knowledge of their families, which begs the question: why do you need to perform an autopsy after a shooting, isn’t the cause of death clear? Even after this gruesome night, it does not stop: the Initiative 19. Februar Hanau has put together these facts and much more relevant information on their website. I can urge anyone to take their time and to really read through these findings.
After this gruesome attack, many immigrants have had it – we need to act, we need to demand change and to work towards a future in which something like this could never happen again. I myself remember it being a big turning point in my life, I have not felt safe anymore since then and I do not think I will ever again. A nationwide movement named “Migrantifa” was born, a wordplay composed of the German word “Migranten” meaning immigrants and “antifa”, an abbreviation for anti-fascism. This movement, consisting of immigrants that fight actively against fascism, racism and generally against any form of discrimination, has risen from the ashes of the damage done by the Hanau shooting. Back in June 2020, the Migrantifa Stuttgart was founded and I have been a part of it since the very beginning. By reminding ourselves and others of the gruesome events in Germany’s history, which did not just disappear after the Shoah, we aim to show people that fighting against racism is a constant process and an absolute necessity. Even if Germany does seem like a safe country for immigrants with mild issues of societal racism, the factual truth is that racism is deeply rooted in Germany’s past, present – and future if we continue like this. It is especially severe in institutions and establishments but also in the educational as well as healthcare systems and also very prevalent in rural communities. Current voting trends show the racist, right-wing AfD (Alternative for Germany party) in second place, which is a scary remnant reviving our fascist background. The number of attacks against Muslim and Jewish communities, ethnic communities and minorities as well as violence against queer* individuals is breathtakingly sad.
For the third anniversary of the Hanau shooting in Stuttgart, many individuals wanted a light-projection with the faces of the 9 murdered individuals in public. Stuttgart’s mayor declined, saying something along the lines of Hanau has nothing to do with Stuttgart, it’s in another federal state. We as activists in Stuttgart were enraged to say the least because Hanau is everywhere – a slogan that has been spreading in Germany since the attacks, to show solidarity. To our mayor, this might not be the case, but to us immigrants, children of immigrants, refugees, to those of us who feel racism on a regular basis, to those of us who are afraid to walk around freely, it doesn’t matter if it happened in Stuttgart, Hanau, Berlin or anywhere else. The fact is: this could have happened anywhere. So what we did was to arrange an exhibition called WIR SIND HANAU / WE ARE HANAU to show once and for all that what happened in Hanau matters, everywhere in Germany. On the third anniversary of the attack we opened our exhibition, followed by a couple of events and panel discussions in February and March. The exhibition was housed in the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart – one of the oldest and most renowned art associations in the world – from February 19th until April 9th. Amongst the many panels, our highlight was definitely our panel on April 2nd in cooperation with the Bildungsinitiative Ferhat Unvar, founded by Serpil Temiz Unvar, mother of the murdered Ferhat Unvar. We came together to discuss ways to stand and fight together instead of letting division stand in the way of our goals.
All in all, we feel that the message really arrived in Stuttgart and we plan to continue our work. We are also very glad that the light projection was financed and conducted by other organizations in Stuttgart after all, although we are still very enraged by our mayor turning it down. The fact that all of this gets space in this very magazine, that you, dear reader, are reading this right now, shows that our work is not for nothing – we can only hope that we reach as many people as possible. It does not matter if you experience racism yourself or if you don’t. What really matters is fighting against discrimination, racism, fascism and oppression. Let’s fight for a better world, together!
In loving memory of Gökhan Gültekin, Sedat Gürbüz, Said Nesar Hashemi, Mercedes Kierpacz, Hamza Kurtović, Vili Viorel Păun, Fatih Saraçoğlu, Ferhat Unvar and Kaloyan Velkov ( † February 19th 2020, Hanau, Germany)
Mersedeh Ghazaei was born in Southern Germany in 1997 as a child of Iranian immigrants and is a 2022 Fulbright Diversity Program Alumna. Mersedeh is currently finishing her Bachelor’s degree in English and Philosophy to become a teacher and will continue with English and American Studies for her Master’s degree. Mersedeh is a voluntary human rights activist with a strong focus on anti-racist and intersectional feminism, a member of the Migrantifa Stuttgart, co-founder of the Initiative Iranian Women* of Stuttgart and social media manager for the Local Diversity Stuttgart association. This year, Mersedeh has published her first book “verwurzelter körper, entwurzelter kopf”, which deals with the experience of growing up between two different cultures as a child of immigrants in Germany. In the future, Mersedeh aims to further pursue her fight for human rights, gender equality as well as educational equality and to also focus on countries outside the western, Eurocentric world.