Who is Bikem Ekberzade?
Bikem is an unorthodox photojournalist, who has worked for numerous international news agencies and publications throughout her career, including but not limited to Newsweek, The New York Times, Associated Press and CNN, while managing to turn her assignments into at least one pro-bono advocacy project. She covers conflicts and wars, and does not shy away from voicing her opinion on the short-comings of the industry she works in. Having kept a position as a freelancer since 1997 -with an accidental stunt as a staff photographer for the UN in Iraq in 2011- she believes this gives her the opportunity to keep an objective eye on her profession and what it is evolving into. Her view of journalism is still naively idyllic, and when the standards fall short of her expectations she does not hold back her views. She has photographed and written, collaborated in, and contributed to several books. She infrequently blogs, tries to keep her own website up-to-date, and often fails.
What is The Refugee Project (TRP)?
The Refugee Project, Bikem’s brainchild, is a documentary photography project ongoing since 1997. It aims to create a platform through which families who have been victimized by forced migration can tell their stories of plight, in their own words, without any intervention. TRP focuses on different instances of forced migration and pays special attention to include all aspects of it, legal vs illegal, regular vs irregular, refugees and IDPs, armed conflicts and/or regional disputes originally stemming from climate change and drought.
Bikem started the Project in the early stages of the Kosovo conflict while working as a photographer out of the region for several publications and the now defunct Sygma Photo Agency. Working with film, she built a large archive of frames from instances of mountain crossings, camp transfers, border shelling, NATO maneuvers, aid distribution, and refugees stuck in no-mans-land between Macedonia and Kosovo while the former closed its borders. The photographs she took then are strikingly reminiscent of the photographs you have been seeing in the news these past couple of years. And stories, painstakingly similar as well. Bikem followed the developments and movement of families throughout the Kosovo conflict in Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo for two and a half years.
After Kosovo, she continued the Project and worked with the internally displaced families in Azerbaijan who had to flee the fighting in Ngorno-Karabakh and who had been stranded in makeshift camps around Baku for almost a decade, forgotten. Then came Afghanistan, followed by a book of photography she published in 2006 on the refugees stuck in Turkey whose cases have been closed by UNHCR and who were on the brink of deportation. Illegal was the fruit of a three year work and Bikem’s first book. In 2010 she self-published and distributed online, free-of-charge her second book on the situation in Darfur and the human stories West-end of the Border, in border camps in Eastern Chad.
What is Crossings? (CliffNotes version)
Crossings was not an ad hoc creation. Nor did it happen in a vacuum. It is an accumulation of memories, experiences and events which Bikem bore witness to. And The Refugee Project did not manage to last this long, nor expand overseas by itself, or solely by the efforts of Bikem, herself either. There are a number of people who helped, made things happen, built bridges, people who believed in the importance of keeping a record of these human stories. They know who they are. We wish we could thank them one by one here, but the list is so long. However, what we can do, for this once, is to thank those who helped on this final leg of the project.
So, a big, heartfelt thank you to Sarmad Al-Safy, Marcel AlAhmad, Axel Auerbach, Filiz Uğur Babacan, Helen Bartlett, Timm Buechner, Liz Connoly, Ana Maria Liria Franch, Cem Gönenç, Laura Gabaroni Huergo and Nico Huergo, Sana Kadum, Teoman Kumbaracıbaşı, Oliver Madjora, Birgit Ohlakaniphileyo, Joleen (Westerdale) McInnis, Laurence Monnot, Jeremy Nagle, Mine Özerden, Rami and Lamia Samain, and a few others who wish to stay incognito…
We thank them and the families, whose lives Bikem, through The Refugee Project documented over the years.