A Kurdish Voice for 46 Years: Radio Yerevan

Yerevan’s Kurdish Voice Radio has been broadcasting without interruption for the past 46 years. The radio–which has gone through five different broadcast directors–reaches its listeners by means of equipment of Hungarian and Czechoslovakian manufacture.

The radio staff–who have to struggle with lack of resources–work with typewriters and use the empty space on papers that they take from the archives–and thus face all the difficulties that confront them. Keremi Seyyad–who has been with the radio for 41 years–says that they have been able to keep going because of their devotion to the listeners who have shown such interest.

The radio–which forms a piece of Kurdish history–began its broadcasts in 1955–during the Krushchev era. At that time there was no other radio program in Armenia broadcasting in any other language than Armenian. It began with broadcasts in Kurdish and Arabic. Kurdish researcher and writer Casim Celil was the first broadcast director for the radio–which until 1961 broadcast three times a week for 15 minutes at a time.

Keremi Seyyad–who has worked at the station for 41 years–describes the first years as follows: "Not everyone had a radio in their houses. There was just one radio in our village. It was one with a loudspeaker attached. At the time when the broadcast was to begin–everyone gathered in the center of the village and listened with great enthusiasm and excitement. In all the villages where Kurds lived–people listened to the radio in this way. At that time–there were only three or four people working at the radio. I used to send news reports from the Talin district in to the radio."

The radio began to broadcast daily for an hour and a half each day on 1 April 1961–and also broadcast outside the borders of Armenia. The radio–which was heard in the Middle East and other republics of the Soviet Union–established ties among Kurds through the works of a great many Kurdish writers–historians–writers–poets–and artists–such as Casim Celil–Halil Muradov–Eznifi Resid–Sigoyu Hasan–Kacax Miraz–Mikail Resid–and Hamoyu Rizgo.

As the number of workers at the radio rose to twelve–Halil Muradov–who was to serve as the broadcast director for twenty years–took over this position from Casim Celil. In 1961–the radio–which was increasing its broadcast time– for the first time held a competition for announcers. Twenty-six young Kurds took part.

Eznifi Resid and Sewaza Abdo were chosen as female announcers–while Keremi Seyyad and Sidar Emin were selected as male announcers. Sidar Emin–although his voice was very good for an announcer–only worked at the radio for a year because his Kurdish language skills were weak. Since then–Keremi Seyyad has worked as the radio’s only male announcer. The broadcast directors over the years have been Casim Celil–Halil Muradov–Ahmedi Goge–Tital Kerem–and now today Keremi Seyyad.

Brought separated families together

No matter how much Radio Yerevan–as the voice of the Kurds–made its voice heard by Kurds everywhere–it was still unable to broadcast independently for many years. While the topics selected by the Communist Party were the basic themes of the broadcasts–only programs with cultural content could be produced. Keremi Seyyad describes those years as follows:

"We couldn’t talk about politics–nationalism–or Kurdish unity. Wherever a farm or a factory was established–wherever there was production of so and so much–those things were the main focus of our programs. We had programs that acquainted people with Kurdish culture–but they were insufficient. Our broadcast policies were determined directly by Moscow. In the past ten years–the content of our programming has changed entirely.

We began to produce programs on culture–history–literature–music–and most important of all–programs to help families that had been separate in the years 1918-1920 find each other again. In particular–an important bridge was established between Kurds living in Turkey and in Armenia–and hundreds of families established contacts with their families and relatives.

In addition–requests from our listeners–either by mail or over the telephone–began to increase.

We used to set aside Sundays for listener requests. And its still continues in this way. Over the past decade–we’ve gotten at least two thousand letters from outside of Armenia. Of the twelve different radio programs in Armenia that broadcast in other languages–we get the most phonecalls.

This derives from our following a more independent broadcast policy and more directly addressing the Kurds."

Difficult years

But the real difficult years for the program–which gradually increased the richness of its programming–came in the 1990’s. In Armenia–which declared its independence with the collapse of the socialist system–the situation of the radio was endangered due to the unemployment and other economic problems which arose. Employees who were unable to collect their salaries began one by one to leave the radio. Likewise–as employees left–the broadcast time was cut back. The Armenian state was no longer able to finance the programs. The broadcasts went down to an hour at a time in 1995–and to 45 minutes in 1996–and then later to half an hour. Currently six people work at the radio–which broadcasts for half an hour at a time.

The years 1995 to 1997–when the radio was in danger of closing down at any time–were the most difficult.

Keremi Seyyad describes this period as follows: "In the winter of 1995–the economic situation in Armenia wasn’t good at all. Electricity was on for an hour at a time–and food was distributed by the gram. Transportation problems were very bad. I used to get to the radio by walking from my home–a distance of eight kilometers. The roads were pitch-black since there was no electricity–and everything was frozen over on account of the cold.

Every night I was in danger of freezing. One day the man in charge of non-Armenian broadcasts said to me "Let’s close down the radio this winter. You’re coming and going by yourself; the roads are dangerous–and anything could happen to you." It was as if something had been ripped out of my heart. For I knew that–if the radio were shut down–it wouldn’t re-open again.

The radio couldn’t be financed due to the economic problems–and we weren’t able to get our salaries. There are still problems. But my heart just wouldn’t let me accede to the only link among the Kurds being cut off. And so we struggled in those years just so that the radio wouldn’t be shut down."

Translated from Turkish; originally published in "Yedinci Gundem" newspaper–by Derya Botan in Yerevan–Armenia–November 24–2001. Original Turkish text at: http://www.yedincigundem.com/.

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