Turkey: TRT to launch broadcasting in Kurdish, Arabic and Farsi

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sun Jun 1 15:40:19 UTC 2008

TRT to launch broadcasting in Kurdish
Parliament passed a bill on Thursday allowing the state-ownedtelevision Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) to broadcastprograms in languages other than Turkish, paving the way forbroadcasts in Kurdish, Arabic and Farsi. TRT will now be able toallocate one of its channels to 24-hour broadcasts in Kurdish. TRTGeneral Director İbrahim Şahin has said they plan to broadcast inKurdish, Arabic and Farsi in the initial stages of their non-Turkishprogramming. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hinted at this in aspeech in Diyarbakır on Tuesday, when he announced the government'splan to resuscitate the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP).
State broadcaster TRT began airing weekly 30-minute programs inKurdish and several other minority languages in 2004 as part ofTurkey's bid to join the European Union. But the Turkish political andmilitary establishment has long feared that encouraging minoritylanguages might harm unity among Turkey's 72 million people.Commentators say the latest move is an attempt to attract viewers inthe mainly Kurdish Southeast away from Denmark-based Roj TV, a popularregional station that authorities regard as a mouthpiece for theKurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
During parliamentary negotiations over the bill that amended the lawon TRT, a motion to allow TRT to air programs in languages other thanTurkish was submitted to become part of the law, sparking reactionfrom the opposition parties. Oktay Vural, deputy chairman of theNationalist Movement Party (MHP), argued that the motion violated theConstitution and therefore could not be voted on, requesting that aprocedural debate be launched. Responding to him, Deputy ParliamentSpeaker Nevzat Pakdil asserted that he understood the MHP concerns,but added, "These programs will be audited by the Radio and TelevisionSupreme Council [RTÜK]."
As Vural addressed Parliament, a heated debate took place betweendeputies from both the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party)and the MHP. "This is considerably important for Turkey's brotherhoodand future," Mustafa Elitaş, deputy chairman of the AK Party'sparliamentary group, said, asserting that the law was necessary forexplaining Turkey's counterterrorism efforts to northern Iraq and theArab world.
Hasip Kaplan, a deputy for Şırnak from the pro-Kurdish DemocraticSociety Party (DTP), lent support to the motion, saying: "It iscultural vandalism to ban 20 million Kurdish people from speakingtheir mother tongue. These 20 million Kurdish citizens, who performtheir military service and pay their taxes, have the right to expectTRT to broadcast in the Kurdish language. Our country will not bedivided by just singing folk songs or reading poems. Instead, thiswill strengthen our brotherhood." TRT broadcasts in Kurdish may boostthe morale of Kurdish citizens, some intellectuals have suggested.
Tarık Ziya Ekinci, a prominent Kurdish intellectual, suggested thatKurdish broadcasting would contribute greatly to the establishment ofsocial peace in Turkey. "This is an important step, and I believe itwill help the bloodshed to be stopped and guns to be silenced," hesaid. Şerafettin Elçi, leader of the pro-Kurdish ParticipatoryDemocracy Party (KADEP), voiced the opinion that the move would makeKurdish citizens believe the state values them. Noting that there wereabout 10 television networks with Kurdish broadcasts watched by Kurds,Elçi said the quality that TRT would bring to Kurdish broadcastingwould put an end to violence in the region. He advised TRT tobroadcast programs that would spark the interest of Kurds. "Theoutcome of the 24-hour broadcasting in Kurdish is dependent uponprogram quality. If the programs follow the official policies of thestate toward the Kurds, this will not create much interest. On theother hand, if there are programs about the history, geograph!
 y,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, itattaches importance to us. The state is assuming its duties towardus.' If this feeling takes root in the minds of Kurdish people, thenit will certainly be helpful in the elimination of violence in theregion," he said.
Elçi further suggested that official acceptance of the Kurdishlanguage would boost the morale of society, adding: "Until now, theofficial policy has been the denial of existence of a Kurdishlanguage. This meant the rejection and denial of Kurds. This billsends the message that this policy is being dropped. From this pointof view, it is quite significant. It is important in terms of officialacceptance of the Kurdish language. However, if the programs broadcastfollow the lines of the state's official policy, they will not meanmuch to Kurds. It would be much more meaningful to grant more freedomto private TV networks that are more responsive to popular demand," hesaid.
Implementation is important
Abdülmelik Fırat, the former chairman of the pro-Kurdish Rights andFreedoms Party (HAK-PAR), also believes that the TRT allocation of astation for Kurdish-language broadcasting will prove beneficial forsocial unity. However, he said, the bill should be well-designed, soas not to allow any room for bureaucratic maneuvering. He alsocongratulated TRT for this "good move." Recalling that he had beenprosecuted for greeting people in Kurdish, he said: "It is a giganticstep for TRT to do 24-hour broadcasting in Kurdish. I would like tocongratulate TRT for this good move and its determination. But I mustsay that how the bureaucracy reacts is important. There is such a'deep' bureaucracy -- it disregards everybody. They engage inpractices and comments that intimidate politicians. The best exampleof this is the recent attempt by some higher courts to oust thegovernment. The Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State donot accept the ruling party, which has received 47 percent of!
  thenational vote. For this reason, implementation is more important. Whenwe speak Kurdish, such as saying 'hello' in Kurdish, or when we referto Kurdistan, this brings prosecution. For this reason, actualpractice is what counts. The bureaucracy should be prevented fromconstruing the law in a negative manner and from disregarding thepoliticians."
Fırat asserted that banning a language was a crime against humanityand said it was gratifying to see Turkey backpedaling from this error.Fırat, speaking to Today's Zaman, added: "Given the fact that acommunity using its mother tongue has been regarded as unwanted forcenturies, it is a worthwhile step to allow them to watch programsaired in their mother tongue. It is nice to see the offense insertedin the Constitution during the military rule of Sept. 12 beingcompensated for. I regard it as an important step that will cement thecountry's unity."
Silencing the arms
Ekinci argued that TRT airing programs designed for Kurds would leadto peace in the region. "It is a very positive development, and it isalso a successful initiative. It will bring enormous benefits. There-establishment of peace in Turkey will allow Turks and Kurds to livein harmony. This will gradually stop the bloodshed and silence thearms," he said.
Ekinci said it was important for Kurds to contact to TRT to makerequests. "Kurds have been watching satellite broadcasts in fear, butnow they will be able to watch programs aired legally in their owncountry. They will contact the producers of these programs and makerequests, which is an improvement. This will benefit society andcontribute to peace."

