by Eylül Deniz Yaşar – Diyarbakır (Amed)
Kurdish journalist Aziz Oruç, who has been recently released from prison in Turkey after 11 months, shared his story concerning the perilous journey he made across three countries. It took him almost three years to reunite with his wife and children again.
Aziz Oruç (36) has been reporting from many zones of conflict in Turkey for the past eight years. The topics he has been covering in his articles mainly address human rights violations, especially the targeting of the Kurds in Turkey since the 1990s. After Oruç became the target of successive lawsuits and was threatened with arrest due to his journalistic work in late 2017, he became one of the numerous journalists who was forced into exile from Turkey so that they could write in freedom.
However, after two years in exile in Iraq, he was caught in Armenia trying to cross the border to seek asylum in Europe. The gruesome treatment he received from the Armenian and the Iranian security forces, including torture and beatings, reached the level where he almost faced death before being thrown back to the Turkish border in the middle of the freezing cold. Following his arrival in Turkey on 11 December 2019, he was welcomed by a campaign of black-propaganda that was initiated by the mass media. One week later, he was sent to prison.
MedyaNews interviewed Aziz Oruç and his wife Hülya Oruç after Oruç was released on 9 November 2020 regarding the difficult times they faced for almost three years after he had to leave the country.
What does freedom feel like after almost a year in prison?
Aziz: I am released now and happy that I am reunited with my family, but this freedom tastes bittersweet, because on the other side of those walls, iron doors and blind windows, there are still thousands of prisoners. For me, my release is a victory against injustice. Of course, I am glad to be outside, because I promised my friends who are still in prison that I would be their voice. This is also a victory to journalism because my colleagues helped raise awareness of my plight and managed to get me released. Yet, I cannot talk about moonlight and roses just because I am free. We have to set all prisoners free to talk about freedom and justice.
Hülya: This is the first time I have seen my husband since 4 March. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, they banned family visits as well. When people are imprisoned, it is the whole family who pays the price. Aziz is free now, but I cannot say we have attained justice. We exist by our struggle and we have to be the voice for each other. I try to speak for many, because I know a great deal of the mothers who try to stand strong with their children. I am not the only one.
Why did you want to flee from Turkey? What are the circumstances for journalists in Turkey that cause them so much distress that they wish to go into exile?
A handful of journalists in Turkey carry the honour of journalism against those big media organizations who work for the dirty mentality of the rulers. A dangerous period for journalists has begun in Kurdistan. Indeed, we have been working as war correspondents in the field. We have faced death more than once. We have always insisted on our quest for the truth despite all the obstacles, but this cause has led to us being targeted.
You are always under threat: they place great obstacles in the path of journalists and their profession. You have to work under harsh circumstances. In addition to that, many lawsuits were filed against me. My wife was pregnant with our second child (Mira). I had to think about the future of my children before the birth.
Many journalists went through similar circumstances previously. Many of our friends have been in prisons for several years. These pressures do not make us take a step back. However, there is also the pain that we are forced to suffer and many prices are imposed upon us for what we do.
What do they accuse you of? Which articles of yours have they charged you with?
The news reports that I wrote under have been held against me as charges. For example, I prepared a report on the dark events in Lice during 1991-92 for Dicle News Agency. Since that story had become the headline in another newspaper, the Ministry of Justice filed a suit against me, which is still open. The charges for that case file relate to seeking “to harass the state authorities”. What we do is not harassment, but we reveal the state authorities’ true nature.
Some of my other news that I made for Dicle News Agency or some of my posts in Twitter have also become the grounds for accusing me of “propaganda of a terrorist organization”. During the period of ‘autonomy resistance’ in Turkey in 2015, Rozerin Çukur was amongst the Kurdish civilians who were targeted by the police in Sur (Amed). My report on how the Çukur family had to dig a grave without the body of their daughter was presented as grounds for these accusations against me.
What did it feel like to be divided by borders, then by walls, as a family?
