UPDATE: Kurdish Fighter Ceylan Özalp Reported Alive; Contradicts Earlier Unsubstantiated Claims

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editor-commen-deskFor War In ContextPaul Woodward finds growing credibility in the “Ceylan Ozalp is alive” counter-story, bolstered by affirmations by Kurdish journalist Müjgan Halis and PKK defense lawyer Ayla Akat Ata. In his comments, Woodward considers these sources authoritative, and is inclined to think they’re likely true. Which reopens questions about Ozalp’swar-in-context-ozalp-alive-report fate, and should spark interest in this mysterious Kurdish fighter’s whereabouts.

Note: The above photo, purporting to be Ceylan Ozalp, in circulation on Tumblr sites, isn’t new, it appeared around the time of the initial BBC broadcast about Kurdish Women fighters.

Here’s the thing: If Ceylan is not dead, and can identify herself online somewhere, or to a reporter, or to someone with a camera, the best and only evidence that truly can confirm Ozalp is alive is Ceylan Ozalp herself.

At the same time, no one has been able to verify that the dramatic claim that Ceylan Ozalp suicide story is true, either. Which lends a degree of credibility to the challenges made by the growing number of skeptics.

I don’t know enough about the sources, and haven’t explored these new reports enough to have an opinion, other than to say, beware of false or premature conclusions. And be thankful that not everyone believes the first thing they read, and considers it a fact. Because so many readers embraced a sentimental narrative about the bravery of a female Kurdish warrior who happens to be photogenic, this is all the more reason to be wary, and to question how the story is being presented. Good update by Paul Woodward, let’s hope we learn more.

War In ContextPaul Woodward:

“19-Year-Old Kurdish Woman Fighter ‘Kills Herself Rather Than Falling into Isis’ Hands’” is a headline appearing in International Business Times, October 3. I referred to the same story in this post, but it appears not to be true.

The first appearance of this story is thought to be this tweet on September 28 from @cansuipek21.

The tragic image of a nineteen-year-old woman fighter killing herself with her last bullet so that she would not be captured by ISIS, must have seemed iconic to many observers — a graphic representation of the plight Kurdish fighters in Kobane face, surrounded on three sides by ISIS while receiving no support from Turkey and very little from U.S. airstrikes. Sometimes a story conveys a powerful truth even when it turns out not to be true. Read the rest of this entry »


BREAKING: Al Arabia Reports on Ceylan Ozalp Story; Verification Remains Elusive

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The reports of her suicide, which follows the beheading of seven men and three women by ISIS in Kobane earlier this week, took social media by storm and appeared in several Turkish news websites such as the daily Radikal.

editor-commen-deskUPDATE: Readers familiar with our coverage of the Ceylan Ozalp story will note that while our efforts to find credible sources to confirm whether Ceylan is dead or alive have yet to produce any new information, we’ve begun to build up a list of references and links as the media’s interest in the story continues to develop momentum. We were among the first news sites to pick up the Ceylan Ozalp suicide story and stick with it, with the aim of verifying it.

Mostly it’s been an internet myth. The lack of good information is problematic. Some sites and social media outlets simply circulate the story as-is, noting that it’s not confirmed, and include a direct link to where they found it. Other sites are less skeptical. Some are opportunistic, with an agenda to promote, and understandably have less regard for facts or useful attribution. This ismusissue unfortunate. One site in particular undercut the effort to verify the Ceylan Ozalp story by posting text copied (from LIVELEAK) with a headline nearly identical to oursremoving the link to LIVELEAK’s original source (this site) then posting it, with uncorrected, misleading quote attribution, and no direct links anywhere. Their defense for a practice that’s closer to propaganda than journalism? Claiming it’s “reader submitted”.

Because it’s an advocacy (“educational purposes”) site run by self-described “human rights activists”, there’s a different standard at work. Disassociating content from sources, suggesting the content arrives to them as provided by “the public” (whatever that means) anything goes. Neglecting to make an effort to verify a rumor or credit sources happens frequently on advocacy sites, so this isn’t unusual. Since the internet is a global (mostly) open marketplace of ideas and information, readers are aware that false or incomplete information goes with the territory. Skeptical readers can take into consideration the nature of unconfirmed reports, and the chaotic and propagandistic reality of warfare, when they explore stories like this.

This story is unusual because a lot of readers are searching, and often finding the same incomplete information. Or perhaps misinformation? Since the majority of the traffic involves sites that aren’t in English, western readers have indirect or secondary exposure to the media storm.

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The question remains: Is the Ceylan Ozalp story true or false?

