Interviews

02/06/2014 - 23:00
Interview with Frederike Geerdink, The Only Foreign Journalist Based in Diyarbakir

3 June 2014

by Mark Campbell

In the Summer of 2012 a Dutch freelance journalist, Frederike Geerdink (44) who had been based in Istanbul since 2006 made a bold decision to move to the regional capital of 'Kurdistan', Amed (Diyarbakir) to focus more on the topic that has fast become one of the most important political issues in the Middle East, The Kurdish Question.

A fearless and brave reporter, even before travelling to Amed, Geerdink wrote an article in the summer of 2011 arguing that the labeling of the PKK as a 'terrorist' organisation was hampering a political settlement of the Kurdish issue and worse justified violence against the Kurdish movement "Time for a new political signal: strike the PKK off the list of terrorist organizations." She wrote.

It was an honest and fresh approach that we had not seen voiced by many reporters writing from Turkey. And it was an approach that was to continue and dominate her writing!

Settling in Amed, Geerdink began a media project that was to be funded from crowd sourcing that she had set up and organised herself through social media to look at the Kurdish Question in greater depth and from a Kurdish perspective.

"What I admire is that despite the denial of a very important part of their identity, the Kurds still stand strong. I feel that strength when I explore the region. And it motivates me even more to delve deeper into this people and the 'issue' that is connected to them." From Ferderike Geerdink's profile on Kurdish Matters, a website set up as part of the media project.

On 28th Dec 2011, the Turkish government bombed a group of harmless villagers who were travelling on their mules with provisions to sell, killing 34 mostly young men. It was a murderous act that shook Turkey and put the spotlight again on Turkey's horrendous record and policies against the Kurds.

Geerdink decided that through this tragic story of the Roboski massacre, she would attempt to tell the story of the Kurdish experience and set about writing a book. This project would take her to the villages of the families of those who died where she would stay in their homes, share their pain, listen and retell their stories.

Frederike Geerdink also funds her work by publishing her work on Beaconreader.com where readers can access her exclusive reports for a nominal sum of a few dollars. She also has a strong presence on Twitter at @fgeerdink and often-live tweets from events as they happen, most recently the contested local elections in Agri.

Geerdink's latest article The Largest Ever Uprsing in Turkey again goes straight to the heart of the issues, not afraid to report the situation as she sees it. In the beginning of the article Geerdink notes that some refer to the Gezi protests as the largest uprisings seen in Turkey.

She writes:

'Turkey's largest-ever civil uprising', I read a few days ago referring to the Gezi protests of last year. I agree that Gezi was big, both in the number of people participating and in the way it was spread over many parts of the country, but no, it was not the largest-ever uprising in Turkey's history. That is the Kurdish movement. The Kurds also reached more than the Gezi movement will probably ever reach.

Some might argue that the Kurdish movement, carrying on a struggle that was started by the PKK, is not a civil uprising, but an uprising started by a group of armed men and women. But does an uprising have to be spontaneous and does it have to start with protests on the streets to be a civil uprising? I don't think so. The Kurdish movement may have started small, but soon grew and managed to gain a lot of support from the people, after which it grew into a mass civil movement maintaining a decades-long and persistent uprising."

She then goes on to question that maybe if the Gezi Movement stood back and reflected and anaylsed the power structures in Turkey like the Kurds had done they may well come to the conclusion that perhaps they would be stronger to make an alliance with the Kurdish Movement.

She concludes:

"Maybe they would conclude that there has been a civil uprising going on for three decades already. That there is a movement that saw through the structures of 'new authoritarianism' way, way earlier. That they formulated an alternative, that they got the people behind them and have achieved a lot in thirty years, and are now on the road to peace. The Kurdish movement has been appealing to Turks for years to join their struggle for everybody's freedom. What if those in Turkey who want real change were to listen and act upon that call? That would make the largest-ever civil uprising in Turkey even stronger. It could not only lead to the end of the authoritarian ways of Erdogan, but to the end of the system too. There would be real democracy for the first time in Turkey's history. No new authoritarian leader would emerge."

I emailed Frederike Geerdink a few questions for KurdishQuestion.com.

Question 1. You have written before about the criminalisation of the PKK and how this label is an obstacle to a successful resolution of the Kurdish Question. Do you think also that this label is an obstacle to many Turks seeing the Kurdish struggle as a vehicle for a joint struggle for greater democracy in Turkey and if so how could this be overcome?

