read1 of 9
discover
Camera: Çağdaş Erdoğan
Post-Production: Çağdaş Erdoğan, Berkant Akarcan

Istanbul Longform Workshop 2017 - A Short Video Documentary

about three extraordinary days with 30 wonderful authors in Istanbul, at Cezayir/Beyoglu, March 16-18, 2017, edited by our friends from 140journos for 60pages
15.06.17
1 min

In March 2017 60pages hosted a three-day workshop with young journalists, writers and activists in Istanbul. We discussed the possibilities and the practice of long-form writing and identified five to eight relevant, surprising, necessary stories which could open up new perspectives on pressing political and societal questions.

It was a safe space, it was a pop-up editorial board, it was a first getting to know each other and the beginning of a longer connection. The writings will be published on 60pages.com soon.

Masses Informing Masses: The Story of 140journos

14.06.17
18 min

Below is the unedited, raw version of my article entitled “A Sense of Exhilaration and Possibility”, which was published on Harvard University’s Nieman Reports magazine on July 2014.

It is a widely accepted fact that, throughout the history of civilization, blood, fire, energy and gluttony have been unavoidably experienced around the Anatolian geography where Turkey is situated. Just as history having indeed repeated itself probably as said, I can easily say that almost all the wars I have read in the history books have mostly been caused by such reasons. I assure you that today the subjects are different, but the fiction is the same. The only difference I have been able to observe is that the long-known idea of government, the legislative tradition and the judiciary power have also been included the media in the last century. It would be unrealistic, as you would appreciate, to state that the Ottoman society having started to use the printing press two hundred years later due to the conflicts of interests handed down a mature relation with the media.

The proliferation of television channels in Turkey in the 1990s resulted in assigning the obedient journalists to the management of the newspapers as the holding representative by their owners, in hosting the popular politicians at the media bosses’ mansions leading to the dangerous flirtation between the governments and media organizations. This relationship, derailing the media out of its function to inform, has transformed it into an instrument maintaining the subsidiaries of the holdings in other sectors. Could a media giant owned by a conglomerate of diverse companies be imagined to broadcast against the government or its energy policies after having won a government tender in the field of energy? Coming into power in 2002, the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government observing today its 12th year of power began to work in less than no time in order to control that fourth power allegedly stating that it designs the politics, thus posing a threat to the national willpower. Mostly indirectly supplied messages leading the editors to be cautiously self-censoring the news were made apparently observable when the news of the anti-government republican rallies in 2007 were not intentionally broadcast, and when the protests by the state tobacco monopoly workers resulting in the greatest strike ever since the 1980 military coup taking place in the tents set up by the unions for months in the very center of the capital city of Ankara, in 2009 were ignored. At the end of 2011, in Uludere situated near the border along the Northern Iraq, the deliberate silence of the media organs followed by the murder of the 34 citizens reportedly maintaining their livelihood with the cross-border trade who were bombarded due to being allegedly mistaken as terrorists posed the most important exemplary for the young media literates as to prove that the mainstream media has completely lost its function.

Experienced media professional, Serdar Akinan, having called his friends who are the chief editors of the news centers only to learn that those news weren’t deliberately broadcast due to an order received from the governmental authorities, and thus leaving his journalist identity aside, went to Uludere and sent multimedia messages through Twitter and Instagram from the scene, leading to the birth of a methodology for the citizen journalism, no matter how simple it may seem. The photographs of that bloodshed not to be covered by the mainstream media in Turkey due to their filters those days were being shared in the social media leaked through the “Earlybird” filter of Instagram. Not surprisingly at all, that’s how the 140journos counter media movement was born as a conscientious reaction in such a macroenvironment, whose story I will share with you.

