Ayse Düzkan
"In Leipzig I felt very safe. I had time to think." – Ayşe Düzkan, ECPMF Journalist-in-Residence


13 January 2022

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Following her time as an ECPMF Journalist-in-Residence (JiR), we spoke to Turkish journalist Ayşe Düzkan about her time in Leipzig and reasons for joining the programme.

What were your reasons for applying to join the Journalists-in-Residence programme? What was the situation that you were in and how did it influence your decision to join the programme?

I was on trial for a journalism solidarity case, for a newspaper that is pro-Kurdish but not published in Kurdish – it is published in Turkish. I had a column there, actually, and they had a solidarity campaign and I joined it. Almost all the people who participated in the campaign were put on trial. I was on trial for something like 14 years in prison so I thought, before that, it would be nice to have a break somewhere in Europe and wait for the results. This programme was very good for that and I was accepted. I was getting ready to go to Leipzig – even my passport was in the German Consulate for a visa.


The supreme court approved my sentence of one and a half years in prison. There was no ban for me to go out of the country, so I thought maybe I should go before that and see what happens. Then I decided that it would be better to go to prison because if I left the country and came back – I wanted to live in Turkey afterwards, I didn’t want to stay in Germany – I would have a longer prison term. I would lose my opportunity to be freed on probation. So I went into the prison and in summer, after five months, I came out. I was released on probation so I had to go to the police station twice a week and do public work every day. When all that finished, I was really feeling very off so I wrote to ECPMF and asked if it was possible for me to have this grant again, and they said it was okay.


Did you have any difficulty coming to Leipzig having just been released from prison? Were there any legal issues or were you okay to leave?

No, no, no. I feel that –  this is a very personal opinion – they knew that I was going to Leipzig when they gave me the sentence. They preferred for me to go out of the country, because otherwise I would have a travel ban. When you get sentenced to prison you have a travel ban. I had my passport, it worked, so I thought they preferred for me to go out of the country and to stay there – to force me to do that. When I came out of prison my passport was working again and I got this opportunity. So I didn’t have any difficulty.


When you were in Leipzig, what was it like? What was your experience with the programme? How did it help you deal with the “off” feeling that you had after leaving prison?

I knew that I was keen on going back to Turkey, so when I was writing I knew that it wasn’t like writing from another country. But being in prison made me cope with auto-censorship. You always think “if I write this what will it mean? Will I get a punishment? Will I get a sentence?”. I left all of this behind because I thought “if this is it, if that will happen, that’s okay, I can cope with that again”. So I felt very free about that – prison made me feel more free. But of course, there are always other things to cope with, like the police coming to knock on your door or being in custody –  these are nuisances.


In Leipzig I felt very safe. I had time to think. If it weren’t for the pandemic, of course, it would have been much better because for the first months I was just taking walks, it was cold, it was disappointing. But still being in a new country, feeling always safe, feeling safe in terms of the law and other things – Leipzig is a small city, it is much safer than Istanbul – financially I felt very safe, I didn’t have to earn money. So it gave me a very good break to give me the power to go on again, to go on with the job, with the profession, with writing, to cope with the legal issues.


Did you continue working as usual while you were in Leipzig, or did you take it as a chance to just take a break and relax?

Yes. I was writing twice a week. So I went on writing this column but it was like a few hours twice a week. And it was okay. I didn’t see that as a burden. It was a change.


As part of the programme there are training courses and things like that, would you be able to say which activities you did and which courses you took part in during your time in Leipzig?

We had a few live ones because of the pandemic. They were about digital security for journalists and they were very good for me – I found them really useful. The others were about using digital media and social media for journalism. There was another one which I didn’t find so useful because it was about Instagram and visual material, and I am a writer. I just write news and articles. I don’t really work with visuals so it wasn’t for me.


You said you found the digital security course useful. Did you take any of that home afterwards and apply it to life there?

Many of them. I had taken notes and I went back to them when I came back from Leipzig, I checked many things – my details, my accounts. In Turkey there are so many people who go to prison, who get sentenced or go to court, for things on social media and their accounts are so accessible. So it was very good for me.


Was that something you had been concerned about before? It’s obviously quite a big issue in Turkey.

Yes. I mean, I have two accounts on Twitter, I’m more active on Twitter. One of them is with my real name. Because I write anti-racist things and anti-nationalistic things, the Turkish fascists are really interested in me. And there’s some swearing, bad words, and things like that. They try to get access to my accounts and things like that. And it was very good for me because I knew how to protect my account and how to protect myself actually, also. Because with the fascists it’s not like going to the court or something like that – they can find you on the street and god knows what they would do. So that thing – the digital security – was very important. I would have liked to take language lessons there but it was impossible because of the pandemic.