Lack of standard dialect frustrates Kurdish TV editor
Ömer Büyüktimur, the editor-in-chief of Söz TV, a Diyarbakır-basedprivate television network airing Kurdish programs, says theyexperience problems with Kurdish broadcasting due to differences indialect and vocabulary. Büyüktimur says they are further crippled bythe lack of qualified staff members in sufficient numbers: "TheKurdish language as spoken in our region is very different from the[Kurdish] spoken in northern Iraq. In Turkey, Turkish, Arabic andFarsi words have been borrowed into the Kurdish dialects, causing themto differ from one city to the next. We are criticized for using aform of Kurdish language in our programs that is different from the[Kurdish] used by the people in the streets. At this stage, subtitlesmay be used as a temporary solution. However the Turkish subtitlesplaced by the RTÜK invite other problems. For instance, this makes itimpossible for us to do live broadcasts. Other problems emerge when wewant to put Kurdish subtitles in our broadcasts in Turk!
 ish. We havedifficulty finding qualified personnel. Not everyone who can speakKurdish can write Kurdish. There are also problems with usingKurdish-language-specific letters."
He asserts that if the RTÜK-imposed broadcast duration restrictionsare lifted, their problems may be gradually solved. "The broadcastduration should be determined according to a balance between supplyand demand. We cannot invest in technology for our limited-durationbroadcasts. We cannot air Kurdish films," he says. Büyüktimur explainsthat they are experiencing financial difficulties since they cannotrun commercials. As for his expectations from Kurdish NGOs inovercoming these difficulties, he says: "There are huge differences ofopinion among institutes, associations and foundations. We haveseveral broadcasting principles. We cannot accept technical personnelwho are members of organizations with ideological motives."

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