This unusual process which turned the passive media consumers who are in their twenties having nothing to do with news and journalism at all into “terminator” news feeders in one night was triggered by Cem’s father, who failed to compromise and empathize with the other sectors of the society, and therefore, politically conflicted with his son just because he kept ceaselessly following the contents of the same media group. Cem, trying to inform his father, with whom he was unable to communicate on some political issues, by hacking his mindset about the diverse sectors of the society, me, who tried to defend the freedom of expression in the only protest I had ever participated, and passivist conservative Safa, who has taken to Sufism teachings, having signed up for their brand new social media account as “140journos”, began broadcasting via Twitter with their first news tweets on January, 19th, 2012, the 5th anniversary of the assassination of Hrant Dink, the Turkish journalist of Armenian origin. We have created this account so as to convey the contents of user-generated newsworthy raw intelligence broadcasting real-time only from the scene destigmatizing the news language into a neutral non-political one for disseminating it on social networks. With this non-profit effort, we wanted to extend the happinesses and sorrows of the sectors people had never heard from to those, like Cem’s father, who live in a reality designed in the communal media framework, and have no chance of getting any news from the other segments of the society polarized against one another. Who knows that the heterogeneous communities of our geography hosting many ethnic and cultural origins, who are unaware of one another, could perhaps learn to live together in this way! Playing the truant in order to observe the political cases open to public during some weekday classes or participating in several street demonstrations of diverse groups with whose political views we symphatise or not, we would share their real-time and on-the-scene audio or video recordings or photographs. We tried to create some issues alternative to the contents of the mainstream by covering the latest news about their underreported topics ranging from the actions of leftist fractions supporting the arrested journalists to the protests of the radical Islamic marginal groups against the abortion as well as observing the publicized game-fixing cases of one of the nation’s favorite football clubs in the courtrooms. We were, then, so unaware of what we were doing and what a journalistic-sounding terminology was that the first thing we had to do was to look up in the Wikipedia for the meaning of the phrase, “citizen journalism” when we were told by Esra Arsan, an Istanbul Bilgi University academician, during the “Oda TV” case trials when many journalists were being tried that what we were doing while live tweeting unpaid set an organized practice of the “citizen journalism”.

The transformation of yesterday’s passive news consumers into today’s active news producers, The young ages of the members of the group governing this formation and the fact that they weren’t the professionals of the job in the professional sense began to draw the attention of the mainstream media. Our team members were being interviewed by the newspapers, television channels, radio stations, and the university academics were studying the structure and history of 140journos. What we were doing were attributed a variety of assets by the third parties as citizen journalism, digital activism, etc. As a group of university students with no background and intention of being journalists, we found it difficult to interpret these matters. Unintentionally, we seemed to have undertaken the media’s mission of informing the public. In 2012, when Zeynep Tufekci, a UNC academic, whom we met at a panel, described the practice of the 140journos project after listening to how it works not as “citizen journalism”, but as “journalistic citizenship”, we all noticed that we were mistaken with the methodological sense of the approach and with the fact that the system should be upside down. Along the process, however constructive discourse we tried to expand the idea of news production from the scene as a volunteer network of citizens with, we failed. In Turkey, it is almost impossible to create a movement unless the chips are down. It was highly probable that self-censorship of the media hadn’t become a matter of priority for a large part of the country yet then.

Precisely just in this sense, the Gezi Park events experienced in May and June 2013, which has been the largest civilian uprising in the history of the Republic is an overnight revolution in many respects. Starting from our experience so far, it can be said that the Gezi Park events serve as a milestone in Turkey within the scope of citizen journalism with its current meaning in the media, which leads us to the classification of the three characteristic periods of the Gezi Park events as before, during and after the events. The fact confronted and the trauma experienced by the White Turks composing the majority of the nation’s population that state terrorism, police violence, disproportionate use of force and media censorship then experienced by the Kurdish citizens for years in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions had taken place in the middle of a metropolis like Istanbul that time constituted in one night the favorable conducive atmosphere and awareness that were expected to take place by the call and announcements of 140journos in an artificial way months prior to the events. The announcements shared by the civilian initiatives at the very start of the protests as to the fact that the media was dead and wasn’t able to fulfil its function properly and appropriately received positive reaction this time from the public unlike all the other efforts, and 140journos, relatively more and better prepared for this type of incidents, was pushed to the forefront in terms of coordinating the news circulation. Before the Gezi Park actions, while about 400 individual contents were being produced a month routinely, after the outbreak of the actions, during June 2013, a total of 2218 singular validated contents proven at least with one photograph, audio or microvideo recording have taken place in the 140journos accounts. While all these were happening, the number of followers of 140journos in the social media has increased six times more than the initial number and the Klout value indicating the credibility of the account increased. The activity characteristic of the project during the actions of protest changed from reporting from the scene to collecting, categorizing, validating and storifying the news contents sent to 140journos at the desktop in order to economize better on the human resources. In other words, academician Zeynep Tufekci’s criticism, even for a delay of one year, was put into practice in 140journos. In addition to the extensive broadcast through Twitter and Soundcloud during the Gezi Park events, almost all other alternative media tools and platforms such as Facebook, Storify, Vine, Instagram, Prezi, etc. were used as well as tools like Topsy, Tineye, Google Image Search, Google Maps, Yandex Panorama and Internet-accessible traffic cameras of the municipalities for authenticating the information received. After the protests ended, social opposition has kept coming up constantly changing its form to maintain its existence often as in the form of creative street actions being confronted with throughout the time so far.

