The Turkish state is attacking radical women journalists

Journalists' organisations read out a solidarity message outside the office of Jin News
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UPDATE: On the afternoon of 16 June, we received news that 16 of the jailed journalists had been remanded in prison. The remaining six people have been released, but may still face charges

On 8 June the Turkish state arrested 22 people – 20 of them journalists – in the city of Diyarbakır. They also confiscated hard drives, cameras and other equipment. Those arrested have been detained for almost a week in solitary confinement.

The Turkish state has declared the case confidential, so no information is currently available about the charges against the imprisoned journalists. In 2016, Turkey was listed as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists, and the country is still locking them up in huge numbers.

Many of the arrested journalists are from Jin News, a radical volunteer-run women’s media organisation.

Diyarbakır – known as Amed in Kurdish – is in Bakur, the part of Kurdistan within Turkey’s borders

Political genocide

The arrests form part of a campaign of state repression that has been dubbed a political genocide. It’s aimed at destroying the radically democratic movements and institutions which have grown both in Bakur and Turkey, which take their inspiration from the Kurdish Freedom Movement.

10,000 people are currently in prison in Turkey for charges relating to the Kurdish Freedom Movement.

Read on...

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This attack is doubly strong against the Kurdish women’s movement, which is at the forefront of the revolutionary struggle. The three pillars of that struggle are radical democracy, women’s freedom, and building an ecological society.

The women of the Kurdish Freedom Movement have paid a high price. For example, Ayşe Gökkan, spokeswoman of the Free Women’s Association (TJA), was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2021. And Leyla Güven, the co-chair of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), was sentenced to 22 years in 2020. The state has opened a new case against Leyla in an attempt to extend this sentence even further.

Last week, I was part of a grassroots political delegation that travelled to Amed in solidarity with the movements there. We aimed to learn and take inspiration from our Kurdish comrades’ resilience and ingenuity in the face of state fascism. The delegation included people from UK anti-repression organisations, Kurdistan solidarity groups and a radical trade union.

We will carry on

Medya Üren

 

Our delegation spoke to Jin News reporter Medya Üren about the recent arrests of journalists. Medya remains defiant and committed to carrying on her work. We met her in the Jin News office that police had raided the week before, amongst computers that the cops had stripped of their hard drives.

Medya told us that, because of the seizure of her equipment, she had had to report the news with only her mobile phone. She said:

People think that because you face repression, you lose your motivation – but actually, the more we face this repression, the more our motivation increases. For example, even though we don’t have anything to write our news on because they took our equipment, I’m even more motivated to write about it.

Medya said that since the raid there had been an outpouring of support for Jin News. And many young people had contacted them asking to volunteer. She told us that as the organisation grew stronger, the state’s attacks against it grew stronger too.

Becoming a journalist

We asked Medya how she had become involved in Jin News. She told us that she had decided to become a journalist because of her life experiences and what she “had been through”. Medya’s family were forced to leave their home in the 1990s because of Turkish state operations against Kurdish people. She said:

My village was in Şirnak [in the east of Bakur]. In 1993 we had to leave due to the state operations. My family left to Başur [Iraqi Kurdistan], they went to nine different places, and then ended up in Maxmour refugee camp.

During the 1990s, Turkish state forces murdered and disappeared Kurdish people with impunity. Over 3,000 Kurdish villages were burnt. Medya’s family was among thousands of refugees who fled to Maxmour camp, where Medya was born. The camp population swelled to over 12,000 people. Medya told us about her time in Maxmour:

I grew up there [in Maxmour], and I started to study healthcare and medicine in university there [in Başur] . Then the government kicked me out of the university. this is a sign of how federal Kurdistan [The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraqi Kurdistan] is run by imperialist and fascist structures, and linked to the Turkish state.

Many other refugees from Maxmour were also kicked out of university. Medya said that this was an attempt by the authorities to force the refugees to go back to Bakur. Her family eventually decided to leave.

According to Medya, when they returned to Bakur many of her peers were drawn towards studying law, as a way to resist the Turkish state’s repression and imprisonment of the Kurdish people. But she wanted to become a journalist because of what she experienced when she was growing up. According to Medya:

 I had witnessed a lot of things that I wanted the world to know about

She continued:

the things that are hidden, or maybe not heard – i wanted to make these things heard. you could say it’s like a childhood dream

Medya joined Jin News when she was just 17.

Women face the worst oppression

We asked Medya why she was passionate about women’s autonomous media. She told us:

everyone faces oppression here in Kurdistan. But women face the worst in all fields. whether in journalism or politics.

For example, a report states, that in the last months 16 female journalists were threatened or faced violence while working. and as a woman you face more violence, more harassment. so that’s why I wanted to work both as a Kurd, and as a woman journalist.

Medya spoke about the sexual violence against Kurdish women by Turkish forces. She gave the example of 18 year old Ipek Er. In 2020, Ipek Er committed suicide after she was abducted and raped by a Turkish sergeant – Musa Orhan. Orhan was initially arrested by the Turkish authorities, but was promptly released.

What happened to Ipek Er is, tragically, not uncommon. A Turkish non-commissioned officer attempted to rape a 13-year-old girl in Şırnak the same year. At least 3,000 women have been murdered since the conservative AKP government came to power, in what has been dubbed as femicide by the Kurdish movement.

