Sevgul Uludag | 2008 Courage in Journalism Award
A journalist for nearly three decades, Sevgul Uludag, 49, is an investigative reporter for Yeniduzen, a Turkish Cypriot daily newspaper in the northern part of the divided island of Cyprus. She also writes for the Greek Cypriot newspaper, Politis, which is published in the south. In these papers as well as in the Internet magazine, Hamamböcüleri (Cockroaches), where she is a member of the team of editors, Uludag, who is of Turkish Cypriot heritage, tries to bring the two violently separated parts of Cyprus together and erase the divide of the population. Uludag moves toward this goal by illuminating the violence in Cyprus through her reporting.
In 2002, Uludag began to tackle the issue of missing people and mass graves in Cyprus. She devoted herself to uncovering the fates of thousands of people who disappeared during Greek-Turkish clashes in the 1960s and 1970s from mass executions, abductions and targeted assassinations. Uludag’s reporting started a public debate about missing persons, which is considered a taboo subject among Turkish Cypriots. In addition, Uludag called attention to the fact that both Greek and Turkish Cypriots saw themselves as the victims of the conflict, showing them that all Cypriots are both perpetuators and victims.
Uludag’s reporting eventually led to official searches and exhumations. But her investigations did not come without a price. For instance, a hate campaign against Uludag was orchestrated by military forces based in the northern (Turkish) part of the island through the newspapers under their influence. They ran stories calling her a spy and a traitor, as well as issuing death threats against her. Additionally, Uludag received threatening phone calls from those responsible for mass killings or their families when she was uncovering information about mass graves in Turkish Cypriot villages.
Persecution against Uludag began soon after she became a reporter in 1980. Previously, she had worked as a secretary in a bank. But when she switched to a job as a proofreader and liked the work, she decided to become a journalist. In 1982-83, a Turkish military car frequently parked outside her house simply because Uludag was writing about the taboo subject of why Cyprus should be reunified. Her phone was tapped, and her mail was often intercepted.
Over the years, the threats and intimidation continued. In 1996, a leader of the Grey Wolves, an extremist paramilitary group from Turkey known for violence toward Greek Cypriots, issued a death threat against Uludag. They threatened her because her brother-in-law, also a journalist, was killed, and the Grey Wolves were suspected in his death. Uludag was covering this possible involvement of the Grey Wolves for a weekly magazine. The group issued a death threat against her as well as what they called “the last warning,” which Uludag presumes to mean that they would kill her next time.
In 2000-2003, there was a concerted campaign against Uludag run by two newspapers close to the Turkish military in Cyprus. Nearly every day her photo was published along with accusations that she was a spy and a traitor who needed to be silenced. In April 2003, the daily newspaper Volkan, mouthpiece of the Turkish nationalist movement, published editorials and columns calling for her murder and asking its readers to “cut off the tongue of Sevgul Uludag.”
Uludag dodged an attempted attack in Nicosia at a checkpoint in November 2006 by a group of Greek Cypriot nationalist students. The students were connected with the fascist group Hrisi Avgi, which is the Greek Cypriot version of the Grey Wolves. Its members are against reunification of Cyprus and any kind of contact among Turkish and Greek Cypriots. When Uludag was crossing from the northern to the southern part of the island, she showed her press pass, but the students started shouting at her and rushed to hit her, only to be stopped by police. Although she made an official complaint together with the Cyprus Journalists Union and took a photo of the attackers, the police told her they could not find them.
In 2006 and 2007, Uludag received death threats from people in the city of Caoz where she was reporting about mass graves where Greek Cypriots were murdered. During the same time period, an extremist paramilitary group called the Turkish Revenge Brigade issued a statement threatening all those connected with the search for the missing people in their village, including Uludag.
Uludag has also received a death threat by mail from an extremist group in Australia. When they did not succeed with their threats to stop her from giving news to Special Broadcasting Service, one of two government-funded Australian public broadcasting radio and television networks, they started sending hate e-mail to her.
Uludag has published several books, including Oysters with the Missing Pearls, which brings together stories of missing persons and mass graves from both the Greek and Turkish sides of Cyprus. Oysters was originally published in Turkish in 2005 and has subsequently been published in Greek and English. Uludag’s most recent book, Orphans of Nationalism, was published in 2008. It contains stories of Turkish and Greek Cypriots killed by their own sides.
Also an activist for peace and gender issues, Uludag has trained various groups of women on issues of peace, reconciliation and gender. Together with women from both parts of Cyprus, she founded the non-governmental organization Hands Across the Divide in 2001, speaking out in public for peace in Cyprus.
“I did everything I have done straight from my heart because truth is too important to turn away from and only with courage I could manage to find the way to tell it.” Uludag said in her acceptance speech for the Courage in Journalism award.
Uludag was born October 15, 1958, in Nicosia, Cyprus.
Sevgul Uludag is the first Courage in Journalism Award winner from Cyprus.