After the evacuation of the park in June 2013, a new era in the medium of citizen journalism defined by 140journos was entered. 140journos, turning to the work of verification and curation, began to list contacts and establish close online and phone friendships with the individuals who regularly produce content on the account through Twitter with reference to the cities and regions staying in contact with them in daily life. The project today has 300 volunteer content producers, most of with whom we have personal contacts as well, in many different locations of Turkey. The high ranking media censorship in the Gezi Park events and one of those events caused by self-censorship were also the embodiment of the pirate journalism through the social media. In Turkey, some professional journalists already permanently employed in the popular news channels like NTV, CNN Turk, Haberturk, SkyTurk 360, 24, News A, thinking that they can’t practice their profession through which they have acquired their intellectual background after the schools from which they were graduated, contacted 140journos and stated that they would like to share their capacity to access the news which they could gather (through their live broadcast vehicles, the vehicle’s internet connection, cameras, intelligence sources, multimedia data or information to verify the reported newsworthy content) in order to share their content by means of pirate ways over the 140journos because of the self-censorsip on their own stations. This information, which they think won’t be used by their responsible editors in the newsrooms, mostly consisted of opposing content. The contribution of the pirate journalists to the live tweeting news broadcast of 140journos especially during the actions of Gezi Park was incredible in size. The quality photographs above the average of citizen journalism were serviced to the public, and some issues such as verification of the news were often supported by professional pirates.

The actions during the Gezi Park, just as it is said in that famous slogan, was only the beginning, and almost nothing in Turkey has ever been as before. Many partners in providing social reconciliation in the country began to look critically at any content serviced by the media. Significant increase in awareness about citizen journalism was observed, and today hundreds of people we do not know have just recently begun to tweet live news to 140journos just as on the days we began to with a group of friends, and they have been producing content in social media free-of-charge participating in lawsuits and demonstrations as well. This civil disobedience in the country these days has been forcing the government to play all the trumps in their hand. Writing the article you are currently reading, what rumors have had as “a dream” as to the shutdown of Twitter for years “has become a reality” in March 2014 just as in the AKP’s slogan for the elections: “Once a dream, has now become a reality!” Turkey, so much engaged with the international public opinion, was pushed to the league of North Korea, China and Iran, where Twitter was forbidden. Upon the access to the platform by millions of people using the DNS services, the government authorities this time in Turkey have blocked the most commonly used Google DNS service. Wherever you consider the matter, it is a chilling decision. Even my mother in her 50s had to learn how to use the VPN technology also making a small-scale hacker all those who have limited access to technology and the Internet, and finally causing citizen journalism to have its share from this prohibition. The citizens of Turkey, who have to pay more even for the standard plans already compared with many European countries, now have to suffer from the unqualified low speed service provided being forced to consume the same service now censored. The unlimited editions of stable VPN software used to circumvent censorship are sold at the prices starting with $5 and more per month. The new internet law approved and enacted by the parliament late last month, however, if all this were not enough, granted the bureaucrats the authority to prevent the access to any content which allegedly violates privacy through DNS and IP-based access before releasing it to the discretion of the judges. Just imagine, under these circumstances, it is quite probable that any citizen who does not know his legal rights better would hesitate to produce content because of the current regulations. It is no doubt that having limited the freedom of expression by the antidemocratic laws has been causing the digital natives including the writer of these lines to get critical of the democratic acquisitions of the nation while growing up along with the AKP government in power. In this sense, extending the area of freedom assigns the activists, concerned citizens and citizen journos.