Answer 1. It definitely is. In Turkey the framing of the PKK as a terrorist organization is of course even stronger than outside Turkey. And not only that: the basic principles of the republic are taught to every Turkish citizen from a young age, which is in itself no problem but it *is* a problem when they can't be discussed. One of those principles is the sacred unity of the country, which makes anyone who even only pleas for federalism a 'separatist', in Turkey basically a synonym for 'terrorist'. So PKK and anybody advocating Kurdish rights is directly and indirectly framed as terrorist.

Question 2. You recently covered the rerun of the contested local council elections in Agri and tweeted that you agreed with the elected co Mayor Sirri Sakik that the election victory was an opportunity for a renewed effort to push the peace process forwards. As you know, there is a ground swell feeling that the Turkish government are simply stalling with the so called peace process so do you think that it is likely Erdogan will move forward and what do you think his next move might or should be?

Answer 2. You wrote: 'you agreed with the elected co Mayor Sirri Sakik that the election victory was an opportunity for a renewed effort to push the peace process forwards', but that is not really what I meant, and probably not what he meant. I saw the emotions on the street after BDP had won. They were beyond happiness. People's faces were exploding with joy, and the Halays [Eds note: Kurdish dancing] were so intense, people stamped their feet as if they wanted to make a hole in the earth. If the BDP had lost and that intense emotion would have come out in a negative way, things would have become very violent, and there were thousands of cops around so I am pretty sure many people would have got wounded, or worse. That would really have endangered the peace process, since tensions are rising already with the roadblocks, the kalekol in Lice, the 'abductions' of children. So that the BDP won - for the second time - may have saved the peace process.

It's just justice being done, I don't think it will necessarily push the peace process forward but now at least it will not die. The peace process may be pushed forward anyway, Öcalan announced something will happen soon. I hate that, there is such a total lack of transparency in the process, it's not going in a democratic way. Let's see what will happen. What Erdogan should do? Many KCK prisoners are being released, that is something although Erdogan will say the judiciary is independent. The terrorism laws should change, the constitution should change, but I don't expect anything before the presidential elections in August. What he could do is stop the construction of police and army posts in the southeast, but I really do wonder if he is in control of that. It would help build some trust and Turks and his constituency doesn't need to know (since he controls much of the media, and his constituency doesn't read or believe the media he doesn't control) so it's an easy thing to do, but he doesn't order a stop to it so that's why I wonder if he controls it. Same goes for expanding the village guard system, that could be stopped but that's also not done. I think the army is in charge of that, instead of politics.

Question 3. During your time in Turkey and 'Kurdistan' there have been many major developments in the Kurdish Question and you have witnessed these on the ground. Do you think journalists, academics and writers have a responsibility to try to prepare the wider general public in the whole of Turkey for a political settlement of the Kurdish Question and if so, how do you think they could do that?

Answer 3. Every writer or intellectual has to decide that for him/herself. Journalists do have a responsibility to report things as they are, and I know that many journalists in Turkey actually want to do that but they just don't get the chance, their bosses won't allow it. I once asked a colleague at a big paper why they rarely ask ordinary Kurds about their experiences and opinions. She said: 'It's no use, we can't quote them anyway' - and she felt very ashamed of it. There are exceptions of course, some speak out and some report from the ground. And I do see change, and the internet brings it: more websites appear that are only interested in journalism, like diken.com.tr (they don't censor me, I can write what I like), and t24.com. Unfortunately not read by a broad part of society, but it has to start somewhere.

Plus, of course, a lot has changed already. The existence of Kurds is not denied anymore, every paper writes about them even if it's not always honest writing and often deliberately distorting the story, but still. But I also feel hesitant to point this progress out, since it's what everybody always says and I object to it too: is acknowledging the existence of Kurds worth any applause? I don't think so. It also implies that you know, we just gotta be patient, but we can't keep on saying: 'It's not the nineties anymore!', what I like to respond to that is: 'True, and it's 2014 by now, haydi!'

Question 4. You recently wrote a book about the Roboski Massacre in Dec 2011 and it has been published in Dutch. How has the book been received in Holland and will it be translated into English soon?

Answer 4. The reviews were positive, but unfortunately the big national papers didn't review it. Too many books coming out :-( But the sales are going fine, my publisher said, and that must be due to my own network and social media presence :-) I'm working on an English and Turkish version. When there is an English version, I will start working on a Kurdish translation with a translator friend of mine! Patience needed though - that's hard for me too, I can be an impatient woman ;-)

Please support the work of Frederike Geerdink by subscribing to her writings at Beaconreader.com, following her at @fgeerdink on Twitter, KurdishMatters.com and journalistinTurkey.com

Turkey needs more journalists like this fearless writer!

Please subscribe and support the work of Frederike Geerdink here: 

www.beaconreader.com/frederike-geerdink


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of KurdishQuestion.com