Kurdish radical women journalists will not be silenced in the face of Turkish repression

Nurcan Yalçın
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We are in the midst of a global attack on women. Right now, this patriarchal onslaught can be seen in the criminalisation of abortion in many US states, the fact that almost 1 in 3 women and girls experience sexual and/or physical violence in their lifetimes, and that on average 137 women are killed every day by a partner or family member. This misogyny can also be seen in the form of the Turkish state’s attacks on the Kurdish women’s movement.

The Turkish state is engaged in a massive campaign of repression against the Kurdish Freedom Movement – one which has been dubbed a political genocide by the movement. There are currently 10,000 political prisoners being held in Turkey on charges related to the movement.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan‘s dictatorial regime is both socially conservative and deeply misogynist. Erdoğan has said publicly that women are “not equal to men due to their delicate natures”, and that Islam has “defined a position for women: motherhood.” The patriarchal nature of the Turkish regime is reflected in its vicious attack on Kurdish women.

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.

An attack against women’s autonomous media

This attack has widened to the targeting of women’s news agencies. Earlier this month the Turkish state arrested 20 journalists – including several from the women’s media organisation Jin News. 16 of them were remanded in prison.

Days after the mass arrests, radical journalist İnci Hekimoğlu was detained in a dawn raid on her home in the Turkish city of Izmir. The arrest was reportedly due to İnci’s social media posts.

However, the state’s attack on radical Kurdish women’s media has been raging for a long time. Women’s news organisations have been censored and criminalised, and female journalists have been targeted.

Read on...

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In 2016, Turkey was listed as the world’s most frequent jailer of journalists, and the country is still locking them up in huge numbers. But the repression is strongest against Kurdish women.

Threatened with 20 years in prison for radical journalism

Over the past six months, I have been part of two grassroots political delegations that travelled to Bakur – the part of Kurdistan within Turkey’s borders – in solidarity with the movements there. The delegations included people from UK anti-repression organisations, Kurdistan solidarity groups, a radical trade union, and three journalists from The Canary.

Our delegation interviewed radical journalist Nurcan Yalçın about the state’s attempts to imprison her for her involvement in autonomous women’s media.

When we met Nurcan she had been sentenced to three years and seven months in prison. She was awaiting the judgement of Turkey’s court of cessation (in Turkey, defendants do not normally serve their sentence until their appeal has been processed).

Nurcan is banned from travelling abroad, and has had to surrender her passport to the police.

Nurcan has been involved in women’s autonomous journalism since 2013. She started off by working for JinHa women’s news agency. JinHa has been made illegal by the Turkish state – but was relaunched as NuJINHA (which means ‘new Jinha’). Later on, Nurcan began working for the Jin TV production company. Jin is the Kurdish word for ‘woman’.

Nurcan explained that, at Jin TV, all of the roles are carried out by women, whether it’s presenting the news to camera or doing the technical work behind the scenes. She said that Jin TV is run democratically, and all of the journalists and members make decisions together.

“We try to make the voice of women heard”

She said that the Kurdish radical media combats elitism by sharing skills amongst its journalists and not relying on formal educational qualifications. Nurcan herself never went to university.

Nurcan said that at Jin TV:

We try to make the voice of woman heard all around the world. We want to be the voice of women who are oppressed, who are subjected to violence, who face domestic violence.

She added that Jin TV focuses on women’s traditions and culture, and politics relating to women.

In Turkey, all non-mainstream journalists are targeted

The Turkish state opened an investigation into Nurcan in 2015, for ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’. She said that all non-mainstream journalists are targeted by the state, but this is worse if you are a Kurdish woman:

If you are not a journalist working for mainstream media then you are targeted. If you are a woman journalist or Kurdish you will surely face more challenges.

Nurcan told us that the state had started the case against her after she was involved in reporting for JinHa from Northeast Syria. She also reported on the uprising in Bakur – where people in many cities declared their autonomy from the Turkish state. A further charge was brought against her because she posted photos of her family members who were killed taking part in the uprising.

Secret witnesses

Finally, charges were also brought against Nurcan for joining Rosa Women’s Association, an organisation set up for women’s empowerment and to combat all forms of violence against women. Rosa Women’s Organisation has been heavily criminalised, and many of its members have been arrested and sent to prison accused of ‘terrorism’.

Nurcan told us that the prosecution relied entirely on secret witnesses, who could not be cross-examined by her defence lawyers. She said:

It is common for people to appear in court because of the statements of secret witnesses. You cannot ask any questions to them. My lawyers wanted to question the secret witnesses, but they [the witnesses] were never brought to court.

Arrested while trying to do her job

Nurcan said that she had previously been arrested in 2019, in the town of Mardin, while trying to report on the Turkish state’s sacking of the town’s elected co-mayors, who were part of the radical People’s Democratic Party (HDP). The HDP mayors were being replaced by a state appointee – a process that has been repeated all across Bakur. Nurcan told us:

we had our cameras and everything, so everyone knew that we were journalists, but the police detained us – me and four other journalists. I was held in detention for eight days.

The five of them were eventually charged with obstructing a police officer. They were all eventually acquitted of the charge.

“We ask you to make our voices heard”

Nurcan told our delegation that Turkey’s radical journalists need international solidarity. She said:

When foreign people [like you] come to Kurdistan, then you see what kind of challenges we face, as both male and female journalists. We have faced many challenges here. We ask you to make our voices heard all around the world This will be a great support for us.

The featured image is of Nurcan Yalçın, via NuJinHa

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. You can read our previous interview here.

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