In so forgetful a society which is devoid of the ability to practically assess the theoretical achievements of the recent history, in order to register the collective memory, we have been working on the the verification of the data accumulated in the universe of social media and the “Journos” project for an interface intended to be focusing on the users’ interpretation of the publicly available data being embedded inside the multilevel maps through one of the 140journos’s R&D studies. The mobile platform crowdsources verification of social media content, analyzes citizen news reporting, and extends the coverage of civic news will soon be introduced to Turkish internet community. As 140journos, Turkey’s popular citizen journalism network, we provide a new platform solely for Twitter users who are interested, and engaged in news sharing and reporting in this project. Operating through a mobile app, website providing maps layered with facts and datas, and social media, it applies game mechanics and data visualization to reinvent the way citizen reporting is verified, and contextualized. First, game features crowdsource and promote geo-tagged, factual, photo and microvideo-based reporting. Second, harnessed citizen data are used to display relevant background information to explicate where the specific news comes from. The app interface not only promotes verified and civic-minded citizen news, but also actively uses data to contextualize the incoming reports. As mentioned above, 140journos has an established network on Twitter where we receive thousands of tweets every day on events varying from protests to local politics. We are building a new platform, Journos, which integrates a socio-technical process for the geo-tagged and visually supported reports on Twitter to be verified and contextualized. The Journos provides users with a selection of reporting tasks to be completed that is filtered through 140journos’s social media presence and raw data. Users complete tasks relevant to them based on their location and interests. By completing different tasks, users then unlock different badges and receive points, thus gaining credibility and acquiring different editorial/reporting roles. Journos pushes citizen journalism beyond merely documenting events. Let me repeat, these are all real life events but gamified. It provides a variety of information; from environmental features of where the event takes place to the political dynamics that give insights into news. Every piece of visual evidence is watermarked by date, source, and location information through the application, therefore it becomes harder to manipulate reports. Simultaneously, the application’s interface actively encourages users to report and consume news in a contextualized manner by showcasing the overall map of the citizen news network over-layered with the local, historical, and political insights. Overall, Journos app is a feedback system for citizen news on social media; run, verified, and curated by a unique interaction of citizens and technology. We take social media content, parse and filter it, and send it back. Turkey, so far, seems to be a great place to start a journalism start-up not because it provides great entrepreneurial infrastructure and incentives but because it provides real life facts igniting, pushing forward innovators to develop better to comply with the latest information needs under an intense political atmosphere.

Though 140journos has been rising in momentum due to Turkey’s agenda each day today, it is a project of the Institute for Creative Minds, which we have independently managed to maintain non-profit as of January 2012 until today. Within this network of the creative professionals, with an interdisciplinary group of 25 people, we have been designing, with the most simple words, identities and communities. In consideration of the combative reaction of the states with autocratic tendencies developed against the opposition in the streets and squares, the freedom of expression in the digital public sphere and the maneuverability in every sense can be rated higher than the ordinary democratic states. Therefore, we, at the Institute, haven’t only been developing projects of culture, art and media for digital public spaces as well as for physical spaces, but we have also been working closely with the civil society and the non-governmental organisations in addition to creating installations for the national and international biennials so as not to receive any financial support from any third party. We have never aimed at earning any money from any project to which we have no appeal for having it realized as we have no interest and concern in the topics of financially attractive maintainability since we don’t praise any project stemmed from a creative idea conceived when not demanded. It seems that our motivation probably won’t disappear easily because it has originated from a personal matter, I mean, from our personal conscience, and then, from a naive request as to hack Cem’s father’s perception. The academic concepts, expressions that define 140journos will perhaps be altered with their means in the near future, but I am confident that we still have the same anger against the media, oblivion and to all the obstacles that prevent the coexistence of all the societies, none of which have yet been pulled down.

Off we go.

Is Şırnak one of the 81 cities of Turkey?

14.06.17
4 min

I am in Şırnak, one of the Kurdish cities that was under curfew for 8 months, between 14 March-14 November 2016 . 70% of the city has been totally destroyed. 8 of the city’s 12 districts do not exist anymore. The streets that I walked on before, the parks, the main square of the city, Cumhuriyet Meydanı, where I met together with the Şırnaqi youth years before, none of them exit. There are no streets left. One of the biggest districts, Bahçelievler, with a population of 12.000 has now been flattened. It is hard to believe that there were houses, shops, parks, schools and life before. It is hard for me to believe that I am in Şırnak.