We don’t claim to know. We’re interested, but skeptical. If you see a site that unquestioningly promotes the image of Ceylan as a “brave fighter” and heroic martyr, (and there are many) you’re likely reading propaganda. Or if you see a site, or a tweet, that claims the story is false, you might also be seeing the flip side of a disinformation campaign. Or, it might simply be a healthy challenge to the current media slant, the unquestioned rumor of Ozalp’s suicide.

Legitimate news sites are uniformly guarded about the veracity of the alleged Ceylan Ozalp battlefield suicide report, as it makes its way from social media outlets to more mainstream news outlets. Which brings us to the most current crossover news story by Al Arabiya.

When we first reported last week the story was little more than an internet rumor circulating in social media. In the past several days, it’s been picked up in Germany’s BILD magazine, The International Business Times UK, and now, several hours ago, this appeared in Al Arabiya.

As described above, our view remains a skeptical one. Is Ceylan Ozalp a brave fighter who killed herself rather than fall into the hands of ISIS? Or is Ceylan’s merely an image that’s being used by unreliable or self-interested international actors as a fictional propaganda puppet?

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Some of the photos of Ozalp show her in fighting poses (like this one) or heroic, scenic poses that could be staged, or could be real. We simply don’t know yet.

As we see in the story below–like all legitimate mainstream media reports–responsibly include this important disclaimer:

“Al Arabiya News Channel could not independently verify the authenticity of the report on her suicide.”

Go here for the full text of the following news story.

By Staff Writer, Al Arabiya News
Sunday, 5 October 2014

A Syrian Kurdish female combatant, who appeared on a BBC report in September, shot herself with a last bullet during fighting with militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) last week, according to media reports.

Ceylan Ozalp, 19, was reportedly surrounded by ISIS fighters near the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobane also known as Ain al-Arab. After she run out of ammunition Ozalp said “goodbye” over the radio and spent her last bullet on killing herself.

Also read: Biden apologizes to UAE for remarks about ISIS

The reports of her suicide, which follows the beheading of seven men and three women by ISIS in Kobane earlier this week, took social media by storm and appeared in several Turkish news websites such as the daily Radikal.

But other reports suggested Ozalp, also known as Diren –which means “resist” in Turkish, never left the northern Syrian town of Jezaa, which is still under the Kurdish control, according to International Business Times.

Al Arabiya News Channel could not independently verify the authenticity of the report on her suicide.

During her interview with the BBC last month, Ozalp said: “We’re not scared of anything…We’ll fight to the last. We’d rather blow ourselves up than be captured by IS (ISIS).”

“When they see a woman with a gun, they’re so afraid they begin to shake. They portray themselves as tough guys to the world. But when they see us with our guns they run away. They see a woman as just a small thing. But one of our women is worth a hundred of their men,” Ozalp told the BBC. Read the rest of this entry »


UPDATE: IBTimes Reports on Alleged Battlefield Suicide of YPG Fighter Ceylan Ozalp

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“We’re not scared of anything. We’ll fight to the last. We’d rather blow ourselves up than be captured by Isis.”

— Ceylan Ozalp

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UPDATE: after several days of trying to find authentication of the Ceylan Ozalp story, we’ve seen a few modest breakthroughs. First, a German magazine picked up the story. And this morning, an item appeared by Gianluca Mezzofiore, an investigative reporter for IBTimes UK. Though it also can’t verify the authenticity of the report on her suicide, it’s the first article in English that we’ve seen to take on the story, and look into it.

It also contains a link to BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse’s report, which I’d missed (we’ve linked Gatehouse’s BBC video, but not the article) It’s possible that Gatehouse is the only western journalist to meet and talk to Ceylan Ozalp while she was alive. And Mezzofiore may be the first investigative reporter to take what has so far only appeared in Turkish media outlets, circulated by pro-Kurdish politicians, and echoed by countless social media sites and blogs, but few, if any, news organizations, or western media outlets. We’ll add new updates as they come.

For example, this tweet appeared about nine hours ago. I wonder what newspaper is displayed in this photo? If anyone knows let us know.

 Syria: 19-Year-Old Kurdish Woman Fighter Kills Herself Rather Than Falling into Isis Hands

For the International Business Times in the UK, investigative reporter Gianluca Mezzofiore writes:gianluca-mezzofiore

A 19-year-old Kurdish fighter who appeared on a BBC report about Kurdish YPG women warriors in Syria has reportedly killed herself rather than falling into the hands of Isis (now known as Islamic State).

Ceylan Ozalp: ‘One of our women is worth a hundred of their [Isis] men’ 

Ceylan Ozalp found herself surrounded by Islamic State forces near the northern Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani, where a key battle is raging against the Sunni Islamists’ threat. Read the rest of this entry »