Women on the frontlines of Kurdish struggles: An interview with JİNHA women’s news agency
In 2015, Corporate Watch visited Bakur (meaning ‘North’ in Kurmanji), the Kurdish region within Turkey’s borders. We interviewed two journalists from JİNHA (Jin Haber Ajansı), an all-women news agency made up of mostly Kurdish women, based in Amed (Diyarbakır in Turkish).
Our meeting with JİNHA took place just after the Turkish election in June 2015. Since our interviews, the Turkish state has begun a new war on its Kurdish population. Cities have been attacked by the police and military with mortars, tanks and helicopters and every day Kurdish citizens are being murdered. People in cities across Bakur have erected barricades in their neighbourhoods to defend themselves against the violence and are trying to organise autonomously from the state.
For four years, JİNHA journalists have been reporting the crimes of the Turkish state and have suffered a great deal of repression. Their website has been hacked five times in these four years and has been blocked by a state court order. Their journalists have been threatened by the police, including death threats, and have been targeted with live ammunition while carrying out their work as reporters. Women from the news agency have also been arrested. On 19th December 2015, Beritan Canözer was charged with “aiding a terrorist organisation”, while Vildan Atmaca was charged with “defaming the President through social media and propagandising for a terrorist organisation”. Atmaca’s next hearing in court will be held today, on 21st January, 2016. Another JİNHA journalist, Rojda Oğuz, was arrested on the 8th January 2016 and charged with “being a member of a terrorist organisation”. Her phone calls were tapped by the police, and she and Beritan, are in prison pending their trials.
Meanwhile, the co-Mayor (Kurdish municipalities have two mayors, one man and one woman) of the municipality of the town of Suruç has been arrested on various charges; one of which is that the municipality subscribed to JİNHA. According to the news agency, the payment for the subscription “was considered as ‘transferring money to a terror organisation’”.
We were lucky enough to interview journalists Asya Tekin and Sarya Gözüoğlu, just two of the courageous women who write for JİNHA. The interviews took place before the latest assaults by the Turkish military on Kurdish cities.
Interview with Asya Tekin (pictured above)
Corporate Watch: Can you describe JİNHA?
Asya Tekin: JİNHA was founded four years ago on 8 March 2012, which was International Women’s Day. Its goal is to cover women’s issues from women’s perspectives with only female reporters. It was founded in Amed. Since then, a network of reporters has developed all over Kurdistan – we now have 40 staff. Legally we’re a company but we work as a women’s collective.
It’s an agency of mainly Kurdish women, but as it’s grown it has tried to engage more with women’s problems around the world on a global level.
We have a website and a visual service that sends coverage from around the region to different channels, and we also send news to a lot of newspapers in the region.
CW: Does JİNHA experience prejudice because it’s a women’s new agency?
AT: When it comes to our news being picked up, there’s a lot of difficulties. Our subscribers are made up of the leftist media and alternative media. Big news channels generally don’t subscribe. Media usually presents women in a sensationalist and tabloidised way, but we present a woman’s perspective on women’s struggles. This isn’t something that readers and viewers here are used to seeing. So we have lots of difficulties with subscriptions.
Our reporters also experience difficulties when they’re out reporting. People say that women can’t do war reporting and there is the assumption that the people holding the camera should be men. There is discrimination from colleagues and every day people.
CW: Can you tell us about day to day life and the violence that you experience from the Turkish police and the military in Kurdistan?
AT: Daily life here makes me feel unsafe, especially as a woman reporter. As a female reporter, every day it’s possible to be under attack. During the [2015 Turkish general] election campaign we went to the Black Sea region. We were harassed by police and we were followed by an unmarked car all the way to Malatya. We complained to the police, saying that we knew that it was them, and the police seemed to accept this but wouldn’t do anything about the complaint. I don’t feel safe here.
This is a country where there’s a serious struggle for women’s liberation. Women like Deniz Firat [a Kurdish female correspondent working for Firat News Agency, killed by Daesh in 2014] and others like her who were murdered doing this job give inspiration and strength to me.
