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Only Kur­dish-lan­guage infor­ma­tion news­pa­per still freely dis­trib­uted with­in the Turk­ish bor­ders, Xwe­bûn cel­e­brat­ed its 100th issue in mid-November.

The his­to­ry of the Kur­dish press in Turkey is inex­tri­ca­bly linked to the polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary strug­gle for the recog­ni­tion and auton­o­my of the Kur­dish peo­ple. Often pro­hib­it­ed, inde­pen­dent Kur­dish jour­nal­ists work­ing in it are reg­u­lar­ly sub­ject­ed to police repres­sion and arrest­ed. Many of them have been assas­si­nat­ed, as was the case for Musa Anter, Kur­dish polit­i­cal fig­ure and writer, often con­sid­ered as one of the major fig­ures of free Kur­dish reporting.

The edi­to­r­i­al offices of Xwe­bûn are locat­ed in a large vil­la on the out­skirts of Amed (Diyarbakır). In fine weath­er, between two clos­ings, the news­pa­per work­ers col­lec­tive­ly grow fruit and veg­etable. A debonair dog joy­ous­ly greets vis­i­tors. Jour­nal­ists, edi­tors, graph­ic artists, paste-up artists… the Xwe­bûn team is young with a few mem­bers hav­ing a long expe­ri­ence of Kur­dish press and an impor­tant num­ber of women.

journal kure xwebun

Xwe­bûn offices (pho­to Loez)


The fol­low­ing com­ments were tran­scribed from a col­lec­tive dis­cus­sion, there­fore the par­tic­i­pants will be con­sid­ered as a group, with­out indi­vid­ual dis­tinc­tions. Com­ments in ital­ics were added by tran­scribers.

What is the mean­ing of the word “Xwe­bûn” ?

To be aware, to be one’s self. This is our objec­tive. You must know your­self before know­ing any­thing else. Our peo­ple must have access to infor­ma­tion in their own lan­guage. We wish to go on mak­ing peo­ple aware, no mat­ter what hap­pens. If the news­pa­per is closed down, we will start anoth­er, as has been the case on a num­ber of occa­sions. Even if Kur­dish let­ters and lan­guage are not for­mal­ly pro­hib­it­ed, in prac­ti­cal terms, they are cen­sored in Turkey

When did the Xwe­bûn adven­ture begin ?

We start­ed pub­lish­ing in 2019. Pri­or to this, there was only one news­pa­per in Kur­dish, Azadiya Welat.

Azadiya Welat (lit­er­al­ly Free­dom of the native coun­try) began as a week­ly in 1996 in Istan­bul. It became a dai­ly in 2006. The newspaper’s teams were reg­u­lar­ly sub­ject­ed to bru­tal repression.

Azadiya Welat was closed down in August 2016, fol­low­ing the coup d’état. We protest­ed by dis­trib­ut­ing a pho­to­copy of the final issue to our read­ers. Fol­low­ing the clos­ing of Azadiya Welat, there were two or three attempts at pub­lish­ing under anoth­er name. Pub­lish­ing Kur­dish news­pa­pers in Turkey became more complicated…We re-start­ed Welat, but the edi­tor we con­tact­ed refused to pub­lish it. He refused with­out wish­ing to explain why. This is why we launched Xwe­bûn online in 2019. But our read­er­ship also want­ed a paper edi­tion. We searched for anoth­er pub­lish­er, and found a small, old­er firm. They are slow­er but this suits us. We now pub­lish on a week­ly basis.

The pho­to­copy of the final issue of Azadiya Welat

Dis­tri­b­u­tion of the final issue…

Our people must have access to the news in their own language.”

What do you publish?

Our paper edi­tion is a week­ly, but we pub­lish dai­ly on our web­site. You can find stream­ing news there, and on the week­ly, we rather pub­lish reports, spe­cial dossiers, analy­sis and opin­ion pieces. We also attempt to relay women’s voices.

Cur­rent­ly we are also work­ing on a pro­ject­ed dig­i­tal news­pa­per. We are look­ing for solu­tions to con­tin­ue improv­ing our pub­li­ca­tion which is the fruit of a tra­di­tion or more than thir­ty years. Kur­dish jour­nal­ism is not new and the team is not made up only of begin­ners with no pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence of the press. Recent­ly, we began pro­duc­ing videos. We also attempt­ed pod­casts, but they did not have much success.

