Skip to main content

Amberin Zaman on why she writes

Al-Monitor columnist Amberin Zaman shares her thoughts on journalism.
A Turkish riot policeman uses tear gas as people protest against the destruction of trees in a park brought about by a pedestrian project, in Taksim Square in central Istanbul in this May 28, 2013 file photo.  

Osman Orsal: I was covering protests in Istanbul which began as a demonstration against government plans to demolish a small park in central Taksim square but evolved into one the biggest anti-government protests in over a decade.

I was standing between the protesters and the police as the police b

Amberin Zaman has been writing for Al-Monitor since February 2013. She is an Istanbul-based writer who has covered Turkey for The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Daily Telegraph and Voice of America. A frequent commentator on Turkish television, she is currently Turkey correspondent for The Economist, a position she has held since 1999. She is a regular contributor to the German Marshall Fund of the United States' "On Turkey" series. She has also written columns for major Turkish newspapers. Her areas of specialization include Turkish foreign policy, the Kurds and Turkish-Armenian reconciliation.

Al-Monitor:  Why did you decide to become a journalist?

Zaman:  I didn’t “decide” to become a journalist. I stumbled into it. And I haven’t looked back ever since. I get paid for my favorite hobby, which is to travel, meet different people, be nosy, ask questions and tell stories.

Al-Monitor:  Did you have women role models to look up to when you were first starting out? Who?

Zaman:  Not really, because I wanted to become a vet. When I think back, Jane Goodall, the primatologist who I had the huge honor of meeting, might well have been. My role models became the multiple women I came by during the course of my work. Women who endured poverty, disease, natural disasters, rape, torture, imprisonment, the loss of loved ones — yet they soldiered on, retained their dignity. There are so many remarkable women out there and nothing thrills me more than to share their stories.

Al-Monitor:  It seems that there are more and more women covering the news out of the Middle East. What do you think is contributing to that trend? What changes have you noticed in your career?

Zaman:  Without question there are more women in the field these days doing an incredible job, especially in the Middle East. I guess I notice them the most since I live there. Anne Barnard of The New York Times, Sarah Birke of The Economist, Janine di Giovanni of Newsweek — just to name a few of the terrifically brave women who risk their lives reporting from conflict zones. The growing number of women colleagues from Middle Eastern countries is particularly striking, given how conservative Muslim society remains. One could argue that it’s precisely for this reason that more and more women want to become journalists, so that they can challenge the patriarchal system. And what better way than the power of the pen? The Economist just appointed Zanny Minton Beddoes, a woman, [as editor-in-chief] for the first time since the newspaper was launched in 1843. Yet top management jobs are still hogged by men. And sadly, I see less solidarity among women than I do among male colleagues.

Al-Monitor:  What is the most memorable moment (good or bad) that you’ve had while covering a story?

Zaman:  Gosh, there are so many, where to start? But one recent and truly bad moment was when I recklessly photographed the Syrian mukhabarat [intelligence] headquarters in Qamishle last year and was nearly hauled off by Syrian security forces. I cannot begin to imagine what might have happened if my Kurdish militia escort hadn’t resisted, threatening to fire on the Syrians if they didn’t let me go. I am Turkish, and married to an American diplomat, a pretty radioactive mix for the Syrian government. As for the good moments, again, if I had to draw on a recent one, it would be this: Last year I did a story documenting the sexual exploitation of Syrian women refugees at a government-run Turkish camp. The day it was published the Turkish government launched an investigation, and the victims were instantly relocated to a different, and hopefully safer, camp.

Al-Monitor:  If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring journalist, what would that be?

Zaman:  Well, clearly to always double, triple-check their facts. To never forget the true purpose of their profession, which is to inform the public and to speak truth to power. And to never allow success to go to their heads. In other words, to not start finding themselves more interesting and important than the subjects that they are covering.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in