Deniz Firat, Killed by Daesh in 2014
I see myself as a journalist working in a state of war and I see what I do as being on the frontlines of that struggle. The attacks may have a psychological affect but not enough to make me give up.
When you see this much injustice around you, you have to report on it. The news that you choose to make can put you on the right side. Of course, the news needs to be as objective as possible but when you see a state that is committing so much injustice you have to report it from the right side. In fact, as a journalist it’s your responsibility to be on the side of what’s right. In an ethical and moral sense, as a person I feel a responsibility to do what’s right. Of course we’re journalists, but I am also a Kurdish woman, so I feel a responsibility for what’s going on.
We don’t just make news about the women who resist; we make news about women who can’t resist, who live under conditions of near slavery. This is our duty as women journalists. It’s the approach of our agency that we are on the side of women and women’s freedom in every situation.
To the same extent that we make news about women who are resisting, we make news about women who are being abused, held down, exposed to discrimination. And we see it as showing the struggles of all women, and what women’s struggles are really like.
For example, a woman who is raped by Daesh, left in a state where she can’t do anything, can barely live. We try to report her story and give her a voice because we share her pain.
And when I see this patriarchal system that can do these kinds of things to women, that’s what makes me a journalist. And that’s what reminds me of the importance of being a woman reporter.
CW: Your work must have big psychological effects on all of you. Do you do anything to support each other?
AT: Most recently in the Diyarbakır bombing [of the People’s Democratic Party rally on 5th June 2015], we were talking to women who had their legs blown off. We were running past human flesh on the street.
As Kurdish people we are adjusted to trauma. What we are doing is not primarily as a commitment to journalism but to women’s activism. This is what keeps us going.
There have been threats by [Kurdish] Hizbollah and Daesh but this doesn’t make us want to stop what we’re doing. It makes us more committed to what we’re doing.
CW: Can you explain what happened in September 2014 when you went to the Kobanê border during the Daesh attacks on the city?
On 17th September the attack on Kobanê began. When we first received the news that Daesh were attacking Kobanê, we got into the car and headed to the border.
There were thousands of people trying to cross the border [into Turkey] who were afraid of Daesh, and afraid of savage things happening to them. They were mostly women, children, elderly people. People were crossing with giant bags of stuff, with their cars and sheep. There was no water and food. The [Turkish] police opened fire with teargas. People on this side of the border know about teargas, but people from Rojava had never experienced it before and they thought it was a chemical weapon attack against them. That was what they were most familiar with, so they hid under blankets. A reporter from IMC ran to help them and told them that they needed to run away from the teargas. A lot of women were screaming because they couldn’t find their children.
There were hundreds of journalists there and they were also attacked. A lot of journalists stopped their journalism role, abandoned our jobs, because we needed to help the people urgently.
That was the first day. After that there was an attack every day. Turkish police and soldiers were there in their thousands and launched attacks with teargas, batons, and with live ammunition. There were tanks, soldiers on foot, and bullets being fired.
There was no where to hide. You couldn’t know where attacks were going to happen. Sometimes we would run from an attack and run into teargas or a tank.
CW: What was the motive for these attacks?
AT: The attacks were entirely aimed at lowering morale in Kobanê and stopping people from supporting Kobanê. Being at the border was the only way for people to help those in Kobanê.
Turkish soldiers ultimately support Daesh and they didn’t want to see people in Kobanê get support because they wanted to see Daesh win. They didn’t want to see solidarity with the YPG and YPJ [People’s Protection Units of Rojava].
One woman had a child fighting against Daesh in Kobanê, so she came to join the resistance and go and fight alongside her child. Everyday she was waiting on the roof nearby the border to wait for the border to open.
CW: Were you attacked for being a journalist?
AT: Of course. Also, we didn’t have [state issued] yellow press cards, so the army wanted to try to push us out of the area. They were trying to stop us reporting by any way that was possible.