There has been huge destruction in other Kurdish cities; in Cizre, Nusaybin, Yüksekova and Sur as well. None of them are like Şırnak.  Think about a city, that no longer has a city center! 

While looking at the remains of Şırnak, the HDP parliamentarian Aycan İrmez said to me: “Most of the city was destroyed after the operations finished on the 3rd of June. More than 10.000 houses were ruined. The property of Şırnaqi  people  were distributed like prize goods of a war. The state did not allow people to enter their own houses and to save their belongings.”

A woman now living in a tent told me how she entered her house:

“I snuck into the city with my husband and my 2 kids one night. I entered my home and tried to take the air conditioners, but we couldn’t move them. Then we quickly moved to the kitchen and tried to remove the boiler, but there was water inside and we couldn’t manage it either. Suddenly, a man saw us. He was from the company, responsible for demolishing Şırnak. He said “Stop! You can’t enter your house. As a company we won the contract from the state, which includes all your belongings.  He had big guns. He took us to a bus where there were other people, like us, who tried to enter their homes. The bus took us outside the city. I was only able to take my umbrella from my home” 

Another Şırnaqi man said: “We entered our houses like thieves.”

“Şırnak is a Turkish city”

To enter the city is a different kind of hard work. It is worse than passing into another country. There was a line of cars more than one kilometer long. I waited in the car for half an hour, before deciding to walk.  I walked to the control point. What I saw was,  a control point like that of  a border! Hundreds of police, army, tanks and barbed wire fences… After the barbed wire fences there were four booths like at the borders. The policemen were checking identity cards inside the booths. After passing another barbed wire fence, I finally entered Şırnak 1.5 hours later.  

When I had visited the city 2 months before, there was a big plaque at the entrance of the city, which said: “Şırnak is one of the 81 cities of Turkey”. Now the writing on the plaque has been changed to simply say:  “Şırnak is a Turkish city.”

Şırnak, one of the main Kurdish centers was burnt in 1992 by the state. Hundreds of people died, more than 20,000 people were forced to migrate. After 24 years, in 2016, Şırnak was again   destroyed by the state.  Before the curfew, the population was 64,000. Now the population is 30,000.  50,000 people are homeless. There are no residential areas left in Şırnak. Thousands of people live in tents and have migrated to rural areas, while others are left to live in overcrowded conditions, several families living together in the few houses that are left standing.

I have learned that the state has blocked all kind of aid to Şırnak. There is no interest from NGOs , aid organizations, media and international organizations in Şırnak. The city is totally isolated from the outside world, left alone with it’s ruins and pain.  

I can’t help but wonder: Is Şırnak really one of the 81 cities of Turkey?

15.02.2017, Şırnak

Turkey, a modern day soap opera

14.06.17
5 min

Last week, I met with my Canadian friend who lives in Turkey. She told me about a Turkish soap opera that she watched that morning.  In the soap-opera, the young women gave a bunch of flowers to her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law threw the flowers to the floor and stomped on them. My friend said, “this is too much, too dramatic!” I laughed and answered, “No, this is not too much for Turkey. Turkey is a modern day soap-opera!”

Just 3 weeks ago, the cafeteria manager of Cumhuriyet newspaper said that he would not serve tea to Tayyip Erdoğan. He was immediately taken into custody after the police raided his home. Authorities said that he was arrested for insulting the president.  In Turkey, insulting the president is a crime punishable for up to four years in prison. There are more than 1,800 cases against people including cartoonists, school children, journalists and writers all accused of insulting Erdoğan. 

President Erdoğan and members of the government often make statements that “you should report the people who insulted Erdoğan”. Last month, a taxi driver recorded the voice of his passenger who “insulted Erdoğan”. He sent the recording to the police, who raided the home of the passenger. Moreover, just a few days ago the village headman (muhtar) of the Cemilli Village in Mersin, a Mediterranean city, filed a criminal complaint against 18 villagers for “insulting Erdoğan”. Investigations have been opened against the villagers.

It is not surprising to hear court cases like: “I killed my wife because she insulted Erdoğan”, “I killed her because she was a member of FETÖ” or “I want a divorce because my wife does not like Erdoğan”,“my wife is supporting PKK terrorists”.

The parliament is one of the main characters in this soap-opera.

