It was before I came to Turkey, in 2006, that I had a conversation with a friend and fellow journalist in my home country, the Netherlands. I was already thinking of going abroad but hadn’t decided yet where to go. He asked: ‘Do you have any aspirations to become a war correspondent?’ I didn’t think for a second and said: ‘No. Wouldn’t it be way cooler to become a peace correspondent?’
The rather brilliant thought never left me. Well, brilliant… That depends on how you look at it if course. From a traditional journalism point of view, peace journalism makes no sense whatsoever. War is news. Clashes, deaths, advances and retreats of armies and other armed groups, floods of refugees and human drama, cities bombed to ruins, political games, negotiations, allies and enemies – what more do you want?
As soon as peace breaks out, journalists leave the country, off to the next war. I mean, how often do you still see Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the news? Or Kosovo? The Falkland Islands?
I decided to go to Turkey. A country with an armed conflict going on between the state and the PKK, but not with a full-on civil war, nor at war with another country, so I would not have to report from the front line of a battlefield, which I really didn’t have any appetite for. And a country with so many interesting developments in so many fields that I could write and sell stories to a wide range of media. About Turkey’s EU membership process (that was still relevant in 2006), about women’s and minorities’ rights, about the economy, tourism, politics, secularism and Islamism.
With the peace process starting in early 2013, the old brilliant idea of becoming a peace correspondent often came to mind again. It was one of the reasons for moving to Diyarbakir to stay. Wouldn’t it be ultra interesting to see how the government and the Kurdish political movement would pull it off? And how long fought-for human rights, like education in the mother tongue, regional autonomy and the release of political prisoners, would be introduced? Wouldn’t it be great to report about the PKK coming down from the mountains and laying down its arms permanently? How would the Kurds govern their autonomous Kurdistan region? How would identities in Turkey change, not only those of Kurds but of Turks and other groups as well? All less appealing than war to many media, but I’m an experienced enough journalist to make it work.
The last few weeks, I became scared. If Kobani were to fall, the peace process would be over. Then the street clashes started, not only between Kurds and the security forces but between several Kurdish groups as well, and Turkish ultra-nationalists were also running around with clubs and knives. Suddenly, the future for peace seemed really to be at stake. What if not only the war between the PKK and the state resumed, but Turkey was plunged into a civil war as well?
I know many people feared the latter, although most didn’t dare to use the word – I didn’t either, and only use it now because I write about peace, and because I think for now the danger seems to be much reduced.
The HDP will visit Öcalan this week and I think there is very little likelihood that he will call an end to the ceasefire. Kobani is still holding out and the army’s recent attack on the PKK seemed to have been the only one for now. The Kurdish movement wants peace. But it’s important that President Erdogan makes his contribution too. A roadmap, great, but sir, actions speak louder than words and we still haven’t seen much of that. Ultimately, the peace process is in his hands. And so is my career as a peace correspondent. Please, don’t turn me into a battlefield reporter.