Saturday, February 7, 2009

Broadcasting and Minority Rights

From Hürriyet:
State Minister Mehmet Aydın says a precedent has not been set with the launch of TRT 6 and broadcasting in other languages is not about to commence. He says individual assessments need to be made on the need for TV channels in other languages before making decisions.

Turkish state television’s new Kurdish channel will not be followed by similar channels in Laz, Georgian or other languages spoken in Turkey, or by a channel broadcasting in Zazaki, a Kurdish dialect, said the state minister responsible for Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, or TRT, Mehmet Aydın yesterday.

"It is too early to make a comment," Aydın told reporters at Parliament, avoiding any comment that could be perceived as a green light to other state TV channels in non-Turkish languages. "We must weigh the necessities carefully. Why was TRT-6 born? Is there need for television in other languages or dialects? These must be carefully thought out," Aydın said.

Turkish citizens speaking Laz, Zaza, and Georgian requested Parliament’s human rights committees to launch channels in their languages after TRT-6, the first Kurdish state channel, was launched at the start of the year.

"TRT-6 airs a dozen types of programs 24 hours a day. We need to consider how suitable the content and quality of these programs are in meeting the demands of other languages and dialects," Aydın said.

The minister said the Laz, Georgian, and Zazaki people would not insist on state channels in their own languages. "Why should they ask for this? There are people in Southeast and East Turkey who cannot speak Turkish. Kurdish is used in all corners of the country. Are these languages used as much?" the state minister asked.

Aydın said the request submitted to Parliament’s human rights committee was the exercise of a democratic right by these groups.
Similarly, Circassian groups requested broadcast time earlier last month, the heads of the Caucasian Associations Federation (an umbrella organization for 56 Circassian groups) sitting down with President Gül at Çankaya to discuss broadcast time on TRT-6 or another channel. The demands for Zazacı to be included are also important in that the Zaza are a minority Kurdish group; at the moment, TRT-6 is broadcasting primarily in Kurmancı, the dialect of and group to which the majority of Turkey's Kurds belong. For more on Zaza, see Wladimir van Wilgenburg's analysis of rising Zaza nationalism in the EDM.

Interesting is that Aydın acknowledged the petition as a democratic right exercised by these minority groups. Turkey has been reluctant to vest minority groups with rights, though the growing number of minority rights' claims from Turkey's multiple ethnic groups is likely to raise the ire of old-fashioned, state-centric Kemalists who have long decried that such rights will lead to ethnic fragmentation, a bugaboo which still very much influences Turkish politics. Such fear is manifest in a statement made last January by the Atatürkist Thought Association (ADD) , a hardcore nationalist organization. From the statement:
Learning Turkish, speaking Turkish and being educated in Turkish is a citizen’s responsibility. With the Kurdish broadcast channel, the TRT will play into the hands of those domestic and international powers who want to divide and ruin our country. We invite our people and administrators to see that Kurdish broadcasting, Kurdish language and literature departments, the Kurdish Institute, an autonomous region, a federation and an independent Kurdish state are all phases of a game. We strongly decry attempts by the [Higher Education Board] YÖK to establish Kurdish language and literature departments even as there are serious higher education problems in our country. The ADD will forever remain bound to the secular, democratic, social republic that the great leader Atatürk established, the unitary structure of the state and its indivisible entirety, and we will continue the ideological battle for this purpose. How happy is he who calls himself a Turk.
The ADD and the Turkey Public Employers’ Trade Unions Confederation (KAMU-SEN) have both filed lawsuits to fight TRT-6 in the Turkish courts, though victory is unlikely and the prevailing political sentiment against them (see Jan. 7 post).

No comments: