Although the launch of a channel in the once-banned language of Kurdish led to skeptical reactions and was perceived as a “calculated move by the government ahead of local elections” in some Kurdish circles, the inauguration of the Kurdish channel marks a significant change of policy in a country where speaking Kurdish was banned until 1991.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said “May TRT 6 be beneficial” in Kurdish during a news conference yesterday upon his return from a tour of the Middle East. He had said the same sentence earlier in an interview with TRT 6.
The use of Kurdish was prohibited following a 1980 military coup until the year 1991. Under pressure from the European Union to strengthen the rights of minority Kurds, TRT began broadcasting documentaries and news in Kurdish in 2004, but only for about 30 minutes each week. TRT 6, however, will be broadcast for 24 hours a day.
The Kurmanji dialect will be used for the first broadcasts and other Kurdish dialects will be included gradually as the channel moves forward. TRT will also have separate channels broadcasting in Arabic and Persian in the future.
State broadcasting in Kurdish has led to mixed reactions among the Kurds. The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party’s (DTP) co-chairperson Emine Ayna said the Kurdish channel was an attempt to deceive people.
DTP Batman mayoral candidate Nejdet Atalay said: “For years, Kurdish was recorded in police records as an ‘unidentified language.’ They used to tell us that Kurds do not exist. Now they are going to tell us that there is no such thing as Kurds in Kurdish.”
But some prominent individuals in the Kurdish movement believe that launching Kurdish programming on a state channel is important. Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a former chairman of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, said TRT 6 shows that the state has moved on from the stage of denying the existence of Kurds to acknowledging Kurds.
“We can discuss the content of the channel, but regardless of all of that, it is important that a public broadcaster is allocating one channel for this.”
Kurdish intellectual Tarık Ziya Ekinci told Today’s Zaman that a television studio outsourced by TRT 6 shot a 45-minute documentary with him. “I talked about my biography and my family in Kurdish,” he said. However, he also had criticism. “This is an important step, but the legal basis should also be provided. You do this at one point, but in some other place, a judge convicts someone for singing a song in Kurdish. Steps that would establish this as the overall state mentality in the citizens’ viewpoints are needed. Without doing these, Kurdish TV is starting from the end,” he said.