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Media in Kurdish threatened with extinction in Turkey

Media in Kurdish threatened with extinction in Turkey

While the opposition media in Turkey is faced with threats due to the content it offers, the very existence of the media in Kurdish is under threat.

* Photo: The first issue of Welat Newspaper was published in 1992 with the headline “For a new life” (A screenshot from the ArşivaKurd)

This article has been published as part of the “Resilience in Journalism” article series which sets out to offer critical reviews exemplifying hate speech and disinformation in the media as part of the Resilience Project, of which the IPS Communication Foundation / bianet from Turkey is one of the partners.

In the World Press Freedom Index of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Turkey ranks 153rd out of 180 countries. While the media in Turkish is dealing with the obstacles in the way of freedom of expression, the media in Kurdish is faced with the threat of extinction.

The media in Kurdish has already experienced extincion in some fields in Turkey: There is no daily newspaper in Kurdish, there is no nationwide radio channel broadcasting in Kurdish, there is no news agency with Kurdish as its main language or there is no private TV channel offering news programs in Kurdish in satellite broadcasting or cablecasting. There is a single TV channel broadcasting news in Kurdish. And it belongs to the state.

Kurds’ use of their mother language

As all citizens are considered to be Turkish in the Constitution of Turkey, no race-based census is conducted in the country. Therefore, the Kurdish population is not officially indicated in the statistics.

This is where hate speech begins; as it was long forbidden to say Kurd, Kurds were referred to as “from the East” or “people of the East” (as the Kurdish cities are located in the east of Turkey). The same addresses then came to be used as meaning “ignorant”, “uneducated” or “uncouth”.

In our interviews with Diyarbakır-based Rawest Research company based on its surveys, we see that 16-18 percent (13.49-15.18 million) of Turkey’s population speak Kurdish as their mother language at home.

According to the survey of the Socio-Political Field Research Center “conducted in 16 cities in the Eastern Anatolia and Southeastern Anatolia regions of Turkey regarding the use of mother language, 68.2 percent of the 18-24 age group and over 70 percent of the people aged 65 and over speak Kurdish within their households.”

The ones who speak Turkish have learned the words used by Kurds in addressing one another. All of these addresses have been included as insults in the Turkish slang.

Let’s see how the words used in Kurdish have come to be used in Turkish:

Elder brother: Kek (How it is pronounced in Kurdish: Keko!), how it is pronounced in Turkish slang: “keko”

Boy: Lawik (How it is pronounced in Kurdish: Lawiko!), how it is used in Turkish slang as the language does not have the letter “w”: “lavuk”

Boy: Kur (How it is pronounced in Kurdish: Kuro!), how it is used in the Turkish slang: “kıro”

Now a part of the current Turkish slang, the words “kıro” and “keko” have not yet been added to the dictionaries of the Turkish Language Society (TDK), but they are used to mean uncouth, shabby, rude and ignorant.

“Lavuk” is defined as follows: (A person) who dwells on unimportant subjects too much, inauspicious in terms of acts and remarks.

According to the unofficial data offered by sources independent of one another, over 20 million Kurds live in Turkey.

In a country where nearly 15 million citizens speak Kurdish according to surveys, how is the media representation of the language?

After analyzing the state of the Turkey-based media in Kurdish through some data, we will take a closer look at the details of this sad picture.

Data on Turkey’s media in Kurdish

Newspaper in Kurdish

According to the 2020 data of the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), 4,746 newspapers and magazines are published in Turkey. In a country where 2,164 magazines and 2,582 newspapers are published, there are no news magazines or daily newspapers published in Kurdish. There is only a single weekly newspaper published in Kurdish: Xwebûn.

Television in Kurdish

According to the 2021 data of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), there are 350 satellite television channels and 172 cable television channels in Turkey. Of the 552 television channels in total, only one is offering news in Kurdish, which is the state channel TRT Kurdî. The only private satellite television channel broadcasting in Kurdish is Zarok TV (which offers content for children) and the only television channel making terrestrial broadcasting in Kurdish is Amed TV.

News agency in Kurdish

In Turkey, there is no news agency with Kurdish as its main language. The largest news agency with a Kurdish language option is the state-run Anadolu Agency (AA). The main language of the agencies belonging to Kurdish companies such as the Mezopotamya Agency (MA) and JinNews is also Turkish. Among their language options is Kurdish in addition to English.

Except for the companies owned by Kurds and the state, there is only a single news portal offering a Kurdish language option: bianet.org. There is only a single news portal which also includes Kurdish news while publishing news in Turkish: gazeteduvar.com.

