In front of me, a 23-year-old woman. With unflappable conviction, she proudly claims her Kurdish nationality and fervently defends her rights, her language, her culture, her origins in short. This woman is Öznur Değer, a Kurdish and feminist journalist working for the newspaper JinNews.
She embodies everything Erdoğan and his government fear and despise the most. And yet she stands before me with a dignified and proud posture that calls for respect.
Öznur Değer was awarded the first prize in the Gurbetelli Ersöz Women’s Journalism category as well as the Free Press Martyrs Journalism competition.
Because, in Turkey, being a Kurdish journalist is often tantamount to being a martyr. A martyr for freedom of expression, a martyr for freedom of the press.
According to The Coalition for Women in Journalism; “From January 2021 to October 5, at least 75 women have faced legal persecution while 38 have been assaulted in the field by either the police force or supporters of the state.”
As for Öznur, she had undergone everything.
Indeed, she has been imprisoned, assaulted by the police but also prevented from exercising her profession as a journalist. For many years, the Kurdish journalist has systematically been pressured and harassed by the government. Regrettably, the AKP’s persecution of the journalist Değer has only increased in recent months.
A summary of the Journalist’s Arrests and Indictments During 2021
- January 5, 2021, Ankara: The Jinnews reporter was detained along 20 other women who participated in the protest regarding the Gülistan Doku’s disappearance. On that day, she is prosecuted for the violation of the law on demonstration and march.
- October 4, 2021, Ankara : She has been prevented by the police from interviewing citizens on the street. She was gathering the comments of Turkish nationals regarding the recent people’s democratic party’s declaration on Kurdish issue.
- September 1, 2021, Mardin : The Mardin Kizitepe Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation against her, on charge of “inciting the public to hatred, hostility and humiliation.”
Those investigations were launched regarding her posts about the massacre of seven Kurdish people (including 4 women) in the same family in Konya on July 30, 2021
Her tweets about the assassination; “I’m also a Kurd”, “it’s not killing, it’s murder”, “Kurds are massacred in Konya” etc. were cited as criminal elements.
Değer shared the report within the scope of freedom of expression. A principle that needs to be remembered since AKP tends to forget about it. Indeed, in June 2020, the Turkish parliament approved a law that requires international content providers such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. to have a local representation in Turkey and to remove content within 48 hours if so ordered by the authorities.
- November 28, 2021, Ankara: legal actions has been pressed against the Jin News journalist on charges of “allegedly violation the law on demonstration and resisting a public official”.
As reported by Mezopotamya Agency, while she was covering the protest against the sharp drop in Turkish Lira and worsening economic condition, Öznur Değer was beaten up and physically restrained by the police. The latter seized her equipment, handcuffed her, and kept her detained until midnight after releasing her.
The Journalist Being Interviewed
It is on November 9, 2021, in a cafe in Ankara that I meet Öznur Değer for the first time. She and her friend who is providing the translation. While I was worried about being listened to and observed, the translator reassured me; “don’t worry” she says, “They are our people”. I later found out that this place, under its ordinary appearances, is not just any cafe. It is a real little world of opposition where the waiter is a sociologist, activist, and author who has firmly opposed the government. An engagement that cost him his arm.
The atmosphere is surreal. We are sitting next to leftists, intellectuals, Kurds who live in opposition to the government.
This small world knows, respects, and protects each other.
From then on, we can start the interview without any fear.
Being a Female Kurdish Journalist in Turkey
The conversation quickly moves into the grounds of Öznur Değer’s Kurdish identity and how this heritage led to shaping the person she is today.
“When you are Kurd, you learn the struggle. You learn to live under pressure. Being a Kurdish woman in Turkey automatically leads to politics and therefore makes you learn how to fight back. Every single attack on our culture is being felt deeply by every single one of our people. At the moment I don’t have a choice but to fight. However, even if I would have to choose, I would still decide to struggle”
Four Years Already Spent in Jail
If Öznur Değer is now the symbol of struggle, one shouldn’t forget that she already suffered the consequences of her identity. Henceforth, the birth of her warrior personality is closely linked to the month of January 2016. In this traumatic period for the Turkish republic, Öznur was 17 years old. The young woman was accused and then arrested. The charges?
“They were no need for any specific reasons. I am a Kurdish woman. That’s it!
That’s how I’ve learned very early the consequences of being Kurd.”
Quickly the false testimonies against her paraded. Only four months later, in May 2016, the heavy sentence fell. She was initially sentenced to 8 years behind bars. However, due to her young age, she was given four years less. Öznur Değer will spend 4 years in prison. She is 17 years old.
In a very calm tone, Öznur reveals that it is her time in prison that has forged her, that has shaped her into the woman she is today. As if those who wanted to reduce her to an individual who no longer exists in society had in fact given her the tools to prepare her return. From then on, those who had tried to destroy this Kurdish feminist journalist have made her more determined and brave than ever.
“I had the time and the distance to focus on what I wanted to do next. It is during my time in jail that I’ve decided to be a journalist. That’s how I became who I am today. I decided that I wanted to tell the stories of my people, to report the voice of the unheard, of those who are violated and arrested. Because this is not just about me. It is about all Kurdish press and about all women.”
The Determination of the Kurdish People
Today, Öznur Değer is a well-known journalist in the field. She is renowned for her firm opposition to government diktats and her constant struggle to defend the Kurds as well as the women from systematic oppression.
This relentlessness is genuinely her life’s struggle because, as she puts it so well;
“I can’t hide my identity. I will fight until the end, until I’ll die”
This notion of death, of an inescapable and unalterable struggle, is permeated in her words, which reflect her experience of arrests, the death of her colleagues and friends, and the violence that is embodied in her daily life as a feminist, as a Kurdish, as a woman and as a journalist.
“Today, in Turkey, being a Kurdish journalist implies that I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back home at the end of the day. I simply don’t feel safe and I will never feel so. We are all aware of it. We, the Kurdish people, have been tortured, violated, killed, etc. simply because of what we are. But that only provided us with the strongest thought and a deeper feeling of resistance. This sense of defiance, toughness, and struggle are imprinted in our blood.”
The Risk of Being Imprisoned in the Name of Freedom
In view of the latest indictments against the journalist, I then asked her if she was afraid of being imprisoned again. If she has prepared herself mentally for a spell behind bars.
Öznur has been prepared since she got out. It is a personal choice that she must honor in the name of freedom of expression, in the name of women, in the name of Kurds, and in the name of her profession as a journalist as well as in the name of all her colleagues who have been unjustly accused and jailed.
The Fearless Öznur Değer
Öznur has a smile of determination, a posture of tenacity, a fearless gaze, and a voice of courage. Like a multicolored flag bearer, she proudly displays the shades of Kurdistan but also of feminism and freedom of expression.
The fight is constant but her tenacity will overcome the oppressor!
“The website of Jinnews has been shut down and blocked by the government 41 times. That means that we created 41 new websites to counteract this censorship. We are currently working on creating the new one. We are strong and we are getting stronger every time they try to stop us. Until they won’t stop their political censorship, we won’t step back. This is not only a job. We own this for every single woman. We own this for those who died for our freedom”.
Despite the AKP‘s efforts to erase the denunciatory words written by Öznur Değer, her letters, her sentences, and this ink in the colours of accusation will remain printed on the lips of the opposition to Erdogan’s authoritarianism.
Öznur is the personification of this generation that is rising up in defense of its rights and dignity.
Her story is that of the oppressed, of the indignant, of the Kurds, of the women, of the journalists who will not let go of their pencils.