Saturday, March 11, 2006


"There is nothing wrong with your television. Do not attempt to adjust the picture." ~ The Outer Limits, 1963.

Last Thursday, with great fanfare, the Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) announced approval of Kurdish-Language broadcasting in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan.

Well, I'm being facetious about the "great fanfare" thing, especially since the idea of Kurdish-language broadcasting was first introduced by RTUK in 2002. I guess they have dragged feet long enough to create an embarrassment. That may explain why a couple of items in TDN about Kurdish-language broadcasting were published this last week. The first is a short one:

ANKARA – Turkish Daily News

The Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) has approved broadcasts in Kurdish for two television channels in Diyarbakır -- Gün TV and Söz TV -- and a radio station in Şanlıurfa, Medya FM, the Anatolia news agency reported.

The channels will only be able to start their broadcasts after signing a protocol.

Turkey, working toward European Union 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.

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 state school curriculum.

The second item is a bit longer, reiterating the same information with these remarks included:

According to law, radio stations can broadcast in local dialects five hours a week and at most one hour a day. Programs in local dialects can be broadcast four hours a week and at most 45 minutes a day on television stations. All television broadcasts in Kurdish need Turkish subtitles, which channels argue imposes severe technical difficulties.

[ . . . . ]

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.

KurdishInfo carried some additional information in reference to the protocol that the Kurdish stations had to agree to (as well as posting a great photo to illustrate the situation--take a look at the link):

"We will accept and commit not to broadcast in other languages/dialects that we don't attest, to declare before and not to change the daily, monthly and yearly broadcasting plans, that we attest, not to accommodate any other symbols, except voice effect, studio formation, present logo and voice signs that we use during the broadcast in other languages/dialects, if it will be necessary to use the symbols of Turkish Government, in these languages and dialects, to broadcast only for adults, to make broadcasts about news, music, general public health, creating the ecological consciousness, addition to house economy, economy, sport, magazine, agriculture and stock-breeding, introducing of traditional culture, not to broadcast intended for the teaching these languages and dialects"

All of these restrictions and censorship remind me of the tagline to an old American television program from the 1960s: "There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We can reduce the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear."

I wonder if RTUK would approve the use of this tagline for Gün and Söz to run at the beginning of their daily 45 minutes of broadcasting?

There is a problem with the "dwindling interest" claim of Kurdish-language schools. Sure, Kurds were excited about the prospect of having Kurdish-language schools years ago when the first big noise came from Ankara that they would be allowed. The schools were then seen through rose-colored glasses as being a sign of "progress." What could be the reason for the claim of "dwindling interest?"

Let's see. . . how about 70% unemployment coupled with a cost of $75/month for tuition in the adults-only Kurdish-language schools?

Check out this The Washington Times report:

During the tea break at the private language school, there is no talk of separation or rebellion. The heated discussion focuses on the cost of tuition, roughly $75 a month and more than most can afford. Seventy percent of the students are unemployed, estimated Suleyman Yilmaz, the school's director.

Most people would rather just continue learning from their parents or meet in neighbors' homes, said Mr. Ozeydin, the teacher. The government is using this low turnout to create an image that no one wants to learn Kurdish and as a justification for not extending Kurdish cultural rights, he added.

"Why should we have to pay to learn our mother tongue?" Mr. Ozeydin asked.

And this AFP report, carried on KurdishMedia :

In the shanty towns of Diyarbakir, the central city of the southeast, unemployment is estimated at about 70 percent, crime is skyrocketing and brothels -- unthinkable a decade ago in the rigidly conservative region -- are mushrooming.

[ . . . . ]

Forty-five percent of young educated people in the southeast are jobless, while the region’s average unemployment rate is 21.6 percent, according to 2003 statistics. Both figures are the country’s highest, roughly double the national average.

And this Christian Science Monitor report:

In Diyarbakir, where the population has tripled over the past 15 years, fed by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of villagers who had fled the fighting between the PKK and the military, local officials say poverty and unemployment have led to a host of worrying trends, including prostitution and drug use. The city of 1.2 million also has what some estimate to be Turkey's largest population of street children.

"The people in this region are asking why this region has no factories. They look at other regions and ask why they have state-sponsored industries and irrigation," says Firat Anli, a district mayor in Diyarbakir.

All this bad news is just for Amed. Other places, like Hekarî are in worse situations.

It seems like the opposite trend is working in the Kurdish diaspora, because there is no "dwindling interest" of Kurdish-language instruction, publishing or broadcasting in diaspora. There are Kurdish-language websites, a Kurdish-language Wikipedia, more Kurdish-language satellite TV channels gearing up for broadcast, Kurdish-language computer programs and applications.

Geez, do you think it could be because Kurds in diaspora are not suffering 70% unemployment, with all its attendant ills? Don't expect me to go along with Ankara's BS job hidden under the phrase, "dwindling interest."

I'm not the only one who's a skeptic. Looks like Nazlan Ertan at The New Anatolian is a bit of a skeptic too.

Let's face it. The whole control thing with Kurdish-language broadcasting, in reality, has nothing to do with "separatism," "rebellion," or the big, bad, omniscient, omni-present, omnipotent PKK. It isn't even about control of Kurds per se.

It's really all about a totalitarian system that fears itself.

That is why the Turkish constitution is designed to protect the state and not the people. That is why "denigrating" Turkishness is a crime. That is why free and independent Kurdish-language broadcasting, such as that provided by Roj TV is a threat. It's all about fear.

"We now return control of your television set back to you . . . "

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