The night I found out my friend is terrorist. We were in college and every night, me and my Turkish roommate were drinking tea and telling stories to unwind. One night, she told me stories about how she came to Romania from Turkey. At the end, I was waiting for her to tell me that it was just a made up story or a nightmare she had.
In the summer of 2016, she was 18 years old, dreaming about studying abroad. In the airport police harassed her. The police were after her family. The crime? Her father was a teacher at a school affiliated with Gulen Movement. That day was the last time she saw her family. In the eyes of the Turkish leaders they all were terrorists. I was about to finish my college degree in journalism. Hearing this story i feel powerless. What can I do as a future journalist? Can I make people believe that these are more than stories they read on their way to work? Alot of overwhelming come to my mind in that night.
All this becomes easier for young journalists like me when we find role models, who already fight the fight, from you can see how it’s done, not just the professional part, but the human parts. Marianna Kakaounaki is one of those. A journalist from Greece, in the process of discovering the stories of turkish people as one of my roommate, felt like writing the stories is not enough and people will forget them soon. That’s why she filmed the documentary „Invisible”. One thing I learned is that, in the authoritarian era, when leaders want to exclude some people from society, putting them in the spotlight, it’s not just doing your job, but it feels like an act of rebellion. It’s needs a lot of courage to put your soul next to the one who is suffering in order to give them a voice.
Here the answers of some of my curiosities, from where i still have a lot to learn.
What can a journalist do to make people more visible? Is empathy or professionalism more important in this situation?
I believe that our role is to make people visible, make their stories known. That’s all we can do. To really do that though we need to go deep, and gain a real understanding of the person, their story, the greater landscape of the world they come from. To me, empathy and professionalism are equally important. I feel one needs both in order to be truly good at this job.
What is the event that most impressed you in the ongoing wave of immigration to Europe?
There are so many different things that stay with me from all these years of reporting on immigration. When it comes to the Turkish persecuted community, i think the fact that these people are not fleeing war, but are persecuted from a country that is supposed to be a democracy is what really strikes me. The Turkish president is violating human right laws but he still gets to sit at the table with other world leaders like nothing is going on.
During your journalism career, have you ever thought that you will document the story of people who had to immigrate to your country? Did you notice these people before you started to report about them?
The big wave of immigration started more or less when i was also starting of as a young journalist. We didnt know who these people were or their stories, but as soon as i started working on this, i knew very early on that this was a very important story.
You are reporting from one of the countries where the most critical human stories are experienced in the world.What made you, in the first place, to document these stories? What caught your eye?
There are many different things that attracted me to these stories. The feeling that this can happen to any one of us. Also, the fact that after a while there were negative sentiments towards immigrants – this was shocking to me, especially since i come from a country where our great grandparents also imigrated to other countries in the past. I thought it’s important to tell the world the real story and for us, Greeks, to be in the right side of history.
During the shooting of the documentary ‘Invisible’, you spent five months with the heroes of the story. What was the point when you realized that “it must be a much bigger work than an article that will be soon forgotten”?
I first met people from the persecuted community a few months after the attempted coup in the summer of 2016. And i quickly realized that the people i met and their persecution were not some individual cases but that there was an ongoing and massive persecution going on. I felt the urgency to tell this story mainly because no one was talking about it.The people theselves were too afraid to speak up. It took a long time for them to agree not to a film but to a series of articles for the newspaper. And thats when i felt that this was not enough, that i wanted to go deeper. I felt the only way to acheive that was through a film, where i could follow the story as it developed.
During the filming of ‘Invisible’, as a journalist, did you ever felt how it is to be exiled from your country?
Definitely! Many times i thought to myself „This could be me”. These people lost everything, more or less overnight. So when i was filming, this was my main goal: That the audience will feel this too. I wanted them to leave the screening, and feel like they have walked alongside these families & have a better understanding of their lives. Because their goals are completely relatable, all they wanted was to be free and then find a job, pay the bills, and make a better life for their children.
Do you think that your reporting on these cases have been a solution to the problems experienced? Would you like to do more than reporting to come to a solution?
I never believed that it’s our role to bring solutions. But I do hope that the people who take the decisions will see the film, and read the articles and make more imformed decisions. That ultimately may bring solutions. This is the goal: to have impact through our reporting.
What is the fine line between your journalist side and your human side? Or do you have a red line about it?
I have definitely crossed that red line a few times. But this is inevitable when you are so embeded in a story and ultimately in someone’s life. But as long as we keep our journalistic principles in check, i don’t consider this to be a problem. On the contrary, i think it can bring emotions and „heart” to the journalistic work.
If you were an exiled journalist, what would be the first things you would do?
I think, at the beginning i would be in survival mode. It’s so hard to find yourself in a foreign place after you have lost everything. Once i had secured the basics for my family i think i would try and tell the story of what is going on. I feel and hope that i would be able to continue doing my job even thought i probably would need to do another „day” job in order to survive.
Are stories of athletes from the Olympic Games or stories of people more valuable to you?
All stories are important. They may seem different – and in many cases they are- but they all share some characteristics that truly inspire me . How hard those people try for their goals, their focus and perseverance.
How does it feel to be there as a reporter as history is being made?
It’s an amazing feeling. feel really proud and honored, that i have worked in a story that will be part of history. And most importantly the right side of history and that i gave voice to those that didnt have one.
It seems like there are new political activities between Greece and Turkey. Do you think this will be a good thing or a bad thing for the people and exiled journalists?
I always remember what one of my main protagonists told me one night. That it concerns him when he watches the news and sees there is political activity between the two countries because they – gullenists are always on the table as bargaining chips. Meaning President Erdogan is often requesting, sometimes demanding their extradition. So i think its natural for those people to not feel safe. I don’t personally believe they have reasons not to feel safe but i think its totally understandable.