22 October 2015

Last night, the Kurdish Community Centre in north London hosted an event with Frederike Geerdink, who is in London for a series of events promoting her new book on the Roboski massacre, The Boys Are Dead, which tells the story of her investigations into the atrocity on 28 December 2011 which killed 34 people.

frederike KCC event
Courtesy Ari Murad

Frederike gave a captivating account of her encounters with the Turkish authorities, which she said began the day she first visited Roboski in the weeks after the massacre took place.

She also described how state and private media in Turkey uncritically parroted the government narrative that the people killed were ‘terrorist helpers’ hiding PKK members among them as they crossed the border from Iraq, not civilians, and that the military was acting on sound intelligence. International media at the time insisted that the attack was an unfortunate accident and repeated that the government would carry out a full investigation.

Frederike was determined to uncover the truth behind the incident, however, and travelled to Roboski to hear from the villagers themselves and investigate the area. She discovered that neither the claims of sound intelligence (increased walkie talkie activity was the only evidence offered) nor that it was actually an accident on the part of the military were true.

Her most critical observations were saved for the media and its explicit bias when it comes to reporting on the Kurdish issue.

“There is no journalism in Turkey”, she told the audience, “The press only tells the government’s narrative and if you tell the other side, you are a terrorist”. As a result, she said, there are simply no real journalistic choices, no dialogue between writers and editors to ensure that the truth is preserved.

The international press also played their part in obscuring the truth about the Kurdish issue. “They follow the rule that they must present both sides, and by doing so are objective,” Frederike continued, “but presenting statements from the Turkish government as fact is simply poor journalism, as they have proved they cannot be trusted”.

She also criticised common phrases used in the international media that give a confused and misleading view of the whole conflict. “They always explain the conflict like this: The Kurds want self-determination but the government wants them to lay down arms first. But all peace processes follow a method: there are negotiations, deals are agreed upon and then legal frameworks are put in in place for laying down arms.” Without adding a sentence like that explains that, she said, it leaves the impression that both sides are equally to blame for the flagging peace process, when it is the government asking for something that is unreasonable.

She also had words for the Kurdish media: “I read Kurdish media very critically and would criticise it as if it wasn’t right. But it mostly is.”

When asked about the timing of her deportation in early September, in the midst of horrific Turkish state violence against Kurdish citizens and soon after other foreign journalists covering the Kurdish issue have been expelled from the country, Frederike says she was initially in disbelief but that sooner or later it would have happened. She believes that Turkish authorities’ attacks on journalists are quite random. ‘That’s what makes it dangerous”, she added.

“I did break the law”, she said, “by going into a restricted area with a group of human shields. But as a journalist, when the government tells you somewhere is restricted, the first thing you think is, I want to go in there! What are they hiding?” She went on, “I am a better journalist now for all of this. After I was arrested in January people asked me if I was going to be more careful from now on. Of course I said no! I already checked my language and words 10 times before it went to editors. I was already so careful. It is not about being objective, it is about getting to the truth.”

Frederike Geerinke’s book, The Boys Are Dead: The Roboski Massacre and the Kurdish Question in Turkey, is out now and published by Gomidas Institute (http://www.gomidas.org/books/show/112). She is at SOAS University in London tonight (22 October) at 6.30pm on press freedom, Turkey and the Kurdish Question.