Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Turkish TV stations to start Kurdish language broadcasts in January

The Associated Press, Dec. 28, 2005

ANKARA, Turkey

Turkey's local television stations will be able to broadcast programming in Kurdish and other ethnic languages next month, the head of the country's broadcasting watchdog said Wednesday.

Turkey, working toward EU membership, changed its laws in 2002 to allow limited broadcasts in Kurdish and other minority languages and state television has been airing programs in two Kurdish dialects for a half hour each week.

But local stations wanting to broadcast in Kurdish had, until now, met with bureaucratic hurdles.

"Stations that have completed their applications will be able to start broadcasts at the end of January," Zahid Akman, the head of the Radio and Television Higher Board told reporters Wednesday.

It was not clear if all stations would be permitted to broadcast and some pro-Kurdish politicians expressed caution Wednesday, saying stations which the government deems to be close to autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels might still face obstacles.

Some stations have also complained that under the board's regulations, broadcasts would be limited to 45 minutes a day. The station would not be able to air live broadcasts because of regulations that require Turkish-language subtitles.

Still, the move would be a major step for Turkey, where until 1991, it was illegal even to speak Kurdish.

As part of EU-oriented reforms, parliament in 2002 also granted limited rights for Kurdish to be taught at private language institutions. Although Kurds at first welcomed the schools as a first step toward greater rights, these schools have since closed down due to dwindling interest and Kurdish demands for the language to be part of the regular school curriculum.

Turkey started EU membership negotiations in October. The 25-nation bloc is pressuring Turkey to grant greater cultural rights to Kurds.

Turkish nationalists are opposed to increased cultural rights for the country's estimated 12 million Kurds, fearing that would embolden separatists. Turkish soldiers have battled Kurdish guerrillas in the southeast since 1984, a conflict that has left 37,000 dead. There has been a recent surge in violence.

Gun TV, a television station based in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, has unsuccessfully been trying to start Kurdish broadcasts for the past two years, Managing Editor Cemal Dogan said.

"We have submitted all our papers, but were told that our application was incomplete," Dogan said. "They won't tell us which document specifically is missing."

Akman said Wednesday some stations had failed to complete necessary procedures despite warnings.

"Some stations have not completed their applications despite the fact that we have notified them twice," he said.

Many Kurds watch the Denmark-based Kurdish satellite television Roj TV. The Turkish government is pressuring Copenhagen to close down the station.