Kurdish journalists in Turkey: We will not remain silent

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Arrests, beatings and censorship: Indeed, Kurdish journalists in Turkey work alongside harsh demoralizing conditions imposed by the Turkish state. In January 2016 I was in the Kurdish city of Nusaybin, close to the Turkish-Syrian border, where I met a young Kurdish journalist. Meltem Oktay welcomed me and my friend Onur into a Tea house in the central park of Baris. Native of Dersim, she arrived here to report for the press agency Dicle Haber (Diha) the brutal war that the Turkish state for months has been conducting against the Kurdish population in the south-east of the country.  “I feel like it’s my duty to expose to the world what is happening here”. This is her main reason for working in such a dangerous area of the world. In fact, she has done everything possible to expose Turkey’s perpetrated war crimes in order to help the Kurds. Without her work, along with the efforts of her colleagues in the press agency Diha, it would have been impossible for foreign journalists like me to carry out my work.

It is thanks to people like Meltem Oktam that important information like Turkish fire tanks, artillery, executions performed by state snipers and targeted expulsions have been released to the public. For this bravery journalists like her face severe risks because the Turkish state will persecute them mercilessly. For instance, on the 11th of April Special Forces assaulted the room of Meltem Oktam and her colleague Ugur Akgül in Nusaybin. “They knew that we were unarmed, yet they threatened us regardless with their weapons. They threw me into the ground, kicked me and called us terrorists. They also told us that there was no room for scum like us in this country!” Akgül remembers. “In the police station physical violence was soon replaced by psychological abuse: we were constantly threatened with torture.”

The state’s revenge

Akgül is now free, however Meltem Oktay is still under arrest: The institutions accuse her of working for the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party). She currently shares this fate with twelve more journalists from the press agency Dicle Haber (Diha). Furthermore, these journalists seem to be the only obstacle for the Turkish ruling class: for instance, during the 28th December, these reporters were the only ones who released information in regards to the Turkish fighter jets execution of twelve innocent civilians in Ortasu. They also documented the involvement of the Turkish state in the assassination of Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elci. Similarly, they were the only ones who exposed the collaboration between Turkish and ISIL soldiers in the borders of Syria.

“Our colleagues want to spread the truth of everything that is happening here. Consequently, the Turkish State wants to punish us for this”, explains one of Oktay’s colleagues. “This agenda is only motivated by revenge”. As for the obstacles that the Turkish State imposes on journalists, Diha Ramazan Pekgöz explains that “straight away, in July (2015), when Turkey started the war, they also shut down our website. From there onwards our website has been blocked 37 times.” Similarly, journalists working in Turkey are constantly intimidated, threatened, arrested and physically abused.

Press freedom

In Turkey around 100 journalists work for the press agency Diha, specifically 50 of those work in Kurdish zones. Arrests are part of the everyday lives of these men and women. Currently ten reporters have been incarcerated in Turkish jails. The criminal charges are always the same: Belonging to an outlawed organization. Since they don’t conform to the usual regime topics provided by the Turkish State, these journalists are accused of creating propaganda for the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which is banned in Turkey, Europe and USA. “They want to silence us, but we will never succumb to their intimidation tactics”, says Ramazan Pekgöz. The facts speak for themselves: The reporter of Diha Mazlum Dolan was the first one to photograph the completely closed and destroyed city of Diyarbakir – and was consequently arrested. Similarly, the reporter of Diha Nedim Oruc that documented and exposed the tanks attackers in the Silopi attacks was also arrested. Additionally, the reporter of Diha Nuri Akman who was reporting in the cities of Kobane, Cizre, Nusaybin – was also arrested.

All of these journalists, their stories and what they must endure on a daily basis to do their jobs in a war zone has been completely ignored by the western public and media.  “If in Turkey there will ever be freedom of press it will only occur if Kurdish journalists are able to work freely”, explains Ramazan Pekgöz. Currently this seems impossible. The situation, explains the journalist, who was also incarcerated previously, “is much worse than of that during the 90s”.

Written by Norma Santi for Umanita Nova

Translated by Pietro Casati

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