ISTANBUL: After long decades of silence, Kurdish language radio and television shows have been allowed to air in Turkey but are still struggling to find a voice.

To great fanfare four months ago, the EU-hopeful nation agreed to liberalize its language laws, which had tagged Kurdish broadcasts as political sedition and punished Kurdish songs as breeders of violence.

But the legal revision appeared in the official bulletin only last week, and the media programmes themselves are not yet ready to air.

For some Kurds fighting for equal political rights, the move may not be much more than lip service to their language and to the West.

“The method adopted is truly not an elegant one,” said Hasan Kaya, director of the Kurdish Institute in Istanbul.

“It’s clear that it’s very hard for them (Turkish authorities) to concede this cultural right and that they’re only doing it because they’re forced to.”

Ankara, nurturing a longtime goal to join the European Union, has swept through reforms demanded by the 15-member bloc, notably for the ethnic Kurds who comprise a quarter to a third of Turkey’s 70 million inhabitants.

Kurdish-language media were previously more or less tolerated in parts of the country, but Kurdish was banned on national television.

Some 29 newspapers, weeklies and monthly publications, either written in Kurdish or seen to be supportive of the Kurdish cause, were also banned in the two southeastern Kurdish provinces.

Now, regulated by the High Board of Radio and Television (RTUK), Kurdish programmes will be allowed 45 minutes daily, or four hours weekly, of radio play, and 30 minutes daily, or two hours weekly, or television air time.

“Putting in place such limited programmes is more like a farce,” lamented Kaya, whose institute publishes books and research papers in Kurdish.

The radio shows must be followed by a Turkish-language translation, and television shows must be subtitled, word for word.

After 15 wearying years of battle with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) battling for a separate homeland in the southeast, Ankara is loath to relinquish its iron-fisted control on media.

Fighting that has claimed nearly 37,000 lives since 1984 scaled down only from September 1999, when the PKK said it was abandoning its armed struggle in favour of a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish conflict.

But Turkey remains wary that Kurdish language, culture and teachings could rekindle a drive for independence and near-daily bloodshed.

Its language law has corralled Kurdish programming onto the public TRT media chain exclusively, banning broadcasting on Turkey’s numerous private stations.

“Even if it is commendable that the state media are involved in the project, why are they the only ones to be allowed to broadcast Kurdish shows?” Kaya asked. “Private and local radio and television should be just as free to do the same.”

RTUK legal advisor Mehmet Ali Yildirim defended the move as merely a preliminary step that would last “for a trial period”.

“If the experiment works, it may then be extended to other media,” he said.

Yildirim described the upcoming shows as a mix of music and news, adding that hosts and broadcasters will appear on screen dressed in “modern outfits” — meaning that Kurdish traditional garb will not be tolerated.—AFP

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