Are you salaried or volunteers?

We don’t work for free. All the col­leagues are paid but at a min­i­mum rate, close to volunteering.

One of the jour­nal­ists cor­rects the ques­tion: she does not want to use the word ‘salary’ with its cap­i­tal­ist con­no­ta­tions, pre­fer­ring a term close to ‘indem­ni­ty’.

We don’t com­pare these means with those of oth­er media, par­tic­u­lar­ly those in the press in Turkey. Press work­ers already receive very low wages, in our case they are even low­er. They are suf­fi­cient to cov­er our min­i­mal needs. Mon­ey isn’t what moti­vates us. If that were the case, we would work in oth­er sec­tors. We are fired by the deter­mi­na­tion to make our lan­guage, our peo­ple, our cul­ture exist and car­ry on.

How do you man­age to cov­er all the regions of Kurdistan?

We don’t have ded­i­cat­ed cor­re­spon­dents, but we have a net­work of rela­tion­ships with local jour­nal­ists, shall we say. We have authors in the four parts of Kur­dis­tan, Bakur, Rojhi­lat, Roja­va, Başûr an an edi­to­r­i­al board in which all zones are rep­re­sent­ed. This mat­ters great­ly to us. We can gath­er infor­ma­tion through this angle.

In what lan­guages to you publish?

Kur­man­jî, zaza­kî. We also want to incor­po­rate soranî. We have launched ini­tia­tives to this end, we have spo­ken with authors who write in soranî. But soranî con­sti­tutes an addi­tion­al prob­lem for us because that lan­guage is not writ­ten with the latin alpha­bet. We haven’t resolved the dif­fi­cul­ty yet, but the will to do so is very much at the fore.

(Anoth­er per­son adds)
Our equip­ment and dig­i­tal instal­la­tion do not allow the use of the ara­bic alpha­bet, that’s the main problem.

(The first per­son continues)
So cur­rent­ly, we pub­lish essen­tial­ly in kur­man­jî, with also a page in zazakî.

How is your news­pa­per dis­trib­uted, sold?

We attempt to send the paper issue every­where in Kur­dis­tan. You can also find it in the main Turk­ish cities such as Istan­bul, Izmir, Ankara, Mersin, Adana for the Kurds who live there… The dig­i­tal ver­sion is read in every coun­try where Kurds reside.

Do your have sub­scribers who receive the paper edition?

Yes, in fact, this is what I meant when I said we “send” it. We do not send it to the dis­trib­u­tors because they raise dif­fi­cul­ties. They don’t tell us direct­ly “we won’t sell your paper” but they request mon­ey to sell it, know­ing that addi­tion­al costs would put us in finan­cial dif­fi­cul­ty. It’s a form of blocking.

This prob­lem exist­ed already in the days of Azadiya Welat which sold very well and had an impor­tant run. We were not paid before more than 3 000 copies were sold, and every month, the sell­ers received 10 000 copies. On a year­ly basis, this rep­re­sent­ed an impor­tant bud­get, some­thing like 1,5 tril­lion Turk­ish lira of the peri­od, with­out recov­er­ing a sin­gle cen­time… But at the time, we pre­ferred going through the dis­trib­u­tors despite this, with the sole aim of get­ting the news­pa­per into the prisons…Because pris­ons refuse news­pa­pers that don’t come from the distributors.

Cur­rent­ly with our lim­it­ed means and con­di­tions, it would be impos­si­ble for us to work with distributors-sellers.

Kur­dish media have often been dis­trib­uted clan­des­tine­ly, pro­hib­it­ed by Turk­ish author­i­ties who cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly refuse to acknowl­edge the exis­tence of the Kur­dish lan­guage, this was notably the case in the 90s. For exam­ple, the short film Çerx, released in 2021, recalls the sto­ry of Musa Anter’s “lit­tle gen­er­als”, those teenagers who risked their lives secret­ly dis­trib­ut­ing news­pa­pers such as Özgür Ülke. More recent­ly, in 2014, Kadri Bağ­du was assas­si­nat­ed in Adana in a pre­dom­i­nant­ly Kur­dish neigh­bour­hood where he lived and han­dled the dis­tri­b­u­tion of Azadiya Welat. Two ISIS mil­i­tants claimed the mur­der, but it is hard not to see the shad­ow of Turk­ish secret ser­vices in it. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple showed up for his funeral.

