Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink lived and worked in Diyarbakir (Amed), Turkey, between 2012 and 2015, reporting as a freelance journalist on political issues. She was detained twice in 2015.
She was first detained in January charged with distributing propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) through her reporting and comments on social media. After a court battle she was acquitted on 13th April. On 6th September 2015, she was detained again, this time charged with crossing into a restricted zone and taking part in a protest. She was deported from Turkey on 9th September.
As part of a book writing project she lived with Kurdish fighters for one year and afterwards her book, “This Fire Never Dies” was published in 2018. She was acquitted of her second trial last month, after which she has filed a case against the Turkish government for compensation.
Yeni Özgür Politika conducted an interview with Geerdink about her book and the oppressive policies of the Turkish government.
Geerdink starts by sharing her view on being a journalist: “I think the right word defining journalism is not ‘objectivity’ but ‘honesty’. I tried to reflect the truth in contrast with the image created in the mainstream media. I could do this only through writing honestly on my experiences, my observations and telling the stories of the fighters. Nobody did this till now. PKK has been carrying out an armed struggle since 1984. It seems really strange that no Western journalist has ever came to observe, even though the circumstances were relatively more suitable in the past.”
She then reflects on her one-year-stay in the mountains with the Kurdish fighters: “When I saw with my own eyes, I realised that the fight wasn’t just focused on fighting but something much broader. When I was heading out to the mountains I wasn’t really prepared and I didn’t know what to expect. It’s a good thing that I stayed for a year, for a stay of three months would not be sufficient to understand what the fight was about. I’ve become a part of that life in one year. People think that the mountains are all about violence, and this is natural since this is how it is reflected. I wrote on how this isn’t the case. I tried to give a feeling of the conditions there, to take the reader to the daily life of the fighters in the mountains.”
Asked about her acquittal of the charges at her trial and the conditions in Turkey, she said that the court ruling did not signify that the conditions were getting better in Turkey. “The oppression continues and getting worse” she adds. “The number of imprisoned journalists may have recently fallen a little bit, but there are still thousands of trials going on, many journalists who had to flee the country, many banned from going abroad. If those who fled had stayed in Turkey, they would be imprisoned now. On the other hand, there is much more auto and self censoring now due to greater oppression. We can see that the whole media is now controlled by Erdogan in contrast with the situation 15 years ago. The conditions are actually worse.”
Geerdink also comments on the possible role of the Dutch government in her acquittal: “They didn’t really do much. The Dutch foreign minister, Bert Koenders, was in Turkey at the time I was detained, and he made certain exchanges. I was supported during the trial and in the process of deportation, but they didn’t have an impact on the acquital. What could they say? They could only say, ‘Be careful about human rights issues and freedom of the press.’ And Turkey would only say, ‘We don’t share your view,’ and Netherlands would say, ‘OK then, let’s talk about trade,’, and it would be over. This is how things work.” she said with a smile.
She believes that the motivation behind Turkey’s incursions into Southern Kurdistan are both domestic politics and the objective of destroying the Kurdish movement: “It’s very difficult to predict how the conditions in Turkey will be tomorrow, but it’s clear that it’s acting with a so-called 2023 (Eds note: 100th anniversary of the Lausanne Treaty that established the borders of Turkey, borders Turkey contested in regards to the Mosul Viliyat that included the oil rich cities of Kirkuk and Mosul) vision right now. One of the motivations behind Erdoğan’s attacks on the Kurdish people is domestic politics. He essentially wants to destroy the Kurdish movement and perhaps to extend the country’s borders, which I believe won’t be permitted by by Iraq and Syria. He tries to impress his supporters with his every move. His objective is to kill one of the main leaders of PKK so he could say, ‘Look, we’ve ended PKK.’ He would like to use such a thing for propaganda.”
Asked about the resolution of the Dutch Parliament on the recognition of Yezidi genocide, Geerdink says, “It doesn’t really mean much.” She says that the Dutch government did nothing while the Yezidis were persecuted and subjected to all sorts of cruelty for seven years.
“What does this symbolic resolution really mean? It does not have any legally binding consequence. I’m not questioning the good faith of the MPs who have brought forward the proposal, but it’s easy for the parliament to ratify a resolution without any legal consequence. They wouldn’t even know where Shingal was on the map if they were asked. The situation is still gloomy in Shingal. Many external powers are trying to divide the Yezidi people.”