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Gurmeet Singh

Gurmeet Singh is a freelance writer and editor, living and working in Berlin. He writes on political and cultural issues and has interests in literature, philosophy and European affairs. He grew up in Birmingham, UK.

Amr Ezzat

During the nights following the 28th of January, when the ‘popular committees’ took over the security of the Egyptian streets, each came up with a password which one needed to say in order to be let past. Astonishingly, the one chosen by the committee, which was securing my own street was “Do you know Amr Ezzat?” When I was asked this question on my way home for the first time from the Tahrir occupation to take a shower and change my clothes, I answered affirmatively, with a half-smile. But surely not every Amr Ezzat is the one I know. I didn’t know the neighbour whose name became synonymous with the street in a moment like that, but I knew very well the activist/writer/blogger/journalist who would become one of the figures of the betrayed Egyptian revolution, and, in my opinion, one of its most important torchbearers.

For Amr Ezzat to become the one I know, he had to diversify his education, starting with engineering, where he encountered the various existing (or  potential) intellectual and political currents in the Egyptian society at the turn of the century. Engineering wasn’t the last destination , since his calm reflection was thirsty for philosophy, which he ended up studying. His religious inclination in his early twenties pushed him towards learning jurisprudence and sharia through the religious “institution” formed outside the realm of the Egyptian State. 

For Amr Ezzat to become himself, he had to engage with the communication revolution of the early 2000s; he had to blog, and the title he chose for his blog had to be so personal, idiosyncratic, simple and free as it is: Ma Bada Li (What seemed to me). He only writes what seemed to him. Is writing anything but that? Despite all the masks the writers hide behind?

Yet another (parallel) link to ICT and social change: Having graduated from the Faculty of Engineering, he had to travel across the country – cities, towns and countryside – to follow up with the structural safety of mobile phone’s station’s facilities that ensured the communication between the people in this century’s mode. This face-to-face nationwide experience I went hand in hand with marking his technical and online presence at the heart of the contemporary communication revolution, a civil engineer at the helm of the then nascent Egyptian blog sphere–in which he was and still is one of the most active elements.

Wanting to write, another shift is made, this time a career shift, to the press, naturally enough, becoming quickly a prominent voice from a new generation of Egyptian journalists that took a special and fresh interest in observing the society at large and investigating its phenomena, breaking with the “conventional” press. His contributions to the  the “Colours of Life” page in the Shourouk daily were mainly long and in-depth stories that belonged to a new kind of journalism in Egypt that he explored further in other outlets–  Al Masry Al Yawm and Mada Masr for which he writes opinion pieces. 

For Amr Ezzat to become the one I know, he had to realize that one of the central questions in the Egyptian society is the social and political conflict around religion. He benefited from all the intellectual tools he acquired from jurisprudence, sharia, law and politics to become a religious freedoms defender, either by publishing reports and articles or moderating dialogues between the different conflict parties. He does all of that with the concern/thrust and endeavor of the researcher keen on – without falling into the indecent generalizations or structural illusions –  exploring the authoritarian fallacies,  debunking them on historical and logical grounds, and on observing the similarities between several small phenomena to come up with a general pattern that applies on many of them, reflecting the space-time stage in which it takes place.

For Amr to become Amr, he had to be both so ordinary and exceptional, able of seeing the whole and the parts without one dominating the other and without reductionism or vulgarizing. For example he spoke of the ‘conditional accessibility’ as a state’s way of dealing with the islamists and the ‘cowardly daring’ as the way a group of the Egyptian opposition deals with the state. Or take his beautiful neologism; Sondokratia (Ballotocracy, Muslim Brotherhood era) about the elections that look democratic and independent from the outside while they don’t give a damn about democracy and all they do is absolve the state’s obligations towards the society.

For Amr Ezzat to become the one I know, he had to be well-versed in logic, in the sense of the relations between concepts, and in syllogism, but also in argumentation and dialectic. He knows the art as it was founded by the great authors, namely the scholars of the seminal sources of jurisprudence, therefore becoming that argumentator, who doesn’t lose temper and doesn’t lose the thread of his argumentation. I refer here particularly – in addition to his writings – to the monthly “Forum of Religion and Freedoms”, which he organizes and moderates at the “Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights”. 

