Filmmaker Veysi Altay sentenced for film on Kurdish women’s resistance to Islamic State

The documentary New Life retraces, from the point of view of three female combatants, the battle of Kobane, which took place from September 2014 to June 2015, in the midst of the Syrian civil war.

A film poster that goes badly with the Turkish courts. Veysi Altay, 46-year-old Kurdish filmmaker, was sentenced to one year and fifteen days in prison suspended and put on probation for his documentary New Life, produced in 2017. Three women, fighters within the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), an exclusively female Kurdish military organization, retrace the battle of Kobane, in northern Syria, from the arrival of the jihadists on September 13 2014, when the city was taken over by Kurdish forces on June 14, 2015.

“Women mean life. Life means resistance and resistance means Kobane», Can we read on the poster. One of the three soldiers poses with a puppy in one arm, a weapon in the other, a smile on her lips. Behind its back, the trigger: a star-spangled flag in the colors of the YPG, the armed wing of the Syrian Democratic Party, to which the combatants have rallied.

On the New Life poster, one of the Kurdish soldiers poses with, on her back, a star-spangled flag in the colors of the YPG, the armed wing of the Syrian Democratic Party. Yapim13 / Mezopotamya Sinema / Komaleya Akademya

Beyond the waved flag, the membership of female combatants in this Kurdish group is of concern. The Women’s Protection Units are said to be the Syrian and female version of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. He is considered a terrorist by Turkey and its allies within NATO. In addition, in 2015, the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism banned the broadcasting of North, a documentary on the PKK, the very day of its screening. The sanction was more substantial for Veysi Altay.

Terrorist propaganda

In April 2018, the director was indicted alongside Dicle Ante, the director of the cinema where the documentary was screened. Both are accused of making “Propaganda in favor of a terrorist organization”. The public prosecutor of the Batman republic in south-eastern Turkey considers that the poster of New Life is a criminal offense. According to the indictment, it contributes to “Portray positively” a terrorist organization.

“I made a film on an existing reality. My camera only captured what was happening in Kobane at the time ”, chanted Veysi Altay in his defense, rejecting the allegation of terrorist propaganda. Only one scene from the film is visible on the poster. “When the film was shown in Batman, there were police officers in the theater, but they could not identify any criminal offense”, he continued. As for the director of the cinema, he considers unfounded the reason for his accusation. New Life was screened in several Turkish cities, but the investigation focused only on Batman.

It is difficult for filmmakers to tap into the subject matter on screen. “Everything you do on the Kurdish question, everything that contains the Kurdish word receives a reaction from the government”, says Kazim Öz, another Turkish director, also accused of terrorism. Some scenes from Zer , his last film, were cut: they showed the massacre perpetrated by the Turkish state during the Dersim revolt in 1938. “This is the first time that I see such a decision” he adds, referring to the conviction of his colleague.

In 2019, the criminal court sentences Veysi Altay and Dicle Anter to two and a half years in prison. On appeal, the judgment was reversed and the proceedings reopened. At the beginning of October, the director of the cinema was finally forced to pay a fine of around 600 euros. Director Veysi Altay, meanwhile, was sentenced to one year and fifteen days in prison, suspended and put to the test. Their travel ban has been lifted.


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