Change the way I write and tweet because of the intimidations of an undemocratic system? Unthinkable!

frederike geerdink

8/1/2015 – A friend just called to ask me how I am doing after my detention by the anti terrorism squad (TEM) of the Diyarbakir police, earlier this week. I told him I was of course fully flabbergasted when I opened the door to find the TEM there and that I had been angry, but that no, I wasn’t scared, and I am still not. I laughed, saying: ‘I mean, they are not going to throw me in jail for a long time anyway, they can’t do that’. But: can’t they?It is only two months ago that I wrote in a column (link to column here: ‘I may detest the state of the media in Turkey, but as a foreign journalist I can work freely without the risk of being thrown in jail or being prosecuted for what I write’. This is no longer true. There is a judicial investigation going on now, and it may lead to prosecution. I have always felt protected by my Dutch nationality, believing that Erdogan would not risk a major row with an EU country over an accredited journalist, an that Dutch or EU pressure would help me if anything would happen. Would it? Is Erdogan still sensitive to what the EU thinks, or has this decreased to a level that it would no longer protect me?
Now that I was taken from my house by TEM, which I considered as an out of the question option until early this week, I should realize that ‘they can’t really throw me in jail’ may be a delusion too.

But even realizing that, doesn’t scare me. It should scare the state more. Look at the attention my detention drew this week even in big international media outlets. This is very bad for Turkey’s image. Maybe to a certain level Erdogan doesn’t care about that, since most of his politics, also foreign policy, is meant for domestic consumption. But in the longer run, it does affect Turkey’s already weakened position in the international arena, where it does want to play a role.

Harassing me like this, also only draws more attention to the Kurdish case. Next month, my book about the Roboki massacre which was published in the Netherlands last year, will be published in Turkish at Iletisim Publishers in Istanbul. Doesn’t the state realize that this book will reach more people now that they put me and my work in the spotlight? That more people will be aware of the backgrounds of the massacre, of the way the government tries to cover it up and of how the massacre dramatically and perfectly fits into the picture of how the Kurds have been treated in Turkey the last century?

I am not afraid, and I am not even worried that much. That may be a bit strange, and I clearly see the difference with my family and friends in the Netherlands. They worry and they were panicking more than I did when I opened the door to TEM. Some of them even cried, something I felt no urge to even a tiny little bit.

It looks like after living in Turkey for eight years, I have gotten used to how this country works. What seems impossible one day is reality the next, and then a week later, it’s old news. This happened in my situation on a micro scale: I was shocked when opening the door, but half an hour later, I leaned against the door post of my home office watching TEM searching my cupboard. I have nothing to hide, I have no secrets, go on, search. ‘Interesting stuff’, I thought, ‘to see how such things go.’

But not being afraid is probably also just a way to protect myself. The situation is surreal and intimidating, but it just doesn’t feel that way at all. I’m happy it works that way. If my system had reacted differently, the only option I would have had is to leave journalism all together, and since journalism is my life, that would have been problematic. Adjusting my work is impossible. Why? Because I wouldn’t know what to adjust exactly. What triggers the state? What will they use against me, and what not? If they are really out to get me, they will get me. They have tens of thousands of tweets and dozens of columns to cherry pick from already.

This is interestingly comparable to what happens to the Kurdish movement. One of the tweets that ended up in my file was a picture of Kurdish youth at the Kobani border, waving flags of the PKK and of Öcalan. There is no law explicitely forbidding Öcalan flags, there is only the way too broad anti terrorism law, so that if you wave the flag, you are ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organization’. But this is not always enforced. I have reported on many demonstrations in Diyarbakir. The Öcalan flag is always there, and its presence is used by police to ban and teargas a demonstration when they want to. ‘We warn you, take down the flag’. People don’t, of coure, and teargas follows. But not always. Sometimes the cops have reason not to interfere in a demonstration, and then all of a sudden Öcalan flags are no problem.

That randomness is crucial. Just as the Kurdish movement cannot adjust to randomness, I cannot either. The only thing to do for me, is to keep on doing what I do and what I believe in. But it’s not only randomness that I cannot adjust to, I cannot adjust to injustice either, just like the Kurdish movement can’t. Change the way I write and tweet because of the intimidations of an undemocratic system? Unthinkable. I am not making propaganda for a terrorist oganization, I am a journalist using the universal right of freedom of expression. Shutting me up will turn out impossible, whatever they try – mind my words.