Amr is also well-versed in rhetorics. For me, the most beautiful thing in him/he does is perhaps his language, and its rhetoric, in the sense that it is highly contemporary, ridiculously lucid, and at the same time able to address the most complex theoretical subjects. The contemporary here doesn’t only mean catering to the cultural taste of a targeted reader as much as it means the creation of the rhetoric moment itself. 

I remember Amr Ezzat describing the prologue of the current Egyptian Constitution – full with all kinds of ”obsolete” figurative language pomp – as “idiotic”. What I understood from that description is the harsh sarcasm in favor of another style. He knows that sarcasm is the figure of speech which can provide a headline for the historical moment we are living–he calls for that, writes that way, and perhaps this is how he lives. Wasn’t it him, who kept the locks of the bathrooms of the Tahrir Square when the revolutionaries invaded it, without any of them, nor even myself, recognizing how significant that way of recording the historical moment was. Could it be more ironic?

Fadi Awad is a book editor, linguist and lecturer at Ecole Nationale Superieure in Paris 

Translated from Arabic by: Kenza Rady

Amr Ezzat is also columnist for Al-Masry Al-Youm and a human rights activist from Cairo. Amr participated in our Cairo Longform Workshop in 2015, whereof this longform “Room 304” evolved. 

Aylin Balboa

Aylin Balboa is an author living in Istanbul. Her short stories has been published under the name “Belki Bir Gün Uçarız (Maybe We Can Fly One Day)” by Iletisim Yayinevi. She writes for several periodicals.  She has a dog named Balık (Fish). 

Aylin partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

Yigit Karaahmet

Yiğit Karaahmet was born in the last years of disco, glitter and shoulder pads (aka 70s) in the small seaside town of Giresun where people live on agriculture and fishery. He believes his humor comes from the region, motherland of Laz jokes. As he passed the university entrance exam he moved to İstanbul, city of his dreams, where he would study journalism at Marmara University’s Faculty of Communication. And he threw himself to the parties, the nights and the arms of men. His articles and interviews about night life, popular culture, life style were published by daily newspapers like Milliyet, Akşam, Taraf; national magazines as Vogue Turkey, GQ Turkey, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, FHM, 212, Time Out; and international magazines such as Vice Germany. Yiğit uses his openly gay identity in his articles on purpose and believes the importance of personal fight against homophobia. For this reason, he has been targeted by the fundamentalist press many times. His articles have been collected and published as two books. He also has a novel, yet unpublished. He writes commercial texts and experiments with scripts too. Currently living in Istanbul, the author continues to work in all areas of literature.

Yiğit partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

Murat Mahmutyazicioglu

Oyuncu ve oyun yazarı, ne istanbul ona katacağı güzellikten haberdardı ne de murat. 80’lerdeki ve 90’lardaki tüm güzellikleri, gariplikleri, inişleri, çıkışları hayatına katarak büyüdü bilmiyordu ki her bir anı satır araları naifliklerle dolu nefes alabilen metinlere dönüşecekti. Önce “fü’yü ” yazdı sonra “şekersiz’i ” ilk “şekersizi ” sahneledi ikinci olarak ” fü ” sahnelendi ardından “sen istanbul’dan daha güzelsin’i “yazdı ve yönetti “sevmekten öldü desinler’i ” yazdı ve bu oyunu da durur mu o da sahnelendi oyunlar sahnelendikçe istanbul daha güzel bi yer olmaya başladı. Sadece isimlerine bakanlar dahi dedi ki Murat güzelliklerin en güzelini hak ediyor ve her gün dünyayı daha güzel bi yer yapmaya devam ediyor. (by Melis Öz)

Murat partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

Onur Burcak Belli

Onur Burçak Belli is a Turkish-Syrian journalist mainly covering political conflicts as well as its far-reaching outcomes both in Turkey and the broader region. She is now based in Ankara.

She has closely followed the war in Syria covering it as a reporter and a field producer. She was based in Damascus researching Syria’s reform plans and the Sunni-Alawite conflicts amongst the ruling elite regarding these plans, when the uprising started in March 2011.

