Fréderike Geerdink, one of the most active and exceptional journalists reporting on Turkey, talks about her new project: KurdishMatters.com. Working on human rights issues in Turkey since 2006, she has previously contributed to The Globe Times as well as SES Türkiye, ANP, HP De Tıjd among many other Dutch and International media outlets. The following is our unedited interview with Miss Geerdink.
TGT: On your site you mention that everybody talks about that problem but nobody proposes a solution. And you’re writing this book to propose alternatives?
FG: I’m a positive person and I believe we should be talking about a solution to the issue instead of a Kurdish problem. That’s the only way to give people their rights, and try to stop the violence. But to say my work will contribute to the solution that’d be arrogant to say. If it would make some people at least think in terms of a more positive attitude it would be great. Solutions are what we need at the end, and I cannot say my book will contribute with a capital C.
TGT: The Kurdish question is a very bipartisan subject in Turkey. It needs a third eye most of the time.
FG: I’m not a player in the whole thing. I’m not a Turk, I’m not a Kurd. I’m looking at the case through a human rights point of view. Mine is an outsider’s view which is not accepted in Turkish climate all the time, you know. They might think “you’re an outsider, shut up, it is none of your concern.
TGT: It sounds like you’re talking by proxy.
FG: I get all kinds of advice about I should pick up other topics to work on. Some person even suggested to me I should move to the US Mexico border because that’s where the “real” human rights issues are. This attitude is one of the biggest issues Turkey has.
TGT: What is he difference between being a permanent resident in Kurdistan and visiting there on a mission?
FG: You can write about Turkey from an office in Amsterdam and now and then fly to Turkey to investigate a story. And that’s the same as writing about the Kurdish issues while residing Istanbul. But in my opinion you have to be really there as a journalist. You know, I’m the first foreign journalist to live there. You have to see what happens, you have to feel. You have to see the small things daily. If you only go when there’s a big demo to see the troubles you miss the normal daily life altogether. If you specialize in something it’s important see these details.
TGT: Any disappointments since your move there?
FG: No. It’s kind of strange actually. I’ve been living there now for ten weeks. It already feels like home. It’s just like I have relocated myself and continue my life. But when you actually live there it really feels like it’s a different country. I was in Uludere once again just two weeks ago. People where I stayed were watching a Turkish channel on tv. It felt so unreal. A talent show was on. It looked so out of place there. I told them I thought it was so weird. It looked like we were watching a channel from a foreign country. And they started laughing. And said: “actually it is.” That’s something you can feel only when you live there. You realize it’s a different country, it’s a different people. Now I understand the feeling a little bit better by living there. People can interpret this the wrong way I know. They might say “No, no it’s not another country.” But that’s not it. I only try to observe what’s going on. And that’s what a journalist does, isn’t it?
TGT: If we compare Istanbul with Diyarbakir?
FG: In Istanbul people live in this mess. They do nor share many points of contact, people are hurrying between locations a and b and there is not much chance of interaction here. You meet different people more easily in Diyarbakir. When I call friends for a beer in Istanbul they are dispersed hours away. Not the case in Diyarbakir. I went to a concert in the Armenian church, everybody was there. In Istanbul I never accidentally meet anyone I know. It’s easier to socialize in Diyarbakir.
TGT: For how long you are planning to live in Diyarbakir?
FG: At least another for another 6 months. But at the end I might not be able to leave the city. So I might really move there for a longer time. I’m kind of living a deja vu of the times when I first came to Turkey. I first came to live for a year in Turkey. I didn’t know back then what it was going to be like. But after a year I had a lot of work to do. People started to hire me because I was living in location. And there was no sense of going back. And now I see the same happening in Diyarbakir. There is now work coming my way because I live there. If I want to specialize, I’m the only foreign journalist there and I might stay. Maybe after 6 months it would be futile to go back to Istanbul. I relocate pretty easily. I haven’t missed Istanbul that much maybe with the only exception of eating fish.
TGT: How far are you in the book project?
FG: I will start writing soon, and writing and further research will go hand in hand in the next months. It should be ready for the Dutch publisher by the end of 2013.
TGT: You have chosen an interesting way for funding the project. Why crowdfunding? And how does it work?
FG: I first started the project using my own savings. There is also a small fund from Holland that might extend after I write the first few chapters but even then it will not be enough by itself to complete the whole project on. It’s not only the book; it’s also the web site that needed to be built, articles translated into Turkish and Kurdish as I write them. These all cost money. I need translators on the field as well. There are travel costs. I usually stay at people’s houses, not to save money only but to live among real people. I’m a freelancer so time itself costs money. Every minute the book doesn’t earn me money, costs accrue. Everyday I spend my time for the book, it means I’m not doing my freelance work that pays for my living expenses. And since I was very active on social media I have a comparatively big network all over the world. It really suits me to do the financing through crowd funding.
Everyday I also tweet what I experience on Twitter with pictures. That’s part of my reporting. I also blog about Turkey on my journalistinturkey.com web site. And about the Kurdish affairs at kurdishmatters.com web site. Before this project started I asked everywhere and money started to coming in on the Internet. So I saw the possibilities in crowd funding.
TGT: Why should a person living far away with little info on the Kurdish matters fund you?
FG: Maybe those are not the ones that would contribute right away, but on the Dutch side people have already gave reasons why they contributed: they say “it’s not a story that you hear.” For example if you hear about the Kurdish issue in America it’s about the violence, it’s about a bomb going off, it’s about military, soldiers getting killed, only the horrible things make the news. But the rest, normal stories about life of ordinary people over does not. The Kurdish problem is more a human rights issue. Human part of the story needs to be told as well. Some people who know nothing about Turkey or Kurds support me because they say it’s good journalism, they say “you give people a voice who normally don’t have a voice.”