Last week, a parliamentarian from CHP, the opposition party, called the Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım “Cin Ali”, a popular cartoon character in children’s books, due to his speech about the constitutional change. During the constitutional change process parliamentarians have fought with fists, but last week, during these fights, one of the AKP’s parliamentarians claimed that his leg was bitten by an opposition parliamentarian. The other day, AKP parliamentarians hung up papers inside the parliament which had written, “dogs cannot enter”. A few days later, a CHP parliamentarian who is also a doctor gave a detailed medical speech with x-ray films and claimed that the bite was not a human bite but a bite of a horse! 

Yesterday, we watched the drama of this soap opera unfold.

The AKP party has been pushing for constitutional changes to bring about a presidential system, likely to be put to a public referendum in early spring. During the parliament sessions regarding constitutional changes, an independent parliamentarian Aylin Nazlıkaya, handcuffed herself to the speaker’s microphone. She challenged the MHP parliamentarians to change their position and vote against the upcoming presidential system to protect the republic of Atatürk. After many hours, Nazlıkaya remained standing. Women parliamentarians from the AKP party came to remove the handcuffs. Unable to do so, they removed the microphone. At this point, physical violence broke out. CHP and HDP women parliamentarians stepped up to protect Nazlıkaya from these beatings. Two of these women were sent to hospital.

The country is like a dark comedy. The most useful term of this dark comedy is “terror”. Everyone uses this term for their own interests. Just 4 days ago, Erdoğan said the Turkish economy is also under a “terror” attack. He said that “there is no difference, where aims are concerned, between a terrorist with a gun and bomb in his hand and a terrorist who has dollars, euros and interest rates”. He also asked citizens to continue selling dollars and euros to counter the threat. 

After Erdoğan’s speech against the boost of the dollar value,  a group of village headmen in Adıyaman protested the dollar by cleaning their noses with dollars and burning them. 

The other day, Aziz Yıldırım, president of the Fenerbahçe football association, asked for Erdoğan’s help to punish the football referees who he claims are terrorists! Everyone is a terrorist in someone’s eye! “Terrorist” is also a very useful term for covering the criminals: “My neighbor is a FETÖ terrorist”, “I killed my wife because she is a FETÖ terrorist”, “the football referee is a terrorist”, “people who have dollars are terrorists”, “I raped her because she is a PKK terrorist…”

The destructive language that the political leaders are using is causing tragic consequences on the society.

Just a week ago, Alper Engeler, a famous psychologist was killed by a local shopkeeper. Engeler had built a small house to protect the cats from cold snow. The shopkeeper and Engeler quarreled, resulting in the shopkeeper killing Engeler. Last year, journalist Nuh Köklü was killed  by a shopkeeper after a snowball accidentally struck his shop window. In his many speeches to local shopkeepers, Erdoğan stated that “when needed do not hesitate to use guns”.

As a consequence of crazy politics, we now have a crazy society in Turkey! We are living in a fishbowl where people are ready to kill each other, blame each other, and assault each other while bombs explode in streets, at the hearts of big cities, on the roads…

Turkey, maybe worse than a soap-opera!

20.01.2017, Diyarbakır

not the point

14.06.17
1 min

not the point 

you listen a ballad, sing along, “which vinery do you guard?” 

not an affinity bearing love but that’s not the point 

however that’s not the point, you singing along, love or nightmare

it’s very late, one’s nine years old wail, body and fever 

all these years i was thought a few alphabets, one arabic one cyrillic

hammer and sickle sociology of oppressed people,

pedagogy of the oppressed and manuscripts of 1844

your name is not zîn, mine neither mem nor tajdîn 

my name is not in a song, yours not in a poem 

you never sang to me on a november night 

i may be mem û zîn to you on the fourth of november 

if i may, like that poet, i’m fond of turgut uyar, i’m not 

i’m not an emigree, nothing of the maghrib nor do i know of the mashriq 

not brave enough to refuge, a state of poetry

kürdistan est un mot cool.

your coffee-coloured hair is on my mind. 

and that coffee has a colour. the smell of coffee 

too. 

yet that’s not the point. 

Learning from Cairo

Georg Diez about about our first 60pages writers workshop
17.05.17
4 min
Voyage | Cairo

This was an experiment. We were going to Cairo for a workshop on the art of longform writing, with the generous support of MiCT and at a time of new tensions between the government and the press. The workshop was hosted by Townhouse Gallery, not far from Tahrir Square. Sep 1–3, 2015, morning, afternoon, dinner, tea and talk in between. 25 writers, activists, journalists. We wanted to talk about what stories need to be told and commission five to eight of them and publish them.