She has 10 years of experience as a journalist working for different mainstream media outlets. She started her career as a journalist at the Turkish Daily News (now Hurriyet Daily News) at Turkey’s leading media conglomerate. She successively worked for Newsweek Turkey, HaberTurk TV, RTL, BBC World Service, Channel 4 News, Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, and more.

During her journalism career she has focused mainly on Kurdish conflict, war in Syria, refugees and migration matters, Turkish foreign policy, European Union policies and its broader affects, civil society movements, ethno-cultural and sectarian conflicts, studies and campaigns on sexual and bodily rights of women in Muslim societies, nature conservation and water policies as well as trans-boundary water conflicts in Turkey and the Middle East, urban transformation and gentrification, the socio-political and environmental policies in conflict zones in the Middle East.

She is fluent in English, Turkish, almost fluent in Arabic.

Burcak partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 


“Engin Önder is not a journalist, and he’ll be the first to tell you that. (“No way,” he said, laughing, when I asked.) Instead, Önder, who cofounded the Turkish citizen journalism platform 140journos, considers himself a citizen acting journalistically to share information and spark discussions about political issues in Turkey.” wrote Joseph Lichterman on NiemanLab.

Engin Onder was a recent college graduate in 2012 when, frustrated by the state of the media in Turkey, he joined with friends on Twitter to launch 140journos. He described the early days in “A Sense of Exhilaration and Possibility,” for the Spring 2014 issue of Nieman Reports. On January 19, 140journos relaunched their site to mark their 5th anniversary, with big plans ahead for 2017, including launching an English-language service for journalism institutions and professionals.

Engin partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

Nurcan Baysal

Nurcan Baysal is a Kurdish activist and writer.

She was born and grew up in Diyarbakır. She graduated from Ankara University Faculty of Political Science. After 1 year assistantship at Bilkent University, she returned her homeland Diyarbakır and began to work for humanitarian issues in the Kurdish Region. Between 1997-2007, Baysal worked as the project coordinator for United Nations Development Program in Diyarbakir. During that time she was active in poverty and development issues as well as in microfinance and women’s entrepreneurship. She was engaged in the establishment of a number of NGOs in the Region. She was part of the Kurdish women’s movement and a big supporter of women NGOs in Kurdistan. In 2000 she established the Development Center Association and worked for the rights of  the forced migrated Kurdish population, evacuated villages, the rights of returnees and rural development.

In 2008, she began working for the Ozyegin Foundation and developed a rural development program in 6 war-torn villages of Tatvan, Kavar. The program made a significant impact on the living standards of over 2,000 people through projects working on education, employment, health and social life. As a result, Baysal was selected as one of “Turkey’s Changemakers” by the Sabancı Foundation in 2012.

Her work in development has had an international impact. In 2000
Baysal was awarded the “Women’s Creativity in Rural Life Award” by the Women’s World Summit Foundation in Switzerland for her work in the Kavar Basin and for her contribution to development literature by linking development with happiness. As she said in an interview “happiness is part of development”.

In 2012, with a group of Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals, activists and academics, she established the Diyarbakir Political and Social Research Institute (DISA). DISA has conducted research on different aspects of the Kurdish question including education in mother tongue, reconciliation, paramilitary forces, disarmament and more. Baysal serves as an advisor or board member to many non-profit organizations, like the Global Fund for Women, the Women Labor and Employment Platform, the Urgent Action Fund, the Mezopotamya Foundation, the Platform to Save Women Kidnapped by ISIS. She is a member of the women’s movement and several peace movements in Turkey.

After ISIS attacked Şengal in August 2014, Baysal immediately began to work voluntarily in the Yezidi camps in Iraqi and Turkish Kurdistan. She increased the voice of Yezidi people with her articles and with a group of brave women, she established the Platform to Save Women Kidnapped by ISIS in 2015. The platform continues to give different legal and health support to Yezidi women saved from ISIS and tries to increase the voice of Yezidi women in the world. 

Since 2013, Baysal has been writing as a regular columnist on T24. Her articles have been published in various countries. She is member of PEN Turkey.

