The last one was in the summer of 2012. I had just moved from Istanbul, where I had been based since 2006, to Diyarbakir. Just for three, four months, I thought, and in those months I would be able to finish the research for my book. But Diyarbakir suited me. The Kurdish issue is utterly interesting and important for Turkey, the Kurds are incredibly warm, strong and welcoming, the city is amazing and vibrant. The whole Kurdish region was bursting with stories, with overwhelming nature, and with open doors everywhere of people who were willing to share their pain, hopes and dreams with me. ‘I can stay here!’, I thought – and so I did.
I knew I had to trust that feeling. I experienced this strong intuition about my career for the first time in November 1999. I was a staff journalist at the time at VNU Tijdschriften, now Sanoma, the biggest magazine publisher in the Netherlands. I liked my job, but somehow, I had this gnawing feeling that I didn’t use my potential and that I needed to do something else with my life. One November afternoon, feeling heavy and kind of depressed, I was in bed looking at the ceiling, when suddenly a thought stroke me: ‘I can quit my job!’ Next thing I knew, I jumped out of bed, feeling immens relief. I can quit my job! The next few weeks, I prepared for the big step into becoming a freelancer. It was a leap into insecurity of course, and sometimes it made me nervous, but I never doubted that first feeling of excitement. Eventually, my freelance practice started on 1 April 2000.
Also the decision to move to Turkey, struck me like lightning. It was 2004, I had been secretly pondering becoming a correspondent for years (even as a teenager, before I even seriously considered going to Journalism Academy, which I started at age 18 in 1988) but I never really knew how to. I followed a ‘Freelancing Abroad’ course by journalist Linda Polman (read her book War Games). There, it hit me: Turkey! I remember coming back home after one course evening, almost jumping with adrenaline: ‘I’m going to Turkey!’ A freelancer could make it there, for example because there are a lot of ties between the Netherlands and Turkey (culturally, politically and economically), because it had several highly interesting ‘issues’ to deal with (like the Armenian genocide and the Kurdish issue) and because a big Turkish community lives in the Netherlands and many Dutch citizens go to Turkey to take a holiday, to work or to live.
Again, I knew at that inspired moment that I would go to Turkey. But I prepared well: first, I travelled back and forth for two years to see if my theory that I could sell stories to a wide range of magazines would work out. It did. In December 2006 I packed my bag.
I should add September 2015. That I am no longer in Diyarbakir, was in no way my own choice or based on my own intuition: I was arrested, thrown in jail for three nights and put on a flight to Amsterdam. But my intuition did tell me something after my deportation. It told me that Turkey could throw me out, but they could not decide which direction I would take after that. My intuition has told me very clearly that I am by far not finished with the Kurds yet, and thus I will continue to write about them and spread their stories and their views. My intuition defines my career, not the Turkish state.
I don’t have hobbies.