Fatih Polat, the editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Evrensel in Turkey, writes on the crucial role played by the Kurdish news agencies, Dicle News Agency (DIHA) and its successor Mesopotamia News Agency (MA) in reporting critical issues purposefully ignored by the vast majority of Turkish media and additionally censored, directly or indirectly by the Turkish state.
On the fourth anniversary of the establishment of MA as the re-organisation of it’s predecessor DIHA, which had been summarily shut down without any legal grounds after the 2016 military coup attempt, Polat recalls that Nedim Türfent, a DIHA reporter arrested in May 2016, is still in prison.
When I was in Diyarbakır as part of our “News Duty” programme, which a group of us, as journalists had set up as a vocational mutual support project, one of the news organisations I worked for was the Dicle News Agency (DİHA). Following a meeting at DİHA’s head office on the morning of 10 February 2016, I had set off for the Sur area following a news story, together with the amazing Şerife Oruç, a reporter from the Diyarbakır office of the news agency. Şerife was studying in the sociology department at university and had been reporting for DİHA for three years at that time. She loved journalism and Diyarbakır, and she knew Sur, where we were going, very well. When we got to Sur we came up against a police barricade. Everyone entering or leaving Sur was being searched, one by one.
As I was going through, a police officer wanted to see my bag. I said I was a journalist. He looked down at my bag, but then said, “fine”, without looking at my ID. I went through and stopped to wait for Şerife. It was abundantly clear that the policewoman searching Şerife had no intention of letting her through as easily. As she examined her little notebook, she stopped at the sentence, “We will call the state to account for the crimes it has committed against the Kurdish people.” The words were those of Selçuk Kozağaçlı, the General Director of the Contemporary Lawyers Association (ÇHD). The policewoman asking in relation to the sentence said “You are reporting about these people?”
At that moment, as I was waiting for her, a police officer wearing an armoured protective vest turned to me and said: “Why are you waiting?” I indicated towards Şerife and replied: “I’m waiting for my colleague, we’re following a news story together.” Clearly they didn’t like that response. He asked for my press card and ID. As I passed him my yellow press card and my ID, I tried to remain calm: “Let’s get through the procedure, whatever it is, but we need to follow up on our news story.”
The police, who now had both our IDs, talked among themselves for a while and then made some enquiries over their radios. Then they held out our IDs, and with bad grace, said, “Move on”.
I have been coming to Diyarbakır as a reporter since the mid-1990s, but Şerife knew Sur better than I did. We followed up the news story together, then returned to the office and wrote it up.
I made a note of the difficulties that Şerife faced at the entrance to Sur, and I wrote about it. In the time that followed I kept up with the news from DİHA, which was closed down by Statutory Decree, and after that the Mesopotamia Agency (MA), and I kept in touch with friends at the agency by various means.
Şerife Oruç was someone who experienced the systematic persecution that is meted out to Kurdish journalists particularly in the provinces of that region. She was arrested. When she was released on 10 July 2018 after two years imprisonment she made this short statement: “I intend to continue my journey as a journalist after a two year break. No matter how much persecution we are under we will continue to report the facts.”
Şerife said these things with the sense of responsibility placed upon her by her colleagues, murdered in attacks by the deep state, JİTEM (Gendarmerie Intelligence Anti-Terror Units) and Hizbullah-Kontra (state-sponsored paramilitaries with fundamentalist Islamic connections) from the beginning of the 1990s onwards as she continued her journalism in Diyarbakır and neighbouring cities.
She was a person who combined humility with determination.
As I sat down at my computer to write this article, I asked my colleagues at MA about Şerife. They said that she is abroad now. She had to go abroad, like so many of our colleagues, under the threat of long prison sentences and the narrowing of the constraints to follow their profession, as a result of the oppressive policies of the AKP (ruling Justice and Development Party) which had taken measures to destroy all possibilities of a negotiated solution to the Kurdish question. Some of them have been prohibited from leaving the country so have had to leave by dangerous routes.
DİHA reporter Nedim Türfent has suffered much persecution, and despite the people who testified against him under duress admitting to this in court, he has still remained a prisoner in Van Prison since May 2016. Another DİHA reporter Ziya Ataman has been imprisoned in Van M-Type Prison since 11 April 2016. We should also note that his request for release on medical grounds has been rejected despite the fact that his intestines have failed.
DİHA reporters with no proceedings against them are an exception.
Within the period witnessed by our generation, the times in which the persecution of Kurdish journalists has lessened are few and far between. Apart from brief intervals, the state’s Kurdish policy has been equated to “the struggle with terrorism”, and the systematic nature of the persecution of Kurdish journalists forms the basis of this equation. The equation is so unbalanced, that questioning why Nedim Türfent is still in prison for example, despite the fact that more than 20 people, amongst whom were those who had their teeth pulled out or had guns placed against their heads, admitting to making false witness statements under duress and withdrew their statements in the presence of the court, throws any attempt to make sense of the equation into utter confusion. Naturally, looking at this equation and being unable to make any sense of it is not an outcome that inclines one towards acceptance of it. For exactly this reason it is necessary to find a conclusion to the “confusion” and the continuing objections in this country.
It is not possible to comment on Kurdish journalists and MA’s practical news agency work, that has continued for 20 years as of today, without mentioning this persecution. It would be a serious injustice to our Kurdish colleagues who persist in their journalism in the face of it.