Nurcan Baysal is the author of O Gün (That Day), Ezidiler: 73. Ferman (Ezidis: 73rd Decree) and co-author of Kürdistan’da Sivil Toplum (Civil Society in Kurdistan). She has recently been writing on people’s voices and stories who have been displaced in demolished cities of Kurdistan. She is one of the very few reporting from inside the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, from the proud and ancient heart of Kurds living in Turkey – the city of Diyarbakir. She focuses on human rights and war crimes in her articles.

Her new long-form “Those Voices” has just been published by 60pages Publishing in Berlin. In “Those Voices”, she wrote about her city that was under bombardment. How the city itself experienced the bombardment, how daily life continued under the bombardment as well as how different sections of society experienced the bombardment. 

Nurcan Baysal, mother of 2 sons, has just been awarded the “Brave Women Journalists Award” presented by the Italian Women Journalists Association. There are many court cases against her because of her articles about human rights and war crimes in Kurdistan. She has been systematically threatened by nationalists and the deep state in Turkey because of her articles. This doesn’t stop her. As she said in her interview: 

“We are in the middle of a long struggle for democracy, freedom and justice. I write to record the history not written by the powerful, but to remember those who struggle for equality, freedom and justice. 

History books continue to be written by executioners. But truth  needs to find a place in history. I feel it is my responsibility to record truth for the future.”

Nurcan partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

Mehmet Said Aydın

Mehmet Said Aydın was born in Diyarbakır (1983), spent most of his life in Mardin and İstanbul. The author of realities and tales of his homeland, which stayed unsung for centuries, Aydın’s poems and short stories are best known for its neo-realist texture. Aydın’s mother tongue is Kurdish and he studied Turkish Language and Literature.

Published in 2011, his first book of poetry Kusurlu Bahçe by 160. Kilometre was honoured with “Arkadaş Z. Özger First Book Special Award”.
In early 2014, Sokağın Zoru was released and his two poetry books were reprinted 7 times. In 2017, Sylvain Cavaillès translated his first volume of poems Kusurlu Bahçe into French as Le Jardin Manqué. He’s currently working on a novel and new volumes of poetry to be published in 2018.

He translated two books from Turkish to Kurdish together with Süleyman Sertkaya: Murat Özyaşar, Bîr (Doğan Publishing, 2011); Aziz Nesin, Zarokên Niha Çi Jîr in (Nesin Publishing, 2012).

His column “Pervaz” appeared first in BirGün, then in Evrensel newspapers every week since 2013. He currently writes weekly for the Duvar Newspaper. Aydın expresses the political conjuncture with a delightful sense of humour using his childhood memories and similes.

He hosted a radio show on Kurdish Literature aired by Açık Radyo, every 2 weeks for 2 years. This program was popular among circles of interest that he was proposed hosting a TV show Keçiyolu which was broadcasted in 2015 and 2016.

He makes a living as an editor for Everest Publishing House in İstanbul married to Selin Fişek Aydın. He experiments with language and methods of translation. He’s a member of Amnesty International Turkey and Journalists Union of Turkey.

Mehmet partipated in our Istanbul Longform Workshop in March 2017. 

Nora Amin

Writer, performer, choreographer, theatre director and educator, Amin is a founding member of the Modern Dance Theatre Company at The Cairo Opera House (since 1993) and the founder of “Lamusica Independent Theatre Group”, where she directed and produced thirty-five theatre, music and dance productions since 2000. She has published four collections of short stories, three novels, a poetry audio book and two books on theatre methodology. She is the author of the first Arabic book on theatre and human rights, “The Egyptian Contemporary Theatre: The Art of Claiming our Right”, published by CHRSI in 2003, as well as of a book on theatre as a medium for healing and transformation for trauma survivors, “Theatre For Change: From the Internal to the External”. In 2009, she launched the independent initiative “Our Stories” to encourage personal storytelling in popular neighborhoods. In 2011 Amin founded “The Egyptian National Project Of Theatre Of The Oppressed” and its Arab network. 

In 2015, Nora participated in our 60pages Longform Workshop in Cairo, her book “Migrating the Feminine” is an outcome of this workshop. It has been published in English and Arabic and soon in German.