Yet the broadcasts have failed to win praise from the groups at which they are targeted, instead drawing fire for the way in which they have been prepared – without community involvement.
State television and radio broadcaster TRT began airing programmes in five mother tongue languages and dialects, including Kurdish, this week, with each being given a 45-minute slot at 6.10am, one day a week, repeated late at night the same day.
The languages are Bosnian, Arabic, the Kurdish Kirmanchi dialect, Circassian and Kurdish Zaza, with each programme including news, sports and cultural material.
“We are receiving very positive reactions,” TRT General Director Senol Demiroz told reporters on Tuesday. “We have not received any negative reactions so far.”
It has been six months since Turkey’s parliament passed legislation that allowed programmes in languages other than Turkish to be aired and more than two years since the proposal was first mooted.
The military has sought to limit
Opposition from nationalist groups and the country’s armed forces, which see the programmes as a threat to the unity of the country and an encouragement to Kurdish nationalism, slowed progress.
Apparently they need not have worried.
But Demiroz’ rosy outlook is misleading. Since the broadcasts began, TRT has been criticised from all sides.
Saffet Erdem, the chairman of the Friends of Bosnia Foundation, said that neither his group nor any others representing Turkey’s Bosnian community, had wanted to have programmes in their language.
“We are, in terms of culture and belief, a part of the Turkish nation and support the principles of Ataturk [the founder of the Turkish Republic],” he said.
“We are upset about our involuntary inclusion in a game that was devised by those who want to divide Turkey.”
Representatives of Turkey’s Arab community, estimated at two million, claimed that the version of Arabic used was not familiar to them, and that indeed Arabic of any form was only used by the elder members of the community.
“This will only serve to create divisions in society, and promote separatism,” said Kerem Yilmaz from Adana in southern Turkey.
“We never asked for this and we don’t want it. Anyway, the programmes are on so early no one will watch them.”
The government also came under fire over broadcasting in Arabic. Hardline secularists argue that the government is allowing this for religious reasons.
Some argue that Arabic is
One of those holding this view is Sevgi Ozel, the head of the Language Association, which is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Turkish. According to her, the pro-Islamist AKP is using the liberalised broadcasting laws to encourage more Turks to learn Arabic so they can read the Quran.
“How many people in Turkey speak Arabic? I do not believe there are many,” Ozel said. “Only in Antakya near the Syrian border is there a group that speak Arabic. In my opinion, Arabic was chosen specially.”
Ozel, a constant critic of TRT for its poor standard of Turkish, said the national broadcaster should not have been tasked with producing programmes in foreign languages.
“An institution that can hardly provide broadcasts in proper Turkish is incapable of doing so in Kurdish,” she added.
Nor have the TRT broadcasts found favour with Turkey’s Kurdish community, the only ethnic group that has constantly pushed for programming in their own language. The slots on Wednesdays and Fridays in the two Kurdish dialects are no more than tokenism, according to Alaatin Aktas of Istanbul’s Kurdish Institute.
“Rather than providing the most primary rights of Kurdish people, the state pretends to fulfil EU membership criteria”
“Rather than providing the most primary rights of Kurdish people, the state pretends to fulfil EU membership criteria,” he said. “That is, such regulations are towards resolution of the problems of states rather than of Kurds.”
Turkey has been under pressure from the European Union to grant more rights to its ethnic minorities, and Kurds in particular, who number around 12 million in a country of 70 million.
Yet, Aktas claims, the Turkish state is simply mocking the country’s Kurds by limited and strictly controlled programming that has no input from the community.
“It is underrating the problem and turning a blind eye to it. Turning a blind eye to it doesn’t mean the removal of the problem,” he said.
Watching the first broadcast in a cafe in Istanbul, driver Metin Durak was also unimpressed.
“It’s just the same as TRT normally is – the state view of everything. I don’t know what the point of that is, except maybe for the Kurdish people who don’t speak any Turkish – to tell them what the Turkish state thinks they should think.”
Ironically, broadcasts in Kurdish have started only a week after Kurdish separatist guerrillas ended a five-year ceasefire in their battle against the Turkish state.
Already there have been half a dozen clashes between the guerillas and Turkish security forces. The new show in town clearly hasn’t replaced the old.