At the end of 2017, I went to the South (Iraqi Kurdistan) first, alone. My wife could not cross the border, because for the passport of our son, they required the signature of both the mother and the father. Therefore, my wife had to file a divorce as a formality! I could not be present at the birth of my daughter. She was born when I was in exile. The doctors warned us that we might lose her. It was so hard not to be able be there for them. I see Mira’s holding on to life as part of our resistance as a family.
I could see my daughter for the first time only when she was one year old. To conclude, over the past three years, I was only able to see and spend time with Mira and Arin physically for about 65 days when they were able to visit me in exile. That’s all. After this period of intense tribulation, this is the first time I am able to properly hug them and we are together again for a new beginning.
What did you go through when Aziz was imprisoned?
Hülya: I went through huge distress when Aziz was imprisoned. When we first took the decision to flee, we had to sell everything we had. So when he was imprisoned, I had no home, no money and two kids to bring up. The last three years meant struggle for me. And not just over financial and material difficulties, but emotional stresses as well. However, thanks to Aziz’s friends, I could hold on. Their solidarity was so vital and I have seen the most beautiful example of solidarity within this last three years. I feel blessed about all the support I received.
On the other hand, I have become a political target as well and I have been subjected to harassment, like millions of women in this society. They put me on trial due to my posts on social media. They sentenced me to house arrest. Other than that, I was trying to stand up on my own feet, so I went to İstanbul to work. Two construction companies that I was working for fired me without any reason. The grounds were that as Aziz had been projected as a “terrorist”, we all fell under such labelling. The exile and the prison issues were not as hard as people’s attitudes towards me.
Can you tell us more about the struggles you faced before finally ending up in prison in Turkey?
The 7th December 2019 was when my journey to Europe began after prolonged exile in Iraq. I travelled first from Sulaymaniyah to Iran and encountered no problems. Then I arrived at the Norduz border to pass into Armenia. The Armenian soldiers and police were quite nationalist, and my being Kurdish became an excuse for them to torture me. They attacked, harassed and tortured me, accusing me of the Armenian genocide (which occurred decades earlier). As a Kurd, as a journalist, I have always felt the pain of the Armenian people in my soul, so I would never like to seem like I was accusing the Armenian people, but the officers in the Norduz border of Armenia are responsible for extremely illegal and violent treatment towards me.
Then they brought me back to Iran. In Maku, Eṭṭelaat police (the intelligence) came to question me. These intelligence police were punching me and accusing me of irrelevant conspiracies of working either for America or the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK). Then I was locked in a ‘dark room’ for a night. It was an awful, smelly, pitch-dark cell. On the next evening, they took me to the Turkey-Iran border. They kept me waiting outside, handcuffed in the cold. My body turned purple.
I was not handed over to Turkey in an official procedure. It was in the middle of the night and the soldiers threw me to the other side of the Turkish border through the barbed wires by force. I was stuck in between the wires. My whole body suffered cuts and bruises. I still carry the scars of those wires. When I finally got myself out of that mess all by myself, I had a choice of paths to follow: either make it through a minefield or an empty area where you can get shot at by the soldiers. It was only by luck that I was not shot. So finally, my journey ended up in where I had begun.
Do you believe you were treated fairly in Turkey?
I am a citizen of Turkey, yet the state of Turkey never looked out for me or took appropriate legal steps to investigate the treatment I was subjected to in Armenia and in Iran. I have suffered from the biggest conspiracy in Turkey. On 11 December, I was detained in Doğubeyazıt (Ağrı). I was kept in custody for a week and there was huge black propaganda and lies directed against me. “The terrorist has been caught on the border”, the pool media of Turkey reported about me. There was no just or legal assessment, examination or treatment of my situation. What “terrorist?” Was I carrying a gun or something? No. I was wearing and in possession of nothing but a black jogger suit and a shirt. My release proved how wrong their campaign of lies was.
After all these challenges, what lies ahead for you as a journalist?
In all my defenses, I have always said: I am a journalist and I will never quit being a journalist. I will never quit searching for the truth. I continued journalism in prison, I continued journalism on exile and I will continue journalism wherever future paths lead me.