We always believed that part of today’s problems, both politically and journalistically, was a limitation of scope and perspective. What Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra called “the West and the rest” turns into a true liability if it comes to describing this world and how it changes. The West looks at Egypt and sees first an uprising, violence, a revolution; then change, the end of the old, the beginning of something; democracy? The election turns out differently. The Muslim Brotherhood is not what the West bargained for. So when the new president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took over, there was a very loud silence from the part of Western governments.

It has been a rollercoaster ride and we came to listen and learn. Probably the most fascinating thing somebody told me in the last two days here in Cairo, the thing with the most far reaching implications, spanning the private and the political, the family and the state, regression and aggression and an overall unease with the way men are, was Egyptian writer, performer and director Nora Amin who said that Egyptian men are so spoiled by their mothers, so doted upon, so smothered with love that they go through life expecting this to never end.

Would the Middle East be a different place without these men? Probably. Is there a chance of that happening? Probably not. Do they care? No. Do they know? I guess not. Nora’s text was the first one that we published, it was a strong, moving, vulnerable text about rape and Tahrir and the everyday sexism of the Egyptian society. It was also about survival.

“Migrating the Feminine”, Nora Amin’s text, was published just after there were attacks by supposedly refugees on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve of 2015/2016. Her text was like a commentary to everything that went wrong in the German debate after the events, the blame, the prejudice, the xenophobia and islamophobia that was growing more and more at the time. We were proud to publish this text, and the German newspaper “taz” picked it up as well.

The next text was Youssef Rhaka’s very daring essay on “Arab Porn”, a provocative and mindful examination of the fundamental changes the Egyptian society is living through as seen through the prism of sexuality and home-made porn — it is also a questioning of the self-understanding of protest and activism about producing change versus the change that is happening anyway, away from the streets, apart from the news.

We will publish two more from the Cairo workshop in the coming weeks. One is by Alia Mossallam who tells the story of loosing friends in the Arab Spring, of torture and fear of oppression and the deeper story of migration across the Mediterranean — all channeled through her very difficult and painful childbirth; only this pain, it seems, allowed her to access the other pain.

The final text by Amr Ezra will be the most genre-bending, an account of a double-life, to say the least, the life of a member of the Muslim Brotherhood turned activist in the Arab Spring movement — without telling his father about it. It is a story about the basic contradictions that run through every society, but those in particular where religious fanaticism is ruling; the basic contradictions that run through every family, but those in particular where the fear of the open and the other is cultivated to a degree that encourages lying.

What can we take away from all of this? There is so much we don’t know. It is best if we just come to learn and listen.

Freud without Freud

Georg Diez about the secret of Middle Eastern men
07.09.15
2 min
Voyage | Cairo

Probably the most fascinating thing somebody told me in the last two days here in Cairo, the thing with the most far reaching implications, spanning the private and the political, the family and the state, regression and aggression and an overall unease with the way men are, was Nora who said that Egyptian men are so spoiled by their mothers, so doted upon, so smothered with love that they go through life expecting this to never end. They have wives whom they expect to behave like their mothers, they think of themselves as strong men but are still the little sons they were thirty, fourty years ago. I don`t know if this explains everything, I don`t even know if it is true. But it totally makes sense, in the way that Freud without Freud always makes sense. Would the Middle East be a different place without these men? Probably. Is there a chance of that happening? Probably not. Do they care? No. Do they know? I guess not. But I trust Nora somehow on this as she is as smart and sharp as an Amazon Warrior has to be. This is what someone at the workshop called her. At least this is what I thought. It turned out that I did not hear correctly. But there still is some truth to this name, Nora said, and laughed.