Radio in Kurdish

There is no national radio channel broadcasting in Kurdish in Turkey. TRT Kurdî Radio, which offers the most comprehensive radio broadcasting in that regard, belongs to the state. According to Wikipedia, this radio station “broadcasts in Kurdish in Turkey’s Southeastern and Eastern Anatolia regions and the district of Afrin, which is a part of Syria’s Aleppo province.”

Kurdish media training

According to the data of Google search engine, at least 74 universities offer media training and/or have media departments in Turkish. With the funds provided by European countries, mostly associations and foundations organize at least 200 Turkish media training or media research programs. While most of them are in İstanbul, at least 10 percent are in Diyarbakır.

Kurdish media training is forbidden in Turkey, but organizing workshops is allowed. Botan International, the first Kurdish media training office in the history of the state of Turkey, was established in 2020 and gives training by organizing workshops; it has prepared coursebooks on digital media in Kurdish. There is still no Kurdish media training organization, except for Botan International. Organizations such as Atölye BİA, Mesopotamia Foundation and Yeni Yaşam (New Life) Association organize workshops or seminars on media in Kurdish once a year.

The RSF is the first and still the only international organization that supports a Kurdish media training project. The RSF and Botan International are still partners; however, all funders, except for the RSF, allocate their media training funds to media training programs in Turkish.

Websites in Kurdish

Agencies with a Kurdish language option are frequently closed. The website of Mezopotamya Agency (MA) had been closed for 35 times (by the time this article was written). The media in Kurdish, striving to exist with TV and radio channels and newspapers, is under threat on the Internet.

The websites, except for the ones published in affiliation with agencies and television channels, work with personal initiatives and efforts. These websites, not making a financial gain, continue working thanks to volunteers’ efforts. Google Turkey Representative, Google AdSense program does not recognize Kurdish and does not support giving ads to these websites. None of the funds allocated to Turkey for media is transferred to these platforms. We have not encountered sponsors on the websites.

The only website which indicates in its impressum that it belongs to a media company is Botan Times, which belongs to Botan International.

Leading websites mostly produce content on culture; some of them are as follows: Diyarname (General knowledge and politics), Çandname (General knowledge), PopKurd (Popular culture), FlashHilat (Photography), Kubar (Fashion), Sînemaya Serbixwe (Cinema), Dîalog (Theater).

Journalism between two Welats (Homeland)

In Turkey, it was forbidden to speak Kurdish in public until January 25, 1991, after which the use of Kurdish in public became free. Rights afterwards, Kurds started publishing a newspaper “illegally”. Kurdish journalists had to wait until 2002 for the ban on publication to be lifted.

After 1992, weekly or daily newspapers of Welat (1992), Welatê Me, Dengê Welat, Hawar, Azadiya Welat and again Welat (2018) were published.

Printing houses punished for printing Kurdish

I had the opportunity to interview Abdullah Keskin, the founding Editor-in-Chief of Welat, the first Kurdish newspaper in Turkey, and Çetin Altun, the editor of the last Welat newspaper. This is the subject of an article on its own.

Abdullah Keskin says the following:

When we started publishing, Kurdish press and publication was not free in Turkey, but the state did not want to recognize Kurdish by filing a suit into a Kurdish content. Discussing a content in Kurdish at court was not desired. We were very free in terms of creating content. We faced other challenges. There were no journalists who could write in Kurdish. I was trying to learn on my own. In that process, I got the alphabet of Celadet Alî Bedirxan and started learning with the alphabet. We started getting articles from people who knew Kurdish well such as Musa Anter, Mazhar Günbat and Mirhem Yiğit. The first issue sold 24,000 copies at the distribution company and nearly 30,000 copies with direct delivery.

Çetin Altun recounts what happened right after the last Kurdish daily newspaper was published by xerox copy in 2018:

Even though we paid for it, printing houses did not want to print our newspaper. Every printing house that printed our newspaper was subjected to police raids under some pretext. We discussed buying a printing house as well; however, if we had made our entire investment in a printing house, we would have faced a bad situation if it had been seized as well. We printed our last issues by using a xerox machine. The young people who distributed them were taken into custody. We could not continue; we quitted it as well.

Coup attempt and media in Kurdish

During the “resolution process for the Kurdish question (2009-2015),” led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), dozens of local TV channels and newspapers in Kurdish started publication and broadcasting.

In 2016, the state authorities of Turkey announced that the Fethullah Gülen community staged an attempted coup. Following this coup attempt, only in Diyarbakır, nine television channels, entirely or partly broadcasting in Kurdish, such as Azadî TV, Gün TV, Zarok TV were closed.

