These women in Turkey saw the need for a different kind of news, despite the danger
Fingers tap at keyboards and brows furrow. A woman in Istanbul has just hurled herself from a 10th-floor apartment window, a frantic attempt to escape two male attackers.
The reporters and translators at the Jinha Women’s News Agency hasten to get out their report, which takes a different approach than that taken by other Turkish media.
“Most reports focus on that she was an actor in television series,” says 32-year-old Guler Can, head of news at Jinha’s office in Diyarbakir. “They are covering this story because she was famous, not because of the level of violence against women in Turkey.”
Founded four years ago, Jinha is an all-female, multilingual news agency spread across Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Its coverage is proving increasingly important in a region wracked by conflict and hardly notable for gender equality. Much of the focus is on women and children.
“When we report from a press conference, we focus on any statements made by women,” says Can, smoking a cigarette and sipping from a cup of coffee. “We try to give women a voice.”
As southeastern Turkey slides into brutal conflict that is expected to escalate over spring, Jinha’s reporters have been at the frontline of fighting between the Turkish government and Kurdish militants, documenting abuses by both sides.
“Women and children are suffering because of this war,” says Can. “They are forgotten too easily.”
For the last nine months, the mainly Kurdish southeast has been turned into a war zone as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has reignited its 30-year insurgency against the Turkish state following three years of failed peace talks.
The PKK demands greater rights for the country’s long-suffering Kurdish minority. Turkey and the United States describe it as a terrorist group.
Some 350,000 people have been displaced in the last nine months, according to the International Crisis Group. Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble. Thousands of people, including women and children, have been killed.
On Thursday, seven police officers died and dozens of people were injured in a car bombing in Diyarbakir.
As clashes between Kurdish insurgents and security forces raged, one of Jinha’s recent reports began: “Snipers shot 17-year-old girl Rozerin Cukur in front of her home as the ongoing blockade on the Sur district of Diyarbakir intensified today.”
Turkey, Syria and Iraq is a tough beat, with multiple security threats. Yet, Jinha’s reporters remain undeterred.
Paintings celebrating the female body hang from the walls of the Jinha office — a gift from the artist, a woman. Microphones and cameras litter desks. Women hurry to edit video dispatches and news reports. Cigarettes are lit, smoke drawn in with gusto.
A note in brightly colored scrawl reads, “Beritan: We are excited.”
Beritan Canozer is a Jinha reporter who was arrested while reporting on a demonstration in Diyarbakir in December. She was imprisoned for more than three months before being released on Tuesday.
“The police detained her because she was ‘excited,’” says Guzide Diker, an ethnic Armenian who works as Jinha’s English translator.
Turkey has for years been one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists. Under the authoritarian leadership of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the situation for the news media in the country has worsened, watchdogs contend.
A prominent opposition newspaper was seized by government-appointed trustees. Reporters are regularly charged under terrorism laws.
Two prominent reporters from the Cumhuriyet newspaper are facing multiple life sentences on espionage charges after reporting on clandestine weapons transfers by Turkish intelligence agents to insurgents in northern Syria seeking the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In late 2014, a Jinha reporter was hospitalized after being shot in the head with a tear gas canister as the Turkish military dispersed protesters gathered on the Turkish side of the border with Syria during the Islamic State siege of the Syrian town of Kobani.
Another had her arm broken by a police officer while reporting from a demonstration in Nusaybin this March.
“When our reporters go out, the police threaten them,” says Diker. “They say: `Why are you here? Don’t come again. If you come again, we will beat you.’”
Jinha’s website has been blocked four times in Turkey, its reporters say, for purportedly supporting terrorism.
“If you produce news showing the reality in Turkey, you get censored,” says Can. “The government blocks the website, puts pressure on you financially.”
Erdogan is seeking to broaden the definition of terrorism to include its “supporters” — not simply those who plan and participate in terror attacks. Critics contend that he is seeking to introduce “thought crime” legislation that could criminalize opposition politicians, academics and critical journalists.
In one recent example of how such legislation could work, a British academic teaching in Turkey for decades was deported for “spreading terrorist propaganda.” The academic, Chris Stephenson, who is married to a Turkish woman and has a 13-year-old daughter, was reportedly carrying leaflets by a pro-Kurdish political party.
Prosecutors claimed that the leaflets, which mentioned Kurdish self-determination, constituted terrorist propaganda.
Jinha was founded in response to the paucity of reporting on women’s issues in Turkey. The nation continues to slide down the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap listings, ranking 130th out of 145 countries last year.
Jinha’s staff is young, between 18 and 35. Articles are published in Turkish, Kurdish and English. Its reports are published online and its revenue generated through subscriptions and selling video and photography to other local media.
The staff hopes to soon offer reports in Arabic and to perhaps work in Kurdish areas of Iran.
One story of the day: A Koran teacher in Karaman — linked to a religious institution, the Ensar Foundation, that is close to the Turkish government — is suspected of molesting male students. Jinha covers the case despite a government ban on reporting about it.
“We have confirmed eight children, so far, from court records,” says Can.
A war plane rumbles through the sky above, having taken off from a nearby base for bombing raids on Kurdish insurgent positions in the mountains of northern Iraq and southeast Turkey.
A large pot of Tirsik, a yogurt and arum lily soup, bubbles away on a stove in the kitchen as images from celebrations of Nevruz — the Iranian New Year, also observed by Kurds — flit across a television screen. Jinha’s office is in a ninth-floor apartment with sprawling views across Diyarbakir, an ancient city of about 1 million people on the banks of the Tigris river.
In a room dedicated to editing video, two women look over a video package about women from a nomadic community in the nearby Siirt region.
“This is a series we do called the Life of Mothers,” says videographer Mizgin Tabu. “We profile normal women, to give them a chance to talk about their problems and their lives.”
A man with a bushy goatee enters Jinha’s office, somewhat awkwardly.
“That’s our driver,” says Diker, the English translator. “He’s the only man who works here. But only because we couldn’t find a female driver.”
Johnson is a special correspondent.
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