Journalist Marion Sendker evaluates Western media's one-sided approach to terrorist group PKK/YPG
Question: Why is the Western media’s reporting of the PKK/YPG one-sided?
Sendker: I think there are many aspects why PKK, terror and all these topics are reported in a very certain way in German and also Western European media, which are one-sided very often. One aspect is that from the Western part we look at Türkiye and all the things happening here with a very orientalistic view.
Question: Does the Western media make more pro-PKK news?
Sendker: I do not know numbers or anything but it may seem like we have a prevalence of more pro-Kurdish or pro-PKK or that sort of opinions in Germany and Western European media. Experts which are reproducing these opinions are concentrated a lot. It has become something like a public opinion.
Question: Why do the European countries support PKK-affiliated organizations in Europe?
Sendker: Knowing that there are connections to human trafficking and abuse of children, there are also public reports in Germany by state officials about how children in Northern Syria for example in that area are taken by PKK, are kidnapped and still organizations and people, individuals in Germany and Western Europe who are close to this organization are supported. It is very good point why they are supported.
But then you have the public, where they show themselves as very peaceful and democratic. Asking for the help of the German people, the German government, and media also to support their cause for democratic values, which is a trigger word, of course, in Germany and Western Europe. Because democracy is like "the number one thing" there. So everyone who is fighting for democracy cannot be too bad. That’s the instinct that we have been given by our history. This instinct is sometimes not questioned enough.
Sendker: They are aware of the necessity of being objective and neutral. But the way that knowledge is gathered, facts are gathered is one-sided.
We have a lot of Kurdish and Turkish people living in Germany. They also work on these topics, but then once they work there, it happens a lot but not all the time of course, that a certain narrative is just copied and taken. Because, this person of course knows better than a German about the conflict, but also their knowledge may be one-sided. “We have this person from this cultural background be it Turkish or Kurdish or whatever… That person knows”. There is a tendency to take that person as a reference and that’s it full stop.
Question: When it comes to the PKK do Western journalists confuse activism with journalism?
Sendker: Well, I think there is a very fine line between journalism and activism. This line, we can see in Germany and Western Europe, there is always the risk that it’s getting abused from outside activists. We can see that in some journalistic circles that there are people who are connected to they say that Kurdish culture houses or groups, which however, spread PKK ideology and also propaganda. They approach journalist a lot. They talk to them about the situation of the Kurdish people as if it was an entity, a homogeneous entity, just one group especially in Turkey but also in Northern Syria and Northern Iraq and well they urge journalists to report about this. They tell them that they also engage in a fight for freedom, democracy, women rights, workers’ rights and for a couple of years they have also added the fight against climate change to the list. This is something which falls on a very fruitful ground in Western European and German journalism. Because most of them see themselves as people who have to discover the criminally bad things or that they have to fight for the good cause, whatever the good cause then is.
They know that PKK is listed as a terror organization, but still they use the word “workers’ party” for it. So the question of how does this relate, how do these go together is not being raised much.
Question: Are PKK, its proxies and affiliates a threat to the Western public as well?
Sendker: I think it’s hard to say how much PKK, YPG and so on are concrete threats to Western public, because on one side one argues that they are not violent in Germany and in Europe at least not publicly. We don’t know what is happening behind the scenes. But also within Germany, for example, you have the communities which are reportedly infiltrated by some PKK-affiliated people. It is very hard to say who they are sometimes.
Question: Does the German and Western European media mislead the Western public?
Sendker: It is very interesting that "PKK" is a very well-known word in German and Western European media. But it is almost always accompanied with the word “workers’ party,” which was their official name some time ago. But still it’s called the Kurdish Workers’ Party. That leads to the assumption that, it may be something like a democratic party fighting for or engaging with workers’ rights. And that is perceived as something good. The attribute that it is also listed as a terror organization it somehow gets lost in between the lines, it is sometimes not even mentioned on the reports.
It’s very difficult for journalists in Western Europe and Germany to understand the structure of PKK or PKK-affiliated organizations and groups because there are lots of Kurdish groups in that area and some of them are organized in cultural houses or groups. If you look at the websites or speak to the people, it all sounds very nice, it sounds very peaceful, democratic, friendly and everything.
It is very hardest to find out how, if any, they are connected to PKK so if you look at the Verfassungsschutzbericht or other reports from the German authorities, yes, there you can see, or if you look at court law there you can see some names of organizations which have very innocent names like “cultural house in the city” or something which are put into context with drugs, smuggling or mafia-like actions.
The question is always how do you define responsibility of journalism and journalists. Especially regards to the PKK/YPG conflict also with Turkey, the media coverage usually portrays Turkey as “the black, the bad guy” and the Kurds in general as “the good ones” but the Kurds are represented directly or indirectly in the media coverage or connected to PKK. And there are a lot of question marks to this because how can one party be good, how can only one party be bad in such a complex conflict?
Question: What are the concerns of Western journalists in covering PKK/YPG-related news?
Sendker: Because it’s a very sensitive, very emotional topic and you can easily become a target from either sides that criticize you for formulation, for just a sentence you wrote. And therefore it can also be imagined that it’s safer for lot of people and media in Western Europe and Germany just to go with the mainstream. And in order to be objective you just also put the Turkish side there and say "the Turks say this" and then you’re good to go and you’re safe.
Sendker: That means we have our German Western European reality and history. And we take that from that perspective to a totally different reality in the country of Türkiye and the neighborhood with a background of a very different history. That means for example in Germany we have very little experience with terrorism per se. Western Europe has been peaceful for almost 80 years now. And the last big one in Western Europe was the Second World War. For example, inside Germany, when did the last PKK attack, a big one happen? They are very keen on portraying a peaceful, stable, democratic image in Germany and Western Europe.
In the second and also the first world wars, they all connected to politically right movements, nationalistic movements. We have learned that those movements, the right side is always connected to some kind of fascism, anti-democratic movements and to war, to bad things or terror.
On the other side, we see left movements. They have been the ones bringing democracy, fighting for democracy. They have been fighting for women rights, workers’ rights, etc. We see the left movements in a more liberal and a better way. And we are more afraid of right movements. And with this approach we look at Turkey where the reality is different. It is almost vice-versa, because Türkiye has had a lot of experience with terror and that terror comes mostly from radical left sides.