CW: What happened here on 6/7 October 2014 when Turkish President Erdoğan announced that Kobanê would fall?
AT: On the 6th and 7th October, people came out onto the streets. So we got in a taxi to Şilbe district and the scene that we saw was like a war zone.
There were tanks and police armoured vehicles called Akreps (Scorpions). There were two of us from JİNHA and two from DİHA news agency. We got out of the taxi and went to take a short video. As we got back into the taxi the police fired a teargas capsule from one of the Akreps directly into the taxi. The windows broke and I felt the teargas capsule go past my head. The four of us and the taxi driver were inside with the cloud of teargas. I couldn’t breathe. With teargas that always happens. If you’re someone with heart or breathing problems you’re likely to die. We all rushed out of the car. The teargas was so thick that if we hadn’t got out then we could have died. The canister nearly hit my head. I would have been killed if it had hit me. The car was completely ruined.
They were attacking everyone on the streets.
When we got our senses back we said that we weren’t going to take any footage. We were under the threat of death if we continued shooting footage.
A green coloured Scorpion vehicle was used by the police to fire teargas from a little hole in the vehicle. They open an opening, shoot the teargas and close the opening.
We found teargas canisters that showed that the police were using them past their expiration date in Amed and in Suruç, on the border with Kobanê. There was a warning on the cannisters: “If not used within six months it can cause fatality”.
The police used tanks, Scorpions, normal police vehicles and TOMA [water cannons] that day.
CW: What’s your opinion of the companies who manufacture weapons for the Turkish military?
AT: I see it as wrong to hold the companies as primarily responsible. The nation state consolidates their power by using these weapons. States need them to hold onto their repressive power. Until this goes away, these companies won’t go away. But I see these companies also as the killers of children. Their directors are absolutely party to a murder.
CW: Do you think that governments should give licenses for the export of weapons to Turkey?
AT: Why is it that these weapons always get sent to the Middle East? Why is it that the whole world fights its wars in the Middle East? Why is it that everywhere you go, on every street corner here you see a policeman holding a weapon and he knows how to kill someone, and when you go to Europe you don’t see a weapon anywhere? Why do we have to live in a land where there are weapons everywhere?
If these weapons hadn’t flooded the Middle East then groups like Daesh couldn’t exist. And now it’s at the point where people living here need a weapon for self defence. A woman in the YPJ [Women’s People’s Protection Unit in Rojava] needs to pick up a weapon. If you’re somebody who is living there and you’re facing the most savage force in the world, you have to pick up the weapon that they pick up to defend yourself.
Of course, the Kurdish people have a strong will to resist but if only we lived in a world where we could do it with civil disobedience or having debates. Unfortunately we’re living in the Middle East and that’s not possible.
We want to live in a world where we don’t have to pick up a weapon. I hope that one day people won’t go to war any more. I hope that the resistance of the YPJ will bring a day where people can live in peace and have a life without war.
Ultimately Kurdish women have become a source of hope for women around the world. They have been raped and killed. They have had their existence completely denied and they are the ones resisting. Now they are the hope. And it makes us happy to make news about the people doing this resistance.
CW: What can people outside of Kurdistan do in solidarity?
AT: One thing that I want is for all the people who are oppressed in the Middle East and who are forced to live a life of war to one day stand together and come back to their real roots. I want to see this outside of Kurdistan, too.
Ultimately the terrorism and violence didn’t come from this place, it came from the west. People in the west need to ask themselves what to do about that.
Photograph by Zehra Doğan
Interview wıth Sarya Gözüoğlu
CW: Can you tell us what it’s like to grow up with Turkish militarism?
SG: Since the day we were born this is how we have been living. We’re adjusted to this and every day you could lose somebody. Sometimes even to the extent that we think that normal Turkish people’s life must be boring. We‘re so adjusted to this that every day is like an action movie. It doesn’t seem strange to us any more. When we were little we didn’t feel like this – we weren’t conscious of it – but when we left home we realised that this was the way of life here. I have always lived in Amed. Of course it’s always been scary to see people’s houses being raided by the police, taking their stuff, putting people under arrest. The fear brought with it the commitment to act against it.
