Saturday, January 14, 2006

Turkey Will Soon Allow Limited TV Broadcasts in Kurdish

From the Los Angeles Times; THE WORLD

Turkey Will Soon Allow Limited TV Broadcasts in Kurdish
Programs will be held to 45 minutes a day and may not be live. But the move is called 'positive.'

By Amberin Zaman, Special to The Times
December 29, 2005

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish television stations will be allowed to broadcast some programming in Kurdish and other languages spoken by minority groups beginning late next month, the head of Turkey's broadcasting board said Wednesday.
The move is seen as a step toward expanding the cultural rights of the country's long-repressed Kurdish minority in line with Turkey's efforts to gain full membership in the European Union.
Zahit Akman, the head of the Radio and Television Higher Board, told the semiofficial Anatolian news agency that "local stations [that] have completed their applications will be able to start broadcasts at the end of January."
Private broadcasters in the predominantly Kurdish southeast region reacted with cautious optimism.
"It's a very positive signal to the Kurdish people," said Nezahat Baybasin, owner of a local news channel in the city of Diyarbakir, who said she submitted an application to broadcast in Kurdish two years ago.
"But naturally we will have to fine-tune the contents of our programming to remain out of trouble," she said in a telephone interview.
Some stations complained that the programs would be limited to 45 minutes a day and that none would be broadcast live because of regulations requiring Turkish-language subtitles.
"Even so, who could have imagined that we could have TV programs in a language we were not allowed to even speak?" said Hasim Hasimi, an independent Kurdish politician.
Like many, he attributed the move to Turkey's drive to join the EU. The 25-nation bloc, which opened membership negotiations with Turkey in October, has pressed Turkey to end discrimination against its Kurds.
Turkey has been criticized by some EU officials for putting Orhan Pamuk, the country's best-known novelist, on trial on charges of insulting the nation. The accusations stem from an interview he gave to a Swiss magazine during which he said that "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares talk about it."
The Kurdish population, estimated at 14 million, is Turkey's largest ethnic minority. Yet until 1991 their language, which is distinct from Turkish, was officially banned as part of a state campaign to assimilate their ancient culture and stifle nationalist passions.
Decades-long repression has helped attract a steady stream of recruits to the separatist Kurdish rebel group known as the PKK, which has been fighting Turkish security forces since 1984. Thousands of Kurds have been prosecuted and jailed for flouting bans on publishing in the Kurdish language.
Those bans were eased in 2002 when parliament granted limited rights for the teaching of Kurdish as a "foreign" language in privately run schools.
Last year, state-run Turkish television for the first time began airing weekly half-hour programs in the two Kurdish dialects. But few Kurds have tuned in. "Why would anyone want to watch programs about corn cultivation or smallpox vaccines?" said Ahmet Sumbul, a Diyarbakir-based writer, echoing popular sentiment in the region.
Most Kurds prefer to watch Roj TV, a Kurdish satellite television channel beamed from Denmark. It carries a heady mix of political debate shows, Kurdish folk dances and footage of the PKK. The Ankara government is pressuring Denmark to close down the channel, saying it broadcasts terrorist propaganda.
The Ankara-based broadcasting watchdog filed 11 petitions to take Baybasin's Diyarbakir-based ART news channel off the air since its launch in 1997 because the channel had broadcast Kurdish songs that were deemed to incite separatism.
"They mistranslated the lyrics," Baybasin said. "They were just plain old love songs."