‘Analysts’ about Kurds, show you know your subject, or shut up about it

Mind my words: soon ‘analysts’ will start writing that Selahattin Demirtas has chosen the violent approach to the Kurdish issue instead of following the ones who want peace. After all, he called for the people to make sure to protect themselves on the street, as the Suruç massacre has shown the citizens’ safety can not be placed in the hands of the state. Those who willingly or stupidly distort his words and his intentions, will for sure take this chance to bash the HDP. Just like the government’s media, which reported that Demirtas called for violence, although they know that the truth is far away from that. Continue reading “‘Analysts’ about Kurds, show you know your subject, or shut up about it”

Why does my writing scare you and the government you work for, Akif?

Akif Beki has a column in Hürriyet, one of the biggest papers in Turkey. Considering him a ‘pro government columnist’ wouldn’t describe him properly: he is plainly a government writer. To illustrate that qualification: Akif Beki is one of the few Turkish ‘journalists’ who still have access to Tayyip Erdogan’s presidential plane, in other words, who are fully approved by Turkey’s most powerful man.

dikencomtrA few days ago, Akif Beki wrote a column about me. It was about the court case the state opened against me for ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organization’. He claimed that everywhere in the world, also in Europe, anti terrorism laws are tightened, and that if I wrote about ISIS in Europe the way I write about the PKK in Turkey, I’d be behind bars already.
He repeatedly referred to me as ‘matmazel’, which is Turkish for ‘mademoiselle’.

Here is my answer to him. You can find it in Turkish here on Diken.com.tr. If you want to read his column, I suggest you google it. No way I’ll put a link here. Continue reading “Why does my writing scare you and the government you work for, Akif?”

How to get into Kobani, or: charade in a refugee camp

There we were, some sixty mostly foreign journalists, brought together in a large tent in the newly opened state refugee camp for Syrians. We were listening to the governor of Suruc, Abdullah Ciftci, who was pointing out how wonderful the camp was. I didn’t get all the details of what he was saying, since I wasn’t sitting close enough to hear. And, to be honest, I didn’t want to be there at all, just like, I can safely say, any of my colleagues. We were all just wondering about one question: when does this charade end?

Journalists on a forced tour in the stsate refugee camp, talking to the governour.
Journalists on a forced tour in the state refugee camp, talking to the governor. click to enlarge.

We, the journalists, had been pressing the governor’s office to allow us to cross into Kobani for a reporting trip. We were modest in our wishes: if we could have a few hours there, we would be satisfied and we could make our stories. Last week on Wednesday a group of journalists had already gone in, and we claimed the same right.

But apparently there was something about the first group. Their entry into Kobani went somewhat awry, and according to the governor’s office some of the reporters in that group didn’t get back to the Mürsitpinar border gate on time. This angered the authorities. Continue reading “How to get into Kobani, or: charade in a refugee camp”

An interview request to Tayyip Erdogan

Once again, a young Kurd has been killed by the police, again in Cizre. A twelve year old this time, and his name was Nihat Kazanhan. May he rest in peace.

Let’s try to look at trying to produce balanced journalism in Turkey on this topic. What you can do is go to Cizre, interview the parents, investigate the circumstances of his death, talk to eye witnesses, lawyers, local politicians.

Ayse Kazanhan, mother of Nihat Kazanhan, a day after her son's death. On the left Nihat's grandmother and his sister.
Ayse Kazanhan, mother of Nihat Kazanhan, a day after her son’s death. On the left Nihat’s grandmother and his sister. (photo: Fréderike Geerdink)

This would most likely give you several views on the story at hand. The parents will tell you what kind of a boy Nihat was and how they heard about their son’s death. Eye witnesses will tell you where Nihat was, what he was doing, where the police were, whether the police gave any warnings before taking any action, and they will probably know if the boy died instantly or not. The lawyers will present the legal background, pointing out violated rights and what they will do to try to get justice for the boy and his family, probably saying that earlier cases don’t give them much hope of getting justice. Local politicians, most likely from DBP, will give their political view on the events. Continue reading “An interview request to Tayyip Erdogan”

Self censorship is not an option

Türkçe burada okuyabilirsiniz!

A picture I tweeted of a group of Kurdish youths at the Kobani border crossing, holding PKK and Öcalan flags. The front page of my Facebook account. A photo I took of Salih Muslim when I met him last month at a conference in Brussels, where we both spoke. Parts of columns I wrote for Diken.com.tr. Any fifteen-year-old could have compiled the file that the anti-terrorism squad made about me in half an hour: just print out some random stuff I wrote, tweeted and put on FB, staple it together, ready.

temIt was an overwhelming experience to find an anti-terrorism team (TEM) of 8 or 9 people banging on my door, searching my house and detaining me for several hours. I was totally flabbergasted and later very fucked up and angry. The house search and detention are an obvious attack on press freedom, and can’t be condemned too strongly. Continue reading “Self censorship is not an option”

The lack of democracy is creeping up on me

A friend of mine has been living in Turkey for years, but has now moved to another country. From Turkey to a country with a full and working democracy. She said that she has just begun to realize again how nice it is to live in a democracy, after which she asked: ‘Don’t you miss living in a democracy?’