CW: What made you become a journalist at JİNHA?
SG: It has been my dream since I was a little girl. But without JİNHA I might never have had the courage as it is so difficult for female journalists. There was a journalist who was killed who was a close friend of my uncle and this inspired me because my uncle was really affected by it. I didn’t study journalism; I studied agricultural engineering so I don’t have that background, but it’s always been my dream. JİNHA gave me that opportunity. It gave me confidence because everyone’s a woman here. Some people here didn’t finish school at all, others were teachers. Seeing this diversity made me realise that I could do it too. Most people weren’t trained in journalism but got trained here.
CW: Is it difficult for women here to be journalists?
SG: Of course I experience prejudice being a woman journalist. When you’re out there as a journalist you are in an army of men. 90% of journalists are men and they have the perception that they need to be the best and that women can’t take good footage. When we go to a hard-to-get event the men say, “its too bad you don’t have a man with you to get the piece”. If journalists can’t look at their own colleagues without discrimination, how can they do objective work?
CW: Can you tell us about your experiences?
The worst one was the explosion [at the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) pre-election rally in Amed in June 2015] recently, and then the curfew on the 6th and 7th October 2014. It was like people’s lives didn’t have any value. When the rally was bombed there was a mother and both of her legs were blown off in the explosion. Two young people tried to pick her up and she said, “no, I will walk”, she didn’t know she had lost her legs. Seeing things like that is really difficult.
In 2013, there was a protest in Lice against the high security military post that was being built there. There were 10 [Turkish] tanks opening fire on the crowd with live ammunition. The area is a mountainous area and there was a bridge over a canyon across the two cliffs. The youths had dug trenches on both sides of the bridge so soldiers weren’t able to approach and to stop the movement of the tanks.
There were clashes all the time for twenty four hours. Every 5 or 10 minutes they would fire teargas and the youths would fight back with molotovs. The actual live ammunition was shot from rifles from far away. They announced “members of press take cover” while they opened fire on the crowd. Every couple of hours they would open fire with live ammunition but the teargas was constant.
There were four people who were killed. Two by the police fire, two in an explosion. The number of the wounded was really high.
The soldiers were on the other side of the bridge, so the youth would run onto the bridge and throw stones and then run back. The two people who were shot were doing that. Ramazan Baran was first shot through his leg. He was on the ground defenceless but they continued to shoot him through the chest and the bullet left through his back. He was 25 years old.
Ramazan was one of the people I had interviewed earlier in the day, although he had been wearing a mask. He made a joke with us and made us laugh.
The other person was shot in his lower back and the bullet left his body through his throat.
CW: What do you think of the companies who manufacture the weapons for the Turkish army?
SG: Of course these weapons shouldn’t be sold to the Turkish government but the Turkish state will always be able to find something to use as a weapon no matter what happens.
CW: Do you think that governments should provide licenses for weapons?
SG: They shouldn’t be allowed to sell these weapons. The fewer weapons there are, the more peace there will be.
CW: What’s the most useful form of action ordinary people living outside of Kurdistan can do in solidarity with people here?
The most important thing is for people to expose the kind of violence that’s happening because the Turkish mainstream press doesn’t report this.
Cw: Has the revolution in Rojava given you any hope for here?
Rojava should not just give hope for Kurdistan but for the rest of the world, too. This revolution took place in a region that no-one knows about. For this resistance to make its name around the world shows that anything is possible and shows that people can decide on the future they want with their own willpower. This can give people hope all around the world.
CW: Does taking action against the supply of weapons to Turkey support the revolutionary movements in Rojava?
Yes absolutely. Any action against the supply of weapons to Turkey supports the struggle in Rojava because Turkey is the country supplying money and weapons to Daesh.
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To read about the companies supplying arms to the Turkish click here and here
Also see Campaign Against the Arm’s Trade’s list of companies supplying weapons to Turkey