Sunday, June 1, 2008

Kurdish Language Channel In the Works

A bill passed Thursday that will pave the way for the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) to broadcast programs in languages other than Turkish. Although Kurdish language broadcasting has been allowed in limited form, the proposed new law is drafted with the anticipation that TRT will create a 24-hour channel that will broadcast in Kurdish, as well as Arabic and Farsi. The law is somewhat confusing in that there is no current prohibition against the state broadcasting in these languages, although TRT has limited its broadcasts in Kurdish to 30-minutes intervals in the wee hours of the morning. The one broadcast I saw had something to do with birds and mating and resembled the kind of programming you might find on local American public televisions at 6:30am. (The type of program watched by six insomniacs trying to get sleep before heading to work in the next two hours). Kurdish-language broadcasting was made legal in 2004, but until now, the state has made no effort to broaden Kurdish-language public television programming, a move long demanded by the European Union and appearing in progress report after progress report.

Erdoğan first announced the channel last February. Indeed, the channel has been in the works at TRT for some time and it is rumored that the new law is passed to break resistance at TRT, hopefully not representative of trouble to come with what is a very ambitious and complicated project. Two private Kurdish-language channels already exist in Turkey, but most Kurds who can afford television watch Kurdish channels broadcasting from Europe via satellite. I saw plenty of these dishes in my visit last week. As aforementioned, the most popular is the PKK-affiliated Roj-TV. AKP has stressed that a Kurdish-language public television channel will hopefully offer an attractive alternative to the pro-PKK positions taken by Roj and other European channels.

Of course, the importance of the channel will rest on how it is received by Kurds, which in turn, is of course dependent on its content and what exactly the state will allow to be broadcasted. The channel will also be subtitled in Turkish, a move not likely to win a lot of reluctant hearts and minds. Nonetheless, a such a channel would be unthinkable ten years ago, there is a reserved enthusiasm on the part of some Kurdish activists. From Today's Zaman:
Tarık Ziya Ekinci, a prominent Kurdish intellectual, suggested that Kurdish broadcasting would contribute greatly to the establishment of social peace in Turkey. "This is an important step, and I believe it will help the bloodshed to be stopped and guns to be silenced," he said. Şerafettin Elçi, leader of the pro-Kurdish Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP), voiced the opinion that the move would make Kurdish citizens believe the state values them. Noting that there were about 10 television networks with Kurdish broadcasts watched by Kurds, Elçi said the quality that TRT would bring to Kurdish broadcasting would put an end to violence in the region. He advised TRT to broadcast programs that would spark the interest of Kurds. "The outcome of the 24-hour broadcasting in Kurdish is dependent upon program quality. If the programs follow the official policies of the state toward the Kurds, this will not create much interest. On the other hand, if there are programs about the history, geography, language and culture of the Kurds, this may be appealing to Kurds. They may start to say: 'Look, the state is now taking us seriously, it attaches importance to us. The state is assuming its duties toward us.' If this feeling takes root in the minds of Kurdish people, then it will certainly be helpful in the elimination of violence in the region," he said.

Elçi further suggested that official acceptance of the Kurdish language would boost the morale of society, adding: "Until now, the official policy has been the denial of existence of a Kurdish language. This meant the rejection and denial of Kurds. This bill sends the message that this policy is being dropped. From this point of view, it is quite significant. It is important in terms of official acceptance of the Kurdish language. However, if the programs broadcast follow the lines of the state's official policy, they will not mean much to Kurds. It would be much more meaningful to grant more freedom to private TV networks that are more responsive to popular demand," he said.
The article in the Saturday's Today's Zaman includes an interesting note on difficulties posed for Kurdish broadcasting and notes the key importance of implementation.


Anonymous said...

This is great info to know.

Bryce Wesley Merkl said...

Thank you for telling us this information, I find it very helpful and insightful.

Here's a great website in Kurdish that you might find relates to this story quite a lot:

Kurdî / كوردی wiki browser