After the attempted coup, the state, led by the AKP government, closed the television channels close to the Gülen community; the channels broadcasting in Kurdish also got their share in this process.

The state seized the broadcasting equipment and offices of TV channels. Then, all TV channels were closed; Zarok TV was opened again and Amed TV started terrestrial broadcasting. But seven television channels cannot resume broadcasting. After Denge TV, the only TV channel of Batman, was closed, the province has been unable to have a local TV channel.

KRG channels removed from Turksat

After the TV channels in Kurdish were closed in Turkey, the only alternative for the Kurdish TV audience was the TVs broadcasting outside the state.

The alternative channels that remained in the Turksat Satellite were Kurdistan24, Waar TV and Rûdaw TV, which were the largest television channels based in Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

However, in 2017, these three TV channels were removed from the Turksat satellite and their broadcasting licences were cancelled.

The excuse for imposing the related block on the TV channels in 2017 was that these channels called the Kurdistan geography Kurdistan. As a matter of fact, the official authorities of the state, the Prime Minister and the President called the same geography Kurdistan.

From the 1990s to 2000s, the governments of Turkey had been trying to block the Europe-based satellite TV channels broadcasting in Kurdish by using signal blockers. The ones turning their dishes towards the European satellites were profiled; it was cited as criminal evidence.

Hard to raise qualified journalists

In Turkey, the ones who have received training on journalism at educational institutions are called “schooled” and the ones who have learned journalism from other journalists in practice are called “self-taught”.

As training on media in Kurdish is banned in Turkey, the workers of the media in Kurdish must be either “schooled in Turkish” or they do not have the opportunity to be “schooled” in their own language.

Condemned to be “self-taught”, journalists are prevented from engaging in these processes as they are faced with detentions and arrests without accumulating sufficient experience “in the field”.

The media outlets in Kurdish also do not make enough efforts to raise qualified workers or to catch up with the latest developments in the media.

The digital media techniques are very rarely used in modern journalism; only one institution (Botan International) offers training in this field. And it does not not have the capacity to meet the need.

In media outlets in Kurdish, no detailed information is offered about news stories; the conventional 5W1H “official report” journalism is widespread.

Until Botan International was established in 2020, there was not a media training institution. There is still no institution alternative to Botan International. Even though I am the leading founder of the institution, I must say that it is to the detriment of journalism in Kurdish that we are the sole alternative in journalism in Kurdish and that we have no competitors.

Minimum wages in Turkey do not suffice for people to live in humane conditions. Minimum wage is not the recompense for the labor of any journalist. As the pressures on journalism in Kurdish require journalists “to exist” and “to struggle”, it stands in the way of discussions on the fact that journalism is a profession and that labor must have a material reward. Journalism emerges as an “intellectual struggle for existence”.

This is reminiscent of the situation where doctors constantly try to heal the wounded in times of war, unable to find the opportunity to follow the developments in modern medicine or to implement them, and cannot request the conditions for a humane life. The media in Kurdish, in terms of both its structure and work area, is constantly in an alarm of “State of Emergency”.

No psychological support is offered to treat the stress caused by this. As a journalist traumatized by his work and the representative of a media organization, I must note that all our requests remain unanswered.

Portraying Kurdish as a terrorist activity

Perhaps, a life story can best clarify the situation… The Municipality of Diyarbakır is currently governed by the Governor of Diyarbakır, who was appointed as a trustee to replace the elected co-mayors.

As of December 2, 2021, the Municipality published its 5-issue newsletter with a Kurdish name “Keremke (Here you are). Following the visit of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the headline of the newspaper also read in Kurdish: Ser Seran Ser Çavan Diyarbekir (English: With great pleasure, Diyarbakır, Note: Erdoğan uttered this sentence during his Diyarbakır visit).

While an employee of the Governor’s Office was taking this newsletter to the Governor’s Office, he was intercepted by the Counterterrorism police. Seeing that the name of the newspaper he had with him was in Kurdish, they started beating him up. Until he could show the police his personnel card indicating that he was working for the Governor’s Office and explain the situation, he had been beaten up and not released by police.

As you can guess, the newsletter’s content was mentioning/ praising the services of the Diyarbakır Municipality led by the Diyarbakır Governor. For the police officers, who work in affiliation with the Governor’s Office, a name in Kurdish was sufficient evidence to attack.

Culture of lynching, targeting, complaint

All media outlets in Kurdish are coded/ desired to be coded with an organization or political entity. Radical groups lynch the journalists that they code. The most frequent lynhcing happens through headlines such as “terrorist”, “traitor”, “agent” ,”selling oneself”, “enemy of the religion”, “pro-government”, “pool media”, “pro-fund” and “spokesperson for foreign powers”. The use of curses is also widespread.

