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Meet the Women of JINHA, the Kurdish All-Female News Agency

Every day, the reporters of JINHA navigate bombings, kidnappings, shootings and imprisonment.

by Norma Costello
22 January 2016, 6:00am


Nurcan Yalçın and Beritan Elyakut

The reporters of JINHA women's news agency have certainly picked a tough beat. Their colleagues wait in prison on charges of terrorism, as every day they navigate bombings, kidnappings and shootings in a region more famed for violent attacks than gender equality.

At the helm of this new movement is Fatima, a veteran reporter who is surprisingly upbeat for someone whose staff keep getting locked up. From the agency's humble HQ in a nondescript apartment building in downtown Diyarbakir, the immediately likeable journalist jokes when asked if she's ever been arrested.

"Of course," she laughs. "What a funny question to ask a journalist from here. Two of our reporters are in prison as we speak."

An all women's news agency in the middle east might sound bizarre, but for Fatima and the women of Jinha – Jin means "woman" in Kurdish – the agency was forced into being following a spate of violent attacks on women and the awful media coverage that followed.

"Jinha was born out of a conversation between six women journalists," Fatima says, as Caroline, an American PHD student who acts as a translator, offers up lunch.

I am dangerous. Every woman in this office is dangerous.


"We were covering a story in Mardin province. Twenty girls had been raped by group of soldiers, bureaucrats and police officers. At the time we didn't know the best way to report it. We wanted to stay far away from the pornographic fetishisation often thrown on violence against women in our mainstream media. While we were discussing what to do, a headline dropped: "Little Whore Tries to Blacken Police Rep". One of the girls was only 14. I knew then we had to do something."

For Fatima, this was a turning point. As more and more reports emerged, she realised changing the media from within just wasn't an option.

"I got to the point where I just saw widespread conditioning of women. It's everywhere, not just in Kurdistan, so we felt it was time to create an alternative."

I strain to hear as Fatima's voice is drowned out by Turkish military aircraft en route to northern Iraq. This is a common occurrence, according to Guzzy, an animated translator in a woolly grey cardigan.

"This is nothing, she laughs. "You should have been here a few months ago – they took off every five minutes. We could barely sleep, it was so loud."

It becomes clear that the police sirens and booming aircrafts in Turkey's troubled southern region are just a strange sort of Jinha background office muzak.

The women of Jinha are hardy, and they have to be. The Kurdish provinces of southern Turkey are no-go areas for international media outlets. Curfews are widespread, with several towns cut off from supplies and services as military campaigns increase on a daily basis.


Beritan Canözer at a demonstration against the curfew in Diyarbakır, five minutes before she was detained.

"Beritan and Rodja, two of our colleagues, are in prison right now," Guzzy says. "One for providing aid to terrorists and the other for being a member of terrorist propaganda."

Twenty-year-old Beritan Canozer was covering a protest against the curfews when she was arrested. She was charged with aiding terrorism after a picture of a female Kurdish fighter was found on her Twitter account. Rojda Oguz, a 25-year-old student, was charged with terrorist propaganda for being part of a Kurdish solidarity group in her university.

And they're not alone. Earlier this month, the TV station Kanal D found itself in a similar situation after a popular presenter took a call from a woman in Diyarbakir who claimed women and children were being killed in military offences in the region. The government vehemently denies these claims and issued a statement saying the host, the caller and those responsible for the show would be investigated for terrorist propaganda.

"Our sites have been blocked a few times," Caroline laments. She pauses when I ask her if she feels vulnerable in such uncertain times. "I'm not sure... I guess yes. I don't really go outside much any more, if that's what you mean."

Journalists in Turkey face a precarious future. As the country battles with the PKK internally and abroad in both Iraq and Syria, the government is clamping down on any dissent from media outlets. Fatima says that for Kurdish women, JINHA is an important way to remember their history, as there has been interest from the west regarding female fighters in the region.

"It's very important to have JINHA here now. When Kobani became international news, people were fixated on the YPG's female fighters. The line was "ISIS attacked so women were forced to take up arms", but that's just not true. Women here have been fighting for a lot longer than ISIS, but that didn't suit the western media, so they tore our history away. They tore away the context, our history of defending ourselves. This is why it's important we're here, to document the reality," she says.

Women's rights in Turkey are on the decline, and as we chatted, the women mention a 2011 crackdown on the media that lead to the arrests of 50 people, including 20 female journalists. Fatima says many of the women were arrested on bizarre charges.

"The court case was crazy. One woman, who went to the World Conference on Women, was charged with attending the conference for 'secret organisational purposes'. It all made no sense," she says.


Vildan Atmaca at work in August 2015.

Women reporting on the frontline in Turkey have been arrested for being "excited" and detained for several months. With her staff in prison and a war surrounding her, Fatima is facing attacks from every angle. But in spite of this, she says the power lies firmly with the women who challenge power structures wherever they seem them.

"I am dangerous. Every woman in this office is dangerous. The state want you to think like them, eat like them, walk like them. They want us to write exactly what they choose, but we will never be like them. We're not afraid of them and when police and soldiers see women on the frontlines who are not afraid of them, it's a terrifying thing," she says.


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