The Strange Curve of History

Georg Diez about the second birthday of 60pages in Cairo
05.09.15
3 min
Voyage | Cairo

We were walking along July 26th Street, Murat and me, carefully avoiding the sun, trying to stay in the shade, when it dawned upon me that yes, today was the second birthday of this very site, 60pages. We were on our way to the Townhouse Gallery which Murat had a little trouble finding. We had both arrived in Cairo the evening before, and Murat had been at the Townhouse for a few hours, preparing everything for the workshop, but somehow the impression of this city which so much reminded him of the Istanbul he remembered from the months he spent there as a child confused him a little bit and he was taken back all those years while forgetting on the way the path, the indeed tricky path to Townhouse. You turn right a little past the very good pastry bakery, it is a street full of little stores selling car parts, something, Murat said, the Armenians used to do in his childhood memory of Istanbul. Then you turn left, try not to fall over the plastic chairs that substitute for a cafe, turn left again, and there you are. Sarah was already there, it turns out it was also her birthday, the 25th. Happy birthday, Sarah! And thank you for putting together this fabulous group of people, writers, journalists, activists, all there to discuss the beauty and necessity of longform writing. It was hot, it was long, but what a great conversation we had. Among the many beautiful and memorable things being said was Wael`s statement, the big bearded Wael, the poet who said that journalism should be considered as a form of art and not as the 4th estate of a democracy that is bound to a nationstate that Wael believes is about to fall. Not today, not tomorrow, not in Egypt specifically, but more generally, a brief and bloody episode in human history which is going to end soon. Wael looked not mad as he said this, rather benign. So what could this journalism be that is more than another accessory of the nationstate? Maybe just the same, only better? Lina of Mada Masr made her argument for longer and better writing, something we here want too, and she mentioned Walter Benjamin as a storyteller, going back from the early 21st to the early 20th century while still going forward. A very inspiring exercise in time travel. Alia also of Mada Masr was also for time travel, she proposed to talk about migration at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, among the migrants Italians coming to Egypt to build the Suez canal. History is strangely curved, it turns out. And that time is not linear is something we had always suspected, no? July 26th, by the way, was the day that Farouq, the son of Kind Fuad, was forced to abdicate in 1952. In 2013, General Sisi called on the population to demonstrate against the Muslim Brotherhood. This is what our new friends at Mada Masr wrote back in 2013. They are lovely people. As are most of the Egyptians we talked to today. What a very nice birthday. Happy 60pages.

The West and the Rest

Georg Diez about the 60pages workshop in Cairo
01.09.15
2 min
Voyage | Cairo

This is an experiment. We are going to Cairo for a workshop on the art of longform writing, with the generous support of MiCT and at a time of new tensions between the government and the press. The workshop will be hosted by Townhouse Gallery, not far from Tahrir Square. Sep 1 till 3, morning, afternoon, dinner, tea and talk in between. We expect 20 to 25 people, writers, activists, journalists. We want to talk about what stories need to be told and commission five to eight of them and publish them here, at 60pages. We also want to expand our network of people trying to figure out the present.

We always believed that part of today’s problems, both politically and journalistically, was a limitation of scope and perspective. What Pankaj Mishra called “the West and the rest” turns into a true liability if it comes to describing this world and how it changes. The West looks at Egypt and sees – what: first an uprising, violence, a revolution; then change, the end of the old, the beginning of something; democracy? The election turns out differently. The Muslim Brotherhood is not what the West bargained for. So when Sisi took over, there was a very loud silence from the part of Western governments.

It has been a rollercoaster ride. We don’t pretend to understand it. This is why we come. To listen and learn. We plan more of these – what should we call them: workshops, pop-up editorial sessions, voyages? Let`s call them voyages, because the goal in a voyage is exactly that, learn, listen, change. This we want to share with you, here and now. So join us.

Istanbul Longform Workshop 2017 - A Short Video Documentary

about three extraordinary days with 30 wonderful authors in Istanbul, at Cezayir/Beyoglu, March 16-18, 2017, edited by our friends from 140journos for 60pages
15.06.17
1 min

Masses Informing Masses: The Story of 140journos

14.06.17
18 min

Is Şırnak one of the 81 cities of Turkey?

14.06.17
4 min

Turkey, a modern day soap opera

14.06.17
5 min

not the point

14.06.17
1 min

Learning from Cairo

Georg Diez about about our first 60pages writers workshop
17.05.17
4 min

Freud without Freud

Georg Diez about the secret of Middle Eastern men
07.09.15
2 min

The Strange Curve of History

Georg Diez about the second birthday of 60pages in Cairo
05.09.15
3 min

The West and the Rest

Georg Diez about the 60pages workshop in Cairo
01.09.15
2 min