Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Turkish State against Frederike Geerdink*

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As Turkey continues to clamp down on journalists, the Turkish state has now targeted a foreign journalist on what appears to be trumped up terror charges. This week, an indictment was issued against Frederike Geerdink, a Dutch journalist, who has been based in Turkey since 2006, on charges of spreading propaganda via some of her writings, on behalf of the outlawed Kurdish Worker’s Party, the PKK, with her facing up to five years in prison. 

The indictment comes at a time of increased conflict in Turkey’s Southeastern Kurdish region, and the proliferation of state violence, which has steadily increased during the last six months. Therefore, the charges against Geerdink should be placed within the context of silencing journalists who write about Turkey’s decades-old Kurdish conflict, and not within the context of the recent attempts by the Turkish government to stomp out criticism of its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In fact, Geerdink’s thoughts appearing in both international and local news sources, such as the Independent and al-Monitor, or her popular blog, Kurdish Matters, in addition to her work appearing in the online Turkish newspaper Diken, must have sparked the government to take action, in order to put an end to her constant challenging it. However, it must be stressed that due to her status as a foreigner it made the headlines, while many stories go unnoticed, and a long list of Kurdish journalists jailed in the past. For example, just last week 12 students were sentenced to 20 years in prison on terror charges for singing Kurdish political songs on a university campus, while selling a pro-Kurdish paper.

All of this of course is occurring while the Turkish government is locked in a peace process together with the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, in attempt to end the thirty years of violence that has led to approximately 40,000 dead. However, following the ISIS siege on the Kurdish-controlled Syrian city Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) last September (liberated just over a week ago), when Erdogan clarified that for him Kurdish YPG fighters, who have close ties with the PKK, were no better than the ISIS terrorists, tensions flared. For the Kurds, the comparison between the two groups made it clear that even if Turkey was not aiding ISIS, it was certainly set out on a campaign of demoralization against them.

Further, Turkey’s Kurds became increasingly frustrated at the double standard where in the recent past, jihadists set on joining ISIS have been documented numerous times crossing the Turkish-Syrian border unhindered, all the while teargas filled the lungs of those attending protests on the Kobani border, with the Turkish army blocking those trying to cross the border to join the battle against ISIS. In one of these protests, live ammunition was used, leading to the death of a young woman, Kader Ortakaya.   

The tension exploded however on October 6-7, when the protests turned violent with the supporters of the Islamist pro-government Kurdish Huda-Par clashing with the supporters of the mostly Kurdish HDP, who called protests in support of Kobani. While both sides blamed the other for the almost fifty people killed in street violence and targeted killings, including children, no state investigation has taken place, with it unclear what exactly the was the state’s role (including its void) in the unfolding of these events.     

If this was not enough, clashes continued in Turkey’s Southeastern city of Cizre between Turkish security forces and pro-PKK Kurds, which led to more deaths, proving to be a major test for the strained peace process; just last month, two minors were shot with live ammunition by the state security forces, killing 14-yr old Umit Kurt, and 12-yr old Nihat Kazanhan. In relation to the latter, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, vehemently denied state involvement in the killing. However, a video emerged, which made its round on the Turkish nightly news, exhibiting otherwise.

It is this reality that Dutch journalist Frederike Geerdink is working and living in, as she is the only western journalist who resides in the Kurdish regions. And, while she is set on telling the harsh truth, writing in one of her blogs that “no, I am not scared. The state cannot shut me up, not even if they prosecute me, throw me in jail or throw me out of the country,” it seems the government has made a calculation that it is much more risky having her report, than the possible diplomatic fallout this will create.

Therefore, while there is no shortage of people ranging to beauty queens and high school students being placed on trial for their harsh criticism of Erdogan, the current case against Geerdink seems to be tied to the greater tradition of the Turkish state attempts at silencing the violent actions it is using against its own citizens in order to maintain hegemonic control of its Southeastern Kurdish regions.  

It seems safe to say that in this battle, Erdogan, and his AKP loyalists, could find new friends among even their greatest opponents, who see the Kurdish agenda as a tangible threat to the Turkish state. In other words, Geerdink’s sharp reporting and dedication at reporting what she sees and how she understands it, along with her Turkish counterparts, have a double hard time at doing their work, which is seen as both a threat to the ruling government and likewise to those among the opposition who believe that her reporting is nothing more than PKK propaganda. With the stakes so high, there is no doubt that Frederike Geerdink’s case could serve as a test for future international journalists in Turkey.  

 *This article appeared in Turkish, in the online newspaper Diken on February 6, 2015 (with possible revisions due to translation).