How I paid my debt of solidarity for Kurdish media

by Ayse Duzkan

Bu makelenin Türkçe versiyonu burada bulunabilir.

They call themselves “Free Press Tradition” but we usually call them Kurdish media. When I used this term in a chat with a European colleague, he asked whether my Kurdish is sufficient to understand.

It is not. But they are not in Kurdish. We called these newspapers and TV channels Kurdish media yet actually they usually write and broadcast in Turkish but they talk about the Kurdish reality; the conflict, the clashes, the culture, the facts about the everyday life of Kurds. So we Turks can also read, listen, watch and get an idea of a reality we have been kept away from. There’s no way to get away from this reality, no excuse to run away from it.

How I paid my debt of solidarity for Kurdish media Ayse Duzkan. Photo: Taken with permission of Ayse Duzkan.

I got acquainted with the Kurdish media during the early 1990s. It was an interesting period I think. In western cities like Istanbul, where I have spent most of my life, this was a time when the political-social oppression of the 1980 coup d’etat was loosening. Its impact on social and cultural life was fading. But in cities like Diyarbakır, Hakkari where the majority of the population is Kurdish there were clashes, hard state oppression, torture, curfews, etc. And you couldn’t see any of these on the “Turkish” media.

In 1994 the office of Özgür Ülke was bombed. A journalist died. He was one of the many reporters, editors, photographers and newspaper sellers who lost their lives while working for the Kurdish press.  

In 1995 I was part of a collective producing the feminist monthly magazine, Pazartesi. For the magazine, I visited cities I have never been before, wrote news article about women who had been beaten or raped by officials. In many places, colleagues from the Kurdish press helped me.

And in 2000, the Kurdish daily that was being published at that time (they are closed down so frequently that a new one seems to appear  every two years) offered me a column. I was a notorious feminist then (and probably still am) and this was the first time a left-wing medium offered me a regular column. I wrote there to earn my living for years, until I started working in mainstream Turkish media.

But the are not the only reasons for me to owe a debt of solidarity to the Kurdish media. For some 30 years, I have been one of the people who demand peace. And if you don’t know about the war, then you wouldn’t ask for peace. And the Kurdish media were the first who helped us to see the war.

So, when friends and colleagues at Özgür Gündem asked me whether I would join the solidarity campaign and symbolically be the executive editor for a day, I accepted. I spent one day there, did some editing, chatted, drank tea. And a month later, I was at the Book Fair in Diyarbakır and learnt that a case was filed against me and two other “executive editors”, Faruk Eren and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu. There were 56 people who participated in the campaign, and 50 of them were put on trial. Twenty-two of them were sentenced to either prison sentence or cash penalty but the execution of these sentences was postponed, except for Murat Çelikkan’s and mine.

And two years later, I went into prison in January 2019, for my 18 months sentence and was released in June on probation which means I had to do public work for 90 days, go to the police station for “signature” twice a week till the end of my sentence in March.

As you can guess, I don’t regret what I have done. This was something I had to do. Because as a writer focusing on political issues, I feel the same pressure on myself and we can never know who is next. And there is something I want to ask you to do. Please don’t let your governments trade weapons to any government that tries to solve political issues by oppression. Actually don’t let your governments trade weapons to any government...

Ayse Duzkan, the author of this article, is a journalist from Turkey who went to prison in January 2019 for being part of the Özgür Gündem solidarity campaign. She was released in June 2019.