The Refugee...

Back to Kosovo,  © 1999 Bikem Ekberzade

From the special edition of Refugees magazine dedicated to the 1951 Geneva Convention:

A refugee is a person with a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion..." Article 1A (2) of the Geneva Convention.

The Book(s)...

Illegal (Yasadisi) was published, in Turkish on March 2006.  Due to pressing demand, the English version of the book has been published online and given free access in 2015. A book of photography, illegal tells the stories of two women, illegal refugees, trying to survive in Istanbul.

Turkey, with its membership to the European Union pending, was one of the signatories of the 1951 Geneva Convention. However the country chose to use the "geographical limitation" option while signing the 1967 protocol, expanding the geographical definition of the word "refugee".

Currently, refugees from different parts of the world other than European countries taking refuge in Turkey are not recognized as such, but are categorized as asylum seekers, thus being resettled in third countries once their cases have been tried and accepted.

The book takes a point in time from the lives of two African women, single mothers, barely grown-ups themselves, faced with bureaucracy and policies way out of their reach, trying to hold a firm grip on life. And their stateless children...

West-end of the Border was published online on June 2010. This e-book of documentary photography - one of the first of its kind - is a collection of refugee accounts from the camps in Chad, on west-end of the border from Darfur.

The Photographer...

Bikem Ekberzade (born in Istanbul, Turkey, 1971) is a Turkish journalist, photojournalist and documentary photographer.

After having completed her high school education in Istanbul she went to the United States where she received a bachelor’s degree in Management from Boston University. During her studies she has worked with development projects for NGOs such as OXFAM America and has worked on 2 summits for the World Economic Forum. In 1992 she has completed her internship in London with John F. Chown & Associates, specializing in privatization in post-communist economies. Upon graduation she continued to work with OXFAM America, first on development and implementation of fundraising projects, and later as part of the production team at the Video Unit where her team has completed several educational video documentaries on sustainable development and women’s empowerment in third world countries.

In 1995 Ekberzade went back to Boston University, this time to complete her master’s degree at the College of Communications in the field of Broadcast Journalism. She worked for CNN Financial News (CNNfn) in New York City as an intern during her master’s program, and was later hired by CNN Southeast Bureau in Atlanta as a production assistant to help out with 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Her post was later extended to CNN International assignment desk.

Aside from CNN, during her graduate studies and up until 1998 Ekberzade has worked as a photojournalist for print and wire services such as the Boston Phoenix, the Associated Press, The New York Times, and Newsweek.

Among Ekberzade’s early documentary work includes a 22 minute video documentary which talks about the glamorous stage life of 3 drag queens, rightfully titled DRAG (a Boston Medcalf Awards Nominee.)

At the onstart of the Kosovo crisis Ekberzade moved back to Turkey to work as a freelance photographer covering the refugee flow and military maneuvers at the Albania-Kosovo-Macedonia triangle. She later shifted focus to other regions of conflict such as Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Aside from photographing wars and humanitarian crises Ekberzade also reported on them.

Ekberzade is also the curator of a documentary photography project called The Refugee Project ™ which starts off with the war in the Balkans in 1998 and later expands on to document the lives of IDPs in Azerbaijan as well as the refugee crisis between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Further additions to the project has been an extensive documentary of illegal refugees living in Istanbul, and the refugee families from Darfur, Sudan, seeking protection in camps in Eastern Chad. Photographs from The Refugee Project has been published widely in Europe, United States and Turkey, as well as the body of work being invited to several exhibits at home and overseas. Several prints have been accepted to the permanent collection of Kansas University and the Oxford Museum. In March 2006 ILLEGAL, a book of photographs by Bikem Ekberzade, documenting the lives of two young African women, single mothers and illegal refugees trying to survive in Istanbul, has come out from PlanB publishing.

Ekberzade’s editorial work continue to be published in various print and on-line services including the New York Times, Newsweek, Businessweek, Christian Science Monitor, NTV-MSNBC, Times Picayune, and DoubleTake Magazine. She has also contributed to several books such as the Danish version of The Mantle of the Prophet by Roy Mottahedeh and the BTC compendium.

In May 2002, Ekberzade was selected the photographer of the month by EPN World Reporter.

In June 2004, she was presented an award for her documentary work on refugees by UNHCR.

Ekberzade is also the founder of a civil grassroots initiative called For Women, By Women (Kadinlar Icin, Kadinlar Tarafindan) which has brought several hundred Turkish female photographers together to make a stance on violence against women. The initiative is aimed at raising funds, through sales of photographs, for agencies and foundations whose aim is to fight violence against women. Since its start in March 2005, two NGOs have already benefited from the funds raised by the project.

Currently residing in Istanbul, Ekberzade continues to work as a freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer. Her latest project is an extension of The Refugee Project, almost a continuation of ILLEGAL, a feature length documentary about refugees in Turkey. The documentary aims to focus primarily on individual stories and through them have the existing legislations in Turkey regarding refugees discussed by officials.

The Exhibit...

Life After Kosovo: Refugees in Northern Albania
A UNHCR sponsored exhibit in Istanbul, Turkey (Feb. '99)

Kosovo's Children
Doubletake Magazine, Issue 17

Joint Exhibit on Politics and Conflict
House of Docs, 2002 Sundance Film Festival

The Refugee Project
Virginia Commonwealth University in Doha, Qatar 2002

The Refugee Project
Network of Oxford Women for Justice and Peace (NOW) The Museum of Oxford, U.K. 1-14 March 2003

The Refugee Project Exhibiting Exile: Installation
Center Space, University of Manitoba, Canada, December 2004

The Refugee Project, Mobile Exhibit
Ankara, Emin-Hekimgil Galerisi 5-18 March 2007; Izmir, 4 spaces on Kibris Sehitleri Caddesi 1-16 May 2007; Istanbul, 7 spaces on Istiklal Caddesi, 20 June – 22 July 2007

The Refugee Project
Bursa, Sami Güner Sergi Salonu 14-24 Nisan 2008

The Refugee Project-Darfur, Installation
Istanbul, Lycée Français Saint Benoît d'Istanbul, 21 Nisan-15 Mayis 2008

The Film

Refugees is a 33 minute short film/slideshow edited with hundreds of the still photographs from The Refugee Project. Screenings have taken place in Istanbul, Lucania/Italy and in Winnipeg Canada on several occasions. It supports the exhibit and the various installations the photographs partook in.

Photography: Bikem Ekberzade, The Refugee Project

Editing: Neslihan Karaduman

Titles: Erdinc Demir

Music: Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, God Speed You Black Emperor