While TRT 6 claims “we are under the same sky” (Em di bin eynî esmani de ne*), it reminds us quite visually that we are also under the same flag…and don’t forget whose flag it is. State-run Turkish Radio and Television’s (TRT) new multi-language channel, TRT 6, has gone live in Kurdish with an image of the Turkish flag flapping in the breeze to the sound of the Turkish national anthem.Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the first Turkish leader to speak Kurdish publicly when he said, “May TRT 6 be beneficial.” You can search YouTube for clips of Erdoğan’s address.
Kurdish broadcasting on TRT began back in 2004 with weekly 30-minute Kurdish broadcast. The move was widely seen as a response to European Union pressure to strengthen the rights of the Kurdish minority. Now with TRT 6 it’s a 24/7 operation.
The government has called the launch a democratic new era for minority Kurds and it was largely welcomed as a move that could strengthen unity between Turks and Kurds.
But with less than a week of broadcast programming such as xeber (news), dengbêj (traditional singing), şevberk (evening entertainment), and fîlme karton (cartoons), disparate opinions of the new station abound.
Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish columnist and political commentator, says that the political establishment in his country appears to have realized that Turkey’s obsession with being a “homogenous” nation-and the idea that the country should have one common “Turkish” culture-has backfired. “The state has seen its mistake. And for a while, especially under the current government [of the] Justice and Development Party (AKP) and thanks to [joining] the European Union process, the Turkish state has started to change its policy and embrace Kurdish citizens [along] with their identity,” Akyol says. “Having a Kurdish channel in TRT, it’s a very important thing. It would have been unthinkable 10 years ago,” he adds. “And I know that many Kurds are happy to see this.”
Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal, known for his pro-status quo (and to some, ethnocentric) approach to state policy, has a different opinion, which he described as a move that went against the “basic understanding of the state.”
“Everybody can air broadcasts in their own language. This is their right. But it is not right to spend the money of the state and 70 million people in line with the ethnic demands of a certain group of our citizens. The duty of the state is not to encourage ethnic identities. Turkey is heading in the wrong direction. They [the government] either know they are doing a very dangerous thing, or don’t know what they are doing,” he had said.
Yıldıray Oğur, a columnist for the Taraf daily, called Baykal’s approach to the new Kurdish channel “discriminatory and exclusionist.”
Experts in Turkey say the launch of TRT 6 is the first step in a comprehensive Turkish government strategy aimed at winning more Kurdish hearts and minds by addressing their genuine problems and thus trying to undercut the popular support base for the PKK and “radical nationalists.”
TRT 6 is being promoted as a culture and family channel that will mainly use the Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish. There will also be shows in the Kurdish dialects of Zaza and Sorani, it was noted on TRT’s Website.
But is there an underlying political agenda? Elections are at the end of March. The AKP and the DTP will be battling for votes in the southeast. Culture and family channel or state propoganda?
The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, and the AKP are seen as the only national parties with any political presence in the southeast. In the local elections in 2004 and the general elections in 2007, the AKP and the DTP were the only parties that won any posts.
TRT 6 is seen by the DTP as a ruse by the AKP to win votes on the eve of the local elections.
“If the aim of the channel is propaganda then the government will lose, but if it pursues an independent policy then people will watch it. If it is not impartial Kurds would feel deceived,” said Cemil Genc, a 32-year-old self-employed man.
Selahattin Demirtas, an MP for the Democratic Society Party (DTP), the largest Kurdish party, said the channel had political aims. The DTP and AKP have traded bitter words as polls near. “Even the singers invited to the opening ceremony [of TRT 6] were chosen because they are DTP opponents,” Demirtas said.
“There is a need for a broadcasting policy that understands Kurds and meets their demands. We are carefully observing the process. We will see in time whether this is something that was initiated with the elections in mind,” said Ahmet Turk, leader of the Democratic Society Party, which seeks Kurdish autonomy but participates in electoral politics.
The party boycotted the official launch ceremony.
Currently, the Denmark-based Roj TV is the most popular station among Kurds living in Turkey. Roj-TV is an international Kurdish satellite station broadcasting across Kurdish areas, including diaspora communities in Europe (except in Germany where it was banned last summer).
Many in Turkey consider Roj-TV a mouthpiece for the outlawed PKK-a group fighting for Kurdish autonomy since 1984 that Ankara, Washington, and the European Union have declared a terrorist organization.
Turkish columnist Akyol says countering the message of Kurdish nationalist satellite channels such as Roj TV is one obvious reason the new Kurdish station was launched, because official attempts to stop people from watching the broadcasts failed. He says the TRT programs will be aimed at providing “Kurdish broadcasts, which would not be supporting radical Kurdish nationalism and would be supporting a more unifying message.”
A mixture of attempts at political gain, European pressure, a linguistic olive branch, and efforts to make Roj-TV irrelevant have all come together to put TRT 6 on the air. It will certainly be of interest to watch the programming and political commentary as we get closer to election day: 29 March.
If you’re watching TRT 6, let us know what you think. Do you enjoy it? How’s the Kurmancî they’re using? Do you think the station is all about state propaganda or is it a genuine attempt to right the wrongs of the past?
–Demirbaş, B.A. (2009, January 5). CHP leader Baykal center of criticism for stance on Kurdish TV. Today’s Zaman, http://www.todayszaman.com.
–Playing Kurdish card (2009, January 2). Hürriyet Daily News, http://www.hurriyet.com.
–Siddique, A (2009, January 2). Turkey’s New Kurdish TV Hopes To Win Hearts And Minds. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, http://www.rferl.org.
–TRT.Televizyon website, http://www.trt.net.tr Villelabeitia, I (2009, January 2).
–Turkey’s Kurdish TV channel opens to mixed reviews. Reuters, http://www.reuters.com.
[Frekans: Türksat 3A Frekans: 12685 HSR : 30000 FEC : 5/6]
*TRT 6 tagline