Medya told us about how the mainstream media in Turkey treats women’s journalism:

in the mainstream media, the patriarchal view is felt heavily in the organisations. For example the news about women would be on the third page, and this news builds a ground for more crimes against women.

A media organisation which stays close to the people

Our delegation told Medya how UK journalism is dominated by privileged white men. We asked her how Jin News was different. She told us that Jin News operated in a radically different way to the mainstream media:

in the news agencies that are supporting the state, all the journalists and employees are of one mentality, there is no diversity, no opposing views. it’s the same patriarchal organisational structure. But here, we try to improve and diversify our structure.

Jin News is volunteer run and non-hierarchical. The organisation works to create opportunities to share knowledge about journalism. According to Medya:

we do workshops about women’s struggle, about journalism, to let people know what we are doing and to discuss what we can do among ourselves, how we can change and improve.

She continued:

we also visit families and we talk to people. When we go to another city, we would stay with families, they’d host us. The families support their children to join us and work with us.

‘You can be anything… except a Kurd’

We asked Medya what she thought the state’s strategy was in arresting journalists. She said:

The attitude towards our agency cannot be separated from the general attitude. The pro-state media is already saying that we are supporting terrorist organisations and making terrorist propaganda. These arrests and the media coverage show their true intentions. Here in Kurdistan you can be anything – a lawyer, or a  journalist for example – except a Kurd. when you show your Kurdish identity you’ll be attacked.

The conversations my delegation had with other people on our trip to Amed highlight the grim truth in this statement. Lawyers, journalists, refugee rights organisations, ecological movements, trade unionists and politicians close to the Kurdish Freedom Movement are all facing terrorist charges.

Turkey is in the midst of a deep economic crisis – one that threatens the popularity of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan‘s dictatorial regime. In Medya’s opinion, the state wants to restrict media freedom in order to silence criticism of their handling of the economy. She told us:

Another level of this [media repression] policy is about hiding the economic crisis – these [arrest] campaigns are part of this policy of distraction. The government and state are forcing all media outlets, mainstream media, to make news in the way they want it.

Medya says that Jin News’ oppositional stance is at odds with the state’s attempts to create a compliant media, which simply repeats the state’s own rhetoric. According to Medya:

we try to cover all of these aspects in an oppositional way. that’s what disturbs them. that’s why we are targeted. because the state tries to build a single mentality in every field.

The arrests are part of Turkey’s dirty war

In Medya’s opinion, the Turkish state’s arrests and harassment of Kurdish media and other institutions can’t be separated from the war it’s waging against the Kurdish Freedom Movement. This war is taking place in all four parts of Kurdistan, which lies within the state borders of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

The Turkish military launched invasions of Rojava (Northeast Syria) in 2018 and 2019 in an attempt to destroy the revolutionary society that is being built there. Turkish troops are currently occupying territory in Rojava amounting to thousands of kilometres. This includes the Northern cities of Afrin, Tel Abyad and Serekaniye. In Başur (Iraqi Kurdistan) the military is attacking Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerillas in the mountains with fighter jets, helicopters, drones and chemical weapons. Medya said:

Whether Başur, Rojhilat [the part of Kurdistan within Iran’s borders], Rojava or here. they’re running a dirty war campaign in all fields, not just from the military perspective. They’re using chemical weapons everywhere, committing war crimes. but also these [arrest] operations are part of this dirty campaign. it’s to intimidate people in every field. in media, politics, ecology…

Medya added that Abdullah Öcalan – the PKK’s co-founder – has been imprisoned in isolation in Turkey for 23 years. His imprisonment and isolation are emblematic of the attack on the whole movement. Medya said that the isolation policy against Öcalan was reflected in the attacks on Kurdish media organisations too.

In Medya’s opinion, the state wants to “cut off the head” of Kurdish organisations before they have a chance to grow. She said that Jin News was being targeted for being the people’s voice.

Medya told us that she would welcome collaborations between Jin News and radical media organisations in the UK. She said:

Even if we report with facts and proof, the government and mainstream media won’t recognise this. it’s difficult for us to be heard. For example the opposition CHP party was reacting greatly to some of the arrests of the Turkish journalists who were part of their media. But when its our journalists that are arrested here [in Bakur], there’s no coverage, no reaction. So we want everyone to be a voice for this. To share it.

Over 800 journalists called for the release of their colleagues

On Tuesday 14 June, 837 journalists and 62 institutions signed a statement in support of the detained journalists. It called on the international media and human rights organisations to take up the journalists’ case:

we expect international press organizations, journalists, rights organizations and defenders to show solidarity with us for the development of press freedom in Turkey and to take action against the oppression of journalists.

The statement called for the immediate release of the detained journalists:

Although these policies of oppression and intimidation are known very well by the free press tradition, which works devotedly for the right of people to receive information, we will not get used to these operations and policies of intimidation. The detained Kurdish journalists should be released immediately!

Turkey is trying to silence the voice of radical Kurdish women through its repression of Jin News. One way to break the wall of silence is by reading and sharing Jin News’ work. You can also help keep the website going by becoming a subscriber.

 

Featured image by Medya Üren (with permission). This interview was carried out collaboratively with other members of my delegation.

This is part one of a series of interviews The Canary has carried out with Jin News journalists about Turkish state repression.

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