These acts of coding and lynching may also be multi-sided. Just as the people who lynch journalists may be anonymous, organizations, state officials or journalists may also target journalists.

In the light of the above-mentioned information, two incidents that happened to the first Kurdish media training office will not be a surprise to you.

A couple of journalists apparently filed a complaint against Botan International by applying to the Diyarbakır Directorate of Security and alleged that it was founded upon the instruction of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The incident was considered in the context of terrorism.

In the same month, a Kurdish program presenter mentioned Botan International’s social media accounts, alleged that the company was rewarded by the ruling AKP and announced this allegation.

In fact, Botan International Kurdish Media Office was established in partnership and sponsorship of the RSF, an official consultant of the United Nations (UN) and the Council of Europe (CoE). The Office has published all its courses as a book; the course content can be read by everyone.

In my opinion, Botan International has not received any awards even though it has deserved it. In searches on the Internet, I also have not encountered that the AKP has rewarded any company.

The state’s attitude to Kurdish media activities

For this part of our article, we asked four workers of the state media in Kurdish for an interview; however, they did not accept our offer. So, we will continue with data obtained from outside sources.

TRT Arabi posts its all social media messages in Arabic, in which its content is broadcast. There are no Turkish subtitles in its TV programs.

TRT World posts its all social media messages in English, in which its content is broadcast. There are no Turkish subtitles in its TV programs.

In addition to content in Kurdish, TRT Kurdî also posts the messages of Turkish content providers such as “TRT Corporate”, “TRT” and “TRT Kurdî Turkish” on social media. In fact, it also shares the Turkish messages of TRT executives. Even though 15 of the 18 TRT channels already broadcast in Turkish, TRT Kurdî, which is the only channel in Kurdish, offers its programs with Turkish subtitles.

While the employees of TRT World receive news training in English and those of TRT Arabi receive news training in Arabic, the employees of the TRT Kurdî receive their training on news in Turkish.

This leads journalists to present the news in Kurdish with a diction and sentence structure in Turkish. As Kurdish is one of the Indo-European languages, words are not separately pronounced in uttering sentences, as it is also the case in English; the sound indicator is wavy. So, with a Turkish diction, one would utter the words one by one in the sentence “ben eve gideceğim”; however, the Kurdish sentence “ez ê (bi) çim malê” is uttered all at once and with ups and downs in the pronunciation, as it is the case when one utters the sentence “I will go home” in English.

In TRT Kurdî, this monolithic pronunciation with its ups and downs is distorted and the news is pronounced as “Ez-ê-bi-çim-malê”, which leads to a robotic language that is not spoken in any part of the world. Several other examples can be given in this context…

The state having a channel in Kurdish does not save the media in Kurdish from extinction; in fact, it endangers the authenticity of the media in Kurdish.

I do not foresee that the state will lift the ban on Kurdish media training in the near future; but if the TRT Kurdî journalism is forced upon journalists when the ban is lifted, it will bring about a new crisis.

Nevertheless, the existence of a training that can be opened to debate is much better than the training being banned.

What must be urgently done?

The state

must remove the media in Kurdish from the context of terrorist activities; lift the ban on Kurdish media training; fund media training and offer employment opportunities; return the seized media equipment.

Human rights funders

must not ignore the fact that the mother language of one quarter of Turkey’s population is Kurdish; must not forget that presenting and receiving news in their mother language is one of the fundamental rights of people; fund and encourage the media in Kurdish.

Media outlets in Kurdish

must not consider journalists’ labor and efforts within the context of “struggle”, “intellectual presence” or “resisting”, considering that journalism is a profession, and must give the recompense for journalists’ labor; must not lag behind in terms of the new media methods.

About the Resilience project”RESILIENCE: Civil society action to reaffirm media freedom and counter disinformation and hateful propaganda in the Western Balkans and Turkey” project is s coordinated by the South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM), a network of media development organizations in Central and South East Europe. The project is implemented in partnership with Albanian Media Institute in Tirana, Foundation ‘Mediacentar’ in Sarajevo, Kosovo 2.0 in Pristina, Montenegro Media Institute in Podgorica, Macedonian Institute for Media in Skopje, Novi Sad School of Journalism in Novi Sad, Peace Institute in Ljubljana, and IPS Communication Foundation/ bianet in Istanbul. It is funded by the European Union (EU).You can have detailed information about the project here.Click here for the first report.Click here for the second report.Click here for the factsheet on Turkey

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