Lentil soup
Lentil soup

Intriguing question of course, especially since I was in my home country last week, which is one of the democratic countries of the world. Whenever I am in the Netherlands I realize what I miss from there: friends to open a bottle of whiskey with and talk of love and life in my mother tongue, a more international cultural life with something as basic as good documentary films on TV, racing through the city on a bicycle, and restaurants where you can choose from more than Adana kebab, Urfa kebab, Iskender kebab and lentil soup, lentil soup and lentil soup. But do I miss democracy? Continue reading “The lack of democracy is creeping up on me”

Kurds are savages, aren’t they?

The beards are a good example. The beards that were shaved off by men in Diyarbakir and other south-eastern cities and towns, because they feared that if they did not shave their beards, they would come under attack from pro-PKK Kurds for being ‘Islamists’ or ‘IS supporters’.

scherenMany papers published articles about it, everybody took up the subject, and the juicy story even made it to many foreign media outlets. The stupid thing is, of course, that nobody actually checked it. Well, one journalist did. Pinar Tremblay of Al-Monitor. She quoted Nurcan Baysal, a Diyarbakir-based columnist for the T24 website, as saying: ‘I do not think this news is accurate. Around here, many men wear beards, and neither Kurdish Hezbollah nor IS members are concerned about hiding their identity’. Then Tremblay wrote: ‘None of the members of Huda-Par (a Sunni Islamist party) that Al-Monitor contacted had shaved their beards.’ Continue reading “Kurds are savages, aren’t they?”

Don’t turn me into a battle field reporter

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?’

peaceThe 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? Continue reading “Don’t turn me into a battle field reporter”

Did I really order a guerrilla to break eggs?

‘You are in charge’, Z. said. We were standing in the kitchen and we wanted to make an omelette. Since there were no eggs in the fridge, Z. went out to get some, while I was making a basic salad. I’m no good at breaking eggs, so I poured oil in the pan and asked him to put the eggs in. He obeyed. He fried them a bit, but left the rest to me when his phone rang. I didn’t hear what the call was about, it was in Kurdish. ‘Done like this, right?’ I asked when he came back, pointing at the eggs. ‘Done’, he agreed.

Z. is a PKK guerrilla. He arranges the press contacts for his organization. I wanted an interview with Cemil Bayik, so I contacted Z. and he arranged the interview and my trip to Qandil for me. It felt very normal to fry eggs and have lunch with Z. in a house in Qandil village, behaving like friends and making both trivial and good conversation. But at the same time, I thought: ‘This is weird. Here I am, a journalist from a tiny country not working for any huge media outlet, about to have an interview with Cemil Bayik but for now frying eggs, having lunch and joking around with a guerrilla.’

While interviewing Cemil Bayik, co-leader (with Bese Hozat) of the executive council of the umbrella organization KCK - or in other words: PKK's second man after imprisoned Abdullah Öcalan.
While interviewing Cemil Bayik, co-leader (with Bese Hozat) of the executive council of the umbrella organization KCK – or in other words: PKK’s second man after imprisoned Abdullah Öcalan.

Isn’t it intriguing that whenever journalists go up to Qandil, you only see the result that they took the trip for: the interview with (usually) Cemil Bayik, or occasionally some other PKK/KCK leader. Reduced to a few minutes of video or a few hundred words article, and that is it. But while Z. was preparing our after-lunch tea (‘light for me please!’), I knew it would be interesting to share more about the trip as such. I know you readers are curious! Continue reading “Did I really order a guerrilla to break eggs?”

Kurds aren’t sexy

‘So’, the young man in the group I talk to in a park in Sirnak summarizes, ‘you are looking for several Kurds to interview about the situation thirty years after the first PKK attack on the Turkish state, and that will be published in the Netherlands? Somebody is interested in that?’ He laughs; he just cannot believe it. I can only say: ‘Yes’, and shrug my shoulders.

I understand why he doesn’t believe it. The world’s media don’t have history of showing much interest in the Kurds. And if the Kurds are written about, it is often in the context of the country they are living in. Kurds as a nation of their own, with their own history, their own culture, language, politics, dreams and problems, are somehow not very ‘sexy’.

Abdullah Öcalan after being capture in 1999.
Abdullah Öcalan after being captured in 1999.

Examples? It’s been hard to write about the thirty year struggle of the Kurds against suppression in Turkey. It’s a long-lasting conflict, which usually only attracts the media’s attention when something exceptional happens (like in 1999, when Öcalan was captured) or when the violence takes a higher than usual toll (like when more than 20 soldiers die in one attack). Human rights abuses? They happen anywhere in the world, so they have to be exceptionally cruel to make it to the media. Tortured Kurds? Who cares? Continue reading “Kurds aren’t sexy”