One of the things the programme tries to help with is psychological support. So if you were getting a lot of abuse previously online from the Turkish fascists, did the course help you either learn how to deal with that, not just from a digital security perspective but also psychologically?

Yes, I had psychological support. And I’m still taking that. It will go on until the end March. I’m still doing it on Zoom with my therapist. This is one of the most important things that happened to me in Leipzig. She was very helpful and I’m very thankful to her. That’s something I say because for so many years in my life, I had lived through trauma. Trauma is like an everyday thing here if you’re doing work as a journalist or you are an activist. It’s very common and when something is very common, you don’t take steps to deal with it. It becomes something you normalise. For example, before I opened this Zoom, somebody knocked on my door. I went and it was a gendarme. I saw the gendarme and was like “oh what’s going on?!”. I’m living in a place where there’s no police, there are gendarmes. And it was just something to do with an address – it was no problem. But when I see the uniform, I sort of feel uncomfortable. So this is a small, small trauma. So it was very good to have therapy all about this.


Has it changed the way you work now?

Yes. It has changed the way I deal with problems and traumas.


Were there other ways that the course changed the way you work and also your personal life when you went back to Turkey?

I was lucky because in the workshop, I met some young journalists from the Arab world and I write a lot about the Middle East. So it was very inspiring to meet them. I met some other journalists – one from Syria – so it was very inspiring. We talked with a translator because he only spoke Arabic and German and I speak only Turkish and English.


A friend from the Centre did the translation for us. And that talk was very inspiring and a teaching moment for me. There are small things like that, meeting other journalists from other countries. There was also someone from Russia. She had a different point of view and her experience was different. Talking to her and learning about how things go in Russia, it was also very inspiring for me. I saw that the journalism is so different from ours and so much better actually – it is so much slower and deeper. I think any meetings that allow journalists from different countries to communicate is very good. But to communicate on a personal level – not just articles and you know, macro stuff but micro stuff. Micro stuff is more important, I think.


Do you think the programme opened any doors or gave you any new opportunities professionally that you might not have had before you did it?

No, I can’t say that. I can’t say that because I have been a journalist for such a long time and I am not in the start of my career. If I was if I was younger – if things weren’t so settled for me and if I wanted to live outside the country, I know that it would offer me many opportunities in terms of networking and in terms of a finding different media, but I am in the middle of my career if not the end actually. But for other people, for younger people, I think so.


Did you find it difficult to readjust when you went back to Turkey? 

No, it wasn’t because for those nine months I went to Berlin, Potsdam, and Dresden. And it was what I expected from Germany. So I have my home here and I am at a point in my life where many things are settled. So it was easy to go back. The house was here, job was here, I was talking in my mother tongue, in Turkish again, so it was okay to go back.


Is there anything that you would say to any journalists who are either considering doing a programme like JiR, or are just in a similar situation to what you were in before you started the programme?

I think there are two things. This is an opportunity that helps the journalists who are in trouble all around the world. Trouble doesn’t only mean legal trouble, because there’s other burdens of journalism – mobbing, sexual harassment, the work burden – there are many things. So, getting a break is good for all of this. It won’t solve the problems, but it gives you an opportunity to think about them. To think about any problems you have – about your job, about yourself. So the this is very important.


It also gives journalists a chance to do networking in Europe and other countries. It’s very good to have that and this is something that should be handled and taken care of very carefully. I’m sure that the Centre is choosing people who really need it. But also the people who apply should know that this is an opportunity that should be used for the ones who really need it. Be it mobbing, be it legal problems, be it not being safe, be it psychological problems. This is a break, it’s not like a holiday. These are two other things. It should be handled very carefully.

The ECPMF Journalists-in-Residence (JiR) programme offers temporary shelter for journalists facing harassment and intimidation as a direct result of their work. Journalists get the chance to rest and recuperate in a safe and discreet place, and also to continue their investigative work at their own pace and use their time in Leipzig for networking and finding solidarity. The JiR programme lasts for either three or up to six months, and includes a rent-free furnished apartment in Leipzig, as well as a monthly stipend to cover basic living costs. It also covers travel and visa expenses, health insurance, psychological counselling, and journalism-related training sessions on topics like digital security, mobile reporting, and social media management.


Read more about the Journalists-in-Residence Programme here.

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