Kadri Bağdu Azadiya Welat

Kadri Bağ­du

In fact, our newspaper also serves as training for the re-acquisition of the language and of the trade of journalism.”

Who reads Xwe­bûn?

(They laugh)
For all those who can read Kurdish.

(Anoth­er person)
But few peo­ple know how to read Kurdish.

(He con­tin­ues)
Yes, but that’s nor­mal, since there’s no teach­ing done in Kur­dish. No schools, nothing…We learn our lan­guage from our par­ents, in the fam­i­ly, oral­ly. We attempt to dig deep­er lat­er. We don’t have access to read­ing and writ­ing in Kur­dish at any stage in our school­ing, not in kinder­garten, not in gram­mar school nor in col­lege, in High School or at the university.

The fact of pro­duc­ing a news­pa­per in a lan­guage for which there is no teach­ing rais­es addi­tion­al spe­cif­ic dif­fi­cul­ties. For exam­ple, I would like to work as a jour­nal­ist in my mater­nal tongue, I come here, I must first re-learn my own tongue…then, I can train in jour­nal­ism. In fact, our news­pa­per also plays a role in train­ing for the re-acqui­si­tion of the lan­guage and of the trade of jour­nal­ism. Again, I can quote from the expe­ri­ence of Azadiya Welat. Dozens of jour­nal­ists and authors were trained by that news­pa­per. Count­less authors who pub­lished books, poet­ry col­lec­tions, came from Azadiya Welat. It played an impor­tant role.

As Xwe­bûn, we have a pub­lic. Our wish, our aim is to widen it…


How do you go about writ­ing in a lan­guage every­one can understand? 

This is a dif­fi­cult ques­tion (They laugh). Because we’ve been receiv­ing crit­i­cism for years. “We read the news­pa­per but we don’t under­stand every­thing” say our read­ers. As I said, when there is no teach­ing done in the mater­nal lan­guage, it’s dif­fi­cult… In Turkey, the dom­i­nant lan­guage is Turk­ish. We have a few media where­as in Turk­ish, there are dozens of news­pa­pers, dozens of TV chan­nels, news agen­cies… But the truth is that if you bring a reg­u­lar news­pa­per in Turk­ish to a vil­lager in the heart of Ana­to­lia he prob­a­bly won’t under­stand it either, hav­ing not been cor­rect­ly schooled

We try to sim­pli­fy the lan­guage as much as pos­si­ble so it can be eas­i­ly under­stood. But that rais­es anoth­er fear in us. We ask our­selves if by doing so we are not dete­ri­o­rat­ing our lan­guage, with­out want­i­ng to… In want­i­ng to sim­pli­fy, stan­dard­ise, one must not degrade, it’s a hard bal­ance to achieve. But we’ve man­aged to over­come quite a lot of dif­fi­cul­ties, there exists a rel­a­tive­ly defined lan­guage since Azadiya Welat. It is used by sev­er­al papers pub­lished in Kur­dish. Some words, expres­sions and fig­ures of speech are part of the spo­ken lan­guage and are used in every­day life.

Do you fear censorship?

To this ques­tion that did not receive a record­ed answer, one of the jour­nal­ists explained that they are very care­ful of the words they use, in order to avoid cen­sor­ship and judi­cial pro­ce­dures. How­ev­er, she under­scores that this con­sti­tutes a form of self-cen­sor­ship. Up until now, the news­pa­per has been tol­er­at­ed by the author­i­ties, but for how long?

The fact of pub­lish­ing in Kur­dish makes avoid­ing cen­sor­ship a bit eas­i­er explains anoth­er jour­nal­ist con­cern­ing pub­li­ca­tions on Twit­ter, because the State doesn’t con­trol writ­ings in Kur­dish as eas­i­ly. It knows that they are read by a minor­i­ty in any event. With all of these pre­cau­tions, the news­pa­per con­tin­ues to resist despite the difficulties.

Inter­view con­duct­ed by Loez, in April 2021
Adapt­ed in Eng­lish from French by Renée Lucie Bourges

Image à la Une : Xwe­bûn, la rédac­tion. (pho­to Loez)

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Pho­to-jour­nal­iste indépendant
Loez s’in­téresse depuis plusieurs années aux con­séquences des États-nations sur le peu­ple kurde, et aux luttes de celui-ci.