Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Kurdish TV denies it stoking Turkish violence

Tuesday, April 4. 2006 5:09 PM ET

By James Kilner

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A Denmark-based Kurdish television station denied on Tuesday Turkish accusations it was stoking street violence in the southeast of the country and said it sought only to give a voice to people Ankara refused to heed. Roj TV head Manouchehr Tahsili Zonoozi said he planned to set up a 24-hour Kurdish language news station -- a proposal likely to further anger Ankara which deems the satellite broadcaster a tool of the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Sixteen people have died in a week of street violence triggered by the funeral of 14 PKK fighters killed in a clash with Turkish troops. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan says the unrest is engineered by those wishing to split Turkey.

Zonoozi, sitting before a map showing borders of a projected independent Kurdish state embracing parts of southeast Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, told Reuters he had no links to the PKK though its members had contacted the station during phone-ins.

"We give voice to people they (the Turkish government) don't want to hear," he said in an interview at his office in the center of the Danish capital.

"They say we are fully responsible for driving people on to the street, they think of us as the enemy."

Turkey, seeking European Union entry, has lifted a ban on Kurdish language broadcasting; but in practice tight limitations on television and radio remain, presenting Roj with its market.

The area also suffers, partly because of the past violence, from high unemployment and economic backwardness.

Turkish media, linking the station to separatist guerrilla violence that has killed over 30,000 since 1984, have compared Roj TV to an al Qaeda channel. The United States, the European Union and Ankara regard the PKK as a terrorist organization.

"We condemn Roj TV. We believe it incites," U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Matt Bryza told reporters in Ankara.

"We believe it should be closed and we will continue to do everything we can with our other European allies besides Turkey to close down this support mechanism and any operations of the PKK in Europe," he said. Continued ...


Zonoozi says his channel, a mix of news, culture and entertainment with a Kurdish theme, provided objective uncensored journalism. Denmark had effectively backed this, he said, in turning down Turkey's demands to shut the broadcaster.

"We don't support either one side, but it's all happening to the Kurds," the slim, grey-haired 47-year-old said.

Last year Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan boycotted a joint news conference with the Danish Prime Minister because a journalist from Roj TV was present.

An ornament of the Kurdish flag -- orange, white and green horizontal stripes behind a golden sun -- stood above a fireplace in Zonoozi's office.

With an estimated 25 to 30 million people, the Kurds are one of the world's biggest ethnic groups without their own country.

Although the violence dwindled after the arrest of former leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999 -- Zonoozi described it as a kidnap -- it has increased again in recent months.

"We do not interfere in politics but we are giving the chance to human rights organisations and the people," Zonoozi, from the Iranian city of Tabriz near the Turkish border, said.

He said it was only a matter of time before he added a 24-hour news channel to his media outlets, which include a radio station and music TV channel.

Wealthy Kurds and advertising pay the 35 million euro ($42.65 million) bill.

He said the Danish government had already given him the license and he just has to find the extra cash.

(Additional reporting by Zerin Elci in Ankara)

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.