Syrian-Kurdish ‘fixer’ honored with international journalism prize

Syrian-Kurdish media worker Khabat Abbas. (Photo: ROG)
Syrian-Kurdish media worker Khabat Abbas. (Photo: ROG)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Khabat Abbas, a media worker from Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), has won this year’s Kurt Schork Award in International Journalism in the Fixer category, the fourth time a Kurd has been honored in this way.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation and Kurt Schork Memorial Fund, which awards the prize, said in a joint statement that “through her local knowledge, extensive network of contacts and journalism skills, Abbas secured multiple exclusives for international media which made headlines, including an interview with three British women who had joined the Islamic State.”

Moreover, the judges highlighted how she, as one of the very few female fixers in northeastern Syria, has shown “determination and a very strong work ethic,” and credited her as “a brilliant newshound, with an impressive record of breaking stories.” The judges also recognized Abbas for “demonstrating two talents that distinguish the best fixers: supreme efficiency and natural empathy.”

Fixers are individuals who typically act as a correspondent’s eyes and ears on the ground, plan logistics and security, and often do much of the real journalism work for which foreign reporters receive credit.

“I am honoured to be winner of the Kurt Schork News Fixer Award for 2021. My long, difficult journey as one of the first female journalists and fixers began in northeast Syria in 2011,” Abbas said in a video published by  Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Fixing is a complicated job. There is no training. Everything I learned was on the job. I continue to face challenges from breaking the taboos of being a woman in a male dominated field.”

Now in its 20th year, the Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism are named in honor of an American freelance journalist who was killed in Sierra Leone while on assignment for Reuters in 2000. Kamiran Sadoun, a media worker from Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) who won last year’s News Fixer Award for his work with journalists from major news outlets covering the rise and fall of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Read More: Syrian Kurdish fixer wins international journalism award

In 2019, Sangar Khaleel, a Kurd from Mosul who is currently employed by the New York Times, also won the prize for his enterprising work with major news outlets in Iraq. In the previous year, Syrian-Kurdish fixer Wael Resol was nominated three times by international journalists who had hired him in Iraq.

After ISIS overran Mosul in June 2014 and made multiple attempts to advance ever closer toward the Kurdistan Region in August, there were not enough local fixers and translators to meet the demand of the throngs of foreign journalists that traveled from all over the world to Erbil, using it as a base to cover the war against the terror group.

As a result, many English-speaking Kurdish college graduates and students began to find work as fixers to help the foreign journalists, learning the ins and outs of the challenging and often dangerous craft as they went. 

Also in northeastern Syria, many Syrian Kurds started to fill the same need for competent fixers during the fight against ISIS by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Some of them also worked in Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq during battles against the extremist group that were fought by Iraqi or Kurdish Peshmerga forces.