1. Why are you so interested in the Kurds?
It has to do with a life long interest in human rights, a term I nowadays prefer to describe as ‘identity’. In my humble opinion, what human rights eventually boil down to is the need of people to be seen for who they really are. Whichever identity you give to yourself, you need to be able to express it to the extent you choose, in as unrestricted a way as possible. Like me, being so many things: I’m a woman, I’m a journalist, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an exile, a Dutch citizen from a small town, – and I need to express all these sides of myself in a certain ever-changing balance. I believe that is the same for everybody: no part of your identity can be left out.
The Kurds’ identity has been evolving under extreme circumstances over the last century. While they had autonomy within the Ottoman Empire (and for example didn’t pay taxes and didn’t send their sons to fight in the Ottoman army), since around the mid-19th century they have been under pressure. Especially since Kurdistan was divided between four countries around a century ago. Ever since, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria have suppressed the Kurds in every possible way: denial of their existence, bans on their culture and language, restrictions of their political rights, mass murder, discrimination, imprisonment and torture.
But also, the Kurds have resisted. This continuous process of suppression and resistance has defined the Kurds. I find that highly intriguing and am terribly eager to find out what effect current developments have on Kurdish identity and society. How will the political stage change if the Kurdistan Region in Iraq becomes independent from Baghdad? How will the cycle of violence in Turkey affect the Kurds’ goal of creating a democratic Turkey instead of demanding a separate state? Will the Kurds in Syria manage to hold on to their territories, and how democratically will they manage them if one day the fight against Daesh is over? Will the end of the economic boycott against Iran change the tide for the Iranian Kurds? Some time ago, I spoke about Kurds and identity at Bilgi University in Istanbul, which you can read in English here and Turkish here.
I find it highly interesting to follow these developments frantically on an every-day basis, and put them in a wider perspective. The Kurds may not have a nation state, many Kurds claim to not even want one, but that doesn’t mean they are not one of the most relevant people now in the Middle-East. Kurdistan is in turmoil, Kurdistan is bursting with self confidence, Kurdistan demands attention. I am giving it and sharing its stories.
2. Who is paying you?
This question is often asked with a certain degree of aggressiveness, implying that I am paid by secret services. I don’t fool myself into thinking that I can change the mind of people who are convinced that I am a spy. Nevertheless, I am more than willing to answer this question, purely for the sake of transparency.
I earn most of my income from writing and doing radio. Over the years, I was paid for my work by countless media, but let me name a few. In the Netherlands: weekly Groene Amsterdammer, daily Het Parool, weekly Vrij Nederland, radio stations VPRO, NTR, BNR, AVRO/TROS and NOS, human rights magazine Wordt Vervolgd (published by the Dutch section of Amnesty International), magazines ELLE, Marie Claire, Viva, Plus Magazine, HP/De Tijd, Volkskrant Magazine, news agency ANP and many others. In Belgium: weekly magazine Knack, public radio station VRT. In the UK and USA: Al-Jazeera, The World Post/Huffington Post, BBC, Al-Monitor, Global Post, The Independent. In Turkey, between January 2014 and autumn 2015 the independent website Diken (Thorn) has paid me for my columns. My expulsion from Turkey has halted my work for Diken, since I always based the columns on my being there, in Diyarbakir and the wider region.
Part of my income is crowd funded. In 2012, I organised a crowdfunding campaign for my book about the Kurdish issue on Dutch website Voor de Kunst and on Indiegogo (campaign no longer available). My book was co-funded by the Fonds BJP, Fund for Special Journalistic Projects, and of course by my publishers, Het Spectrum in the Netherlands, Iletişim in Istanbul, Turkey and Gomidas Books in London, UK.
Between early 2014 and September 2016 I have regulary published on the American crowd funded website Beaconreader. Since Beaconreader stopped, my crowdfunded stories can now be found on the also American platform Byline. Don’t hesitate to donate there, the perks are cool!
Besides that, I give lectures, and organisations which have paid me for that include universities (like Nottingham Trent University in the UK, Bilgi University in Istanbul and Lund University in Sweden, among others), NGO’s, film festivals and journalistic organisations (like Dutch VVOJ for investigative journalism).
Sometimes also my colleagues pay me, for example when I give workshops (in negotiating, creative thinking and freelancing abroad) when I am in the Netherlands. I also give individual training to freelance journalists who want to enhance their business. For more information, click here.
I have had some legal costs in 2015 and 2016, connected to my prosecution for ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’ (I was acquitted) and to my expulsion from Turkey. These costs were covered by the Media Legal Defence Initiative, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Dutch Persvrijheidsfonds (Press Freedom Fund) and the Dutch journalists union NVJ.
The helmet and flak jacket that I take on reporting trips to violent areas of Kurdistan was donated to me by the Dutch company EnGarde, the armoured plates to strengthen the jacket were financed by the International Women’s Media Foundation.
3. Aren’t you more of an activist than a journalist?
No, I am not. I have pondered this question endlessly since I moved to Kurdistan, but in the end, I found this issue was not so complicated at all. I always stick to the rules that apply to the journalistic genre that I practice, whether it’s a news article, a background story, a reportage in the field, an interview or an analysis, column or op-ed. And the aim is always to find the truth, which is the core of journalism. While reporting the news, I have never resorted to activism: I never shouted a slogan, I never waved a flag, held a banner, threw a stone or sang a battle song. I intend to keep it that way.
Glad I could clear that up easily. If you have a minute, you could also read this piece for great insight: All journalism is advocacy, or it isn’t.
4. Do you think you can ever go back to Turkey?
Yes, I think at some point I can go back. My lawyer, the amazing Ramazan Demir, has opened a legal procedure against my entry ban. This takes at least a year. But of course, my case is not just a legal matter but a political one too. For now, Turkey is, to put it mildly, not democratizing, and as long as that is the case, my chances of returning are small. But this highly troublesome period in Turkey’s and Kurdistan’s history isn’t going to last forever. One day, the tide will turn. I hope sooner rather than later, and explicitly not only for myself but even more so for the people of Turkey.
One wonders if the differences that inevitably bring us to war could ever find a mechanism within human nature that would allow resolution without war?