Turkey’s Kurds Welcome Broadcasts in Kurdish with Broken Hearts

YOLBOYU (AFP)–Glued to the television set in a squalid coffee shop–residents of this Kurdish village on Wednesday welcomed the first-ever Kurdish broadcast in Turkey but also voiced resentment that it took so long to come about and only through EU pressure.

Haunted by memories of the days when their mother tongue was banned in the country–villagers gathered in the shop ahead of the broadcast on TRT state television–visibly eager and excited.

As the presenter announced the beginning of the taboo-breaking program in Kurmanci–the most widespread Kurdish dialect in Turkey–complete silence fell and the crowd watched the 30-minute program attentively.

"This is what we have been waiting for since the 1970s. It has finally come true," said 32-year-old worker Abdurrahman Demir–referring to the period when Kurds first raised their deman’s for cultural rights.

"My mother is old. She does not speak Turkish. Now she will also be able to understand," exclaimed Selahattin Cimen–37.

Turkey launched daily television and radio broadcasts in non-Turkish languages on Monday–under pressure from the European Union–which will decide in December whether the country is ready to start accession talks.

The program–called "Our Cultural Riches," started with news and continued with a bizarre mix of Kurdish music and brief documentaries on nature–the development of civilization–and technology.

In a sign of the haste with which the program was put together–the "news" material was taped earlier in the week.

"Even though the content was poor–even though it was short–even though it was undertaken because of EU pressure–we are still happy to watch a broadcast in our own language on our national television," Demir said.

Worker Zeki Karakas added: "We are both happy and sad. We are happy to watch television in our mother tongue and we are sad because we wished that those programs had started not because the EU wanted them–but because we wanted them."

For years–Ankara had rejected Kurdish deman’s for cultural freedoms–fearing that such rights could fuel nationalist sentiment among the minority and constitute a reward for Kurdish rebels waging a bloody campaign for self-rule in the country’s southeast.

Several Kurdish channels–broadcasting either from Europe or the Kurdish enclave in neighboring northern Iraq–are already widely watched in Turkey’s southeast–where satellite dishes have become an inseparable part of the landscape.

Also as part of EU-sought reforms–private courses began teaching the Kurdish language earlier this year.

The restive region has enjoyed a period of relative calm since 1999 when the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) announced an end to its 15-year armed campaign and the government loosened its grip on locals.

But the PKK–now known as KONGRA-GEL–said last week that it was ending the unilateral truce as of June 1–raising fears of renewed bloodshed in the area.

The Kurdish conflict has claimed some 37,000 lives–most of them rebels.

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