The seventh of October, the day Özgür Gündem Newspaper Editor-in-Chief Gurbetelli Ersöz was killed, has been celebrated as Kurdish Women Journalists Day since 2013.
On the occasion of Kurdish Women Journalists Day, Mesopotamia Women Journalists Platform (MKGP) issued the following statement: “Through the women’s agencies, women’s television and magazines and newspapers that we established, we have demonstrated our commitment and determination to carry women’s will and their words everywhere. We know that the women’s struggle is a struggle beyond nations, classes, and ideologies, and our publishing has brought a new breath to women’s journalism, from its language to its appearance”.
History of Kurdish Women’s Media Platforms
Kurdish women journalists in Turkey work under threats emanating from the state and the police. They have worked under the most perilous conditions to file reports that have often uncovered injustices by the state, non-state actors and patriarchal society. Although the platforms and news agencies established by Kurdish women journalists have generally been closed down by the government, Kurdish women journalists continue to exercise their professions in Turkey. It is a country which is considered by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) to be one of the worst countries in the world regarding freedom of the press.
JinNews Agency (JINHA) was established on 8 March 2012 and all its employees have been women. JINHA was the first media platform in Turkey to employ female only workers. It was a Diyarbakır (Amed) based news agency which was closed down by the Turkish state on 29 October 2016 using Decree-Law No. 676.
After JINHA was closed down, Gazette Şûjin began broadcasting in December 2016. It was also closed down by the Turkish State using Decree-Law No. 693 dated August 25, 2017. JinNews began broadcasting on 25 September 2017. The platform publishes in a number of languages: Turkish, Kurdish, Zazaki, Arabic, and English. All of the workers in JinNews are also women. JinNews continues to broadcast.
Gurbetelli Ersöz (1965–1997) was a Kurdish journalist and freedom fighter. In 1993, she became the first female Editor-in-Chief of the Turkey based newspaper Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda), which focused on Kurdish issues. It particularly focused on information that the mainstream Turkish media would not touch – the scorched earth policies of the state, state-backed assassinations and disappearances and village depopulations. Many journalists, artists, human rights campaigners and readers in Turkey and around the world found her investigative articles and opinion pieces insightful and inspirational and her editorial support to her paper’s journalists (many of whom were targeted for murder by ‘deep state’ agents) and distribution staff equally inspirational. Özgür Gündem’s headquarters in Istanbul was raided on 10 December 1993 and more than ninety people were detained. Ersöz and seventeen of her colleagues were arrested.
After being tortured for thirteen days, Ersöz was sentenced to a prison term of three years and nine months. Lord Eric Avebury and prominent public intellectuals, playwrights, novelists and poets including Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, Noam Chomsky, Adrian Mitchell, and Bernice Rubens had written an open letter in June 1994 expressing their concern at her continued imprisonment alongside her colleagues.
Although Ersöz was released in June 1994, she was forbidden from practicing her profession. In July 1995, having been prevented from being a journalist and editor, she decided to join the guerrilla forces.
Written in Turkish, ‘Gurbet’ in Güncesi: Yüreğimi Dağlara Nakşettim’ was first published in 1998 by Mezopotamien Verlag in Neuss, Germany and later by Aram Yayınevi in Diyarbakır, Turkey, in 2014. Ersözʼs diary provides a personal and moving account of the times. It is also a factual document that looks at forty years of an on-going war against the Kurds. Gurbetelli Ersöz was killed on 8 October 1997 in Southern Kurdistan.
“The path of truth”
Gurbeteli Ersöz remains an inspirational figure amongst Kurdish women journalists and journalists and writers all around the world. “I especially commemorate Apê (‘Uncle’) Musa (Musa Anter) and Gurbeteli Ersöz with respect”, said Ms. Medya Uren, a young woman journalist working for JinNews in Turkey. Uren files news reports in Kurdish, and she was the recipient of the 2020 Musa Anter Journalism Prize for “Best News in Kurdish” (for her powerful article: “We have obtained the letter from I.E., who was raped by a specialist sergeant”).
Uren recognises the significance of Gurbeteli Ersöz: “These martyrs of the free press have endured a struggle for a just cause for their identity and their people and we are the children of that cause. Their personality and struggle have always been a source of strength for us”. Uren refers to Gurbetelli Ersoz – alongside Deniz Firatan and Musa Anter – as people who have walked along “the path of truth”.