TURKS, KURDS, FREE SPEECH

“You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police. Yet in their hearts there is unspoken – unspeakable! – fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts! Words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home, all the more powerful because they are forbidden. These terrify them. A little mouse – a little tiny mouse! -of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.”
— Winston Churchill

Yes, the enforcers of the Turkish state, those guardians of Kemalism, are once again thrown into a panic because the people they have officially denied and repeatedly attempted to silence for a little over eighty years still have voice.

In case you don’t know, I am talking about the recent panic over the Kurdish satellite TV channel, Roj TV. Turkey has been applying pressure to Denmark so that it will shut down Roj TV, because of Turkish claims that it has ties to a “terrorist” organization, the PKK. The US has also began attempting to pressure Denmark on behalf of it’s good ally, the Kemalist state. What news reports won’t tell you is that this issue has a couple of very important components. First, this isn’t the first time that the guardians of Kemalism have shut down Kurdish TV broadcasting and, second, there is also the fact that Turkey has been dragging feet over limited Kurdish-language broadcasting within its borders.

Back in 1994, Roj TV’s ancestor, MED TV, received licensing to begin broadcasting from the UK, which it did begin in 1995. MED TV had, as its aims, the following:

The Kurdish Foundation Trust, which provided financial assistance for MED-TV, stated the following aims:

To assist in the development of the cultural identity of the Kurdish people and the Kurdish language throughout the world; to establish, promote and maintain media facilities and resources to educate and inform Kurdish people; and to work for the relief of poverty and suffering amongst the Kurdish people.

http://www.tbsjournal.com/merrifield.html

Naturally, MED-TV’s broadcasts reached Turkey, even to “The Southeast,” but what is more is that everything MED-TV stood for, all of its aims, all of its programming aimed at the heart of the founding ideology of the Turkish state, with its denial of the existence of Kurds and its policies of cultural genocide, so MED-TV had to be stamped out–or should I say “smashed”–within the “territorial integrity” of the Turkish state as well as abroad. Turkish authorities destroyed satellite dishes, threatened anyone willing to deal MED-TV to the public, and cut off electricity during MED-TVs broadcast hours as part of its domestic campaign to silence the Kurdish voice.

These kinds of tactics were really only fit for Turkish domestic consumption since most residents of the Turkish state are used to them. Westerners, on the other hand, tend to take a dim view of this kind of behavior. To help the bitter pill of censorship go down the international throat a little easier, Turkey had to use a little sugar. They presented themselves as The Victim ® of “terrorist” activity, the definition of terrorist being, as always, PKK. This was the justification for the international campaign of silence.

The air war began with Turkey pressuring the British government to revoke MED-TVs license. In the meantime, just for good measure, Turkey began to jam MED-TVs broadcasts and the chase was on, with MED-TV shifting broadcast frequencies to avoid jamming:

A Kurdish satellite TV station is launching a major campaign to combat what it alleges is the persistent interference of its transmissions by the Turkish Government.

Med-TV says it is considering taking the issue to the European Court of Human Rights and has won the backing of the anti-censorship pressure group, Article 19.

Based in London, the channel’s chief editor, Diler Akrei, said: “Since 9 October the broadcasting of Med-TV was interrupted by jamming.

“Technicians checked and said the disruptive signals were generated in Turkey, probably from a military base.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/193529.stm

In a letter to the Director General of Eutelsat, one of the satellite companies which carried MED-TV, the Kurdish Language and Linguistics Committee made the following statement:

It is, thus, with much regret that we hear once again about Turkey’s continuing efforts to jam the channel. Indeed Turkey’s policy and practice of censorship and undemocratic acts does not surprise us. In that country as many as 20 million Kurdish citizens are deprived of the right to broadcast in Kurdish and to teach Kurdish to their children.

What is surprising is the Turkish government’s insistence on globalizing censorship by using advanced jamming technology. In the free world no one can imagine a state willingly engaging in systematically smashing receiving equipment, cutting off electricity to entire villages during a channel’s air-time, and arresting and torturing reporters. But these acts do take place in Turkey against the Kurds watching the Kurdish Med-TV.

http://www.cogsci.ed.ac.uk/~siamakr/Kurdish/Kurd_lal/LETTER/letteraug97.html

In a free world, indeed. . .

The issue was debated in the British parliament, and it is from there that we can learn the practical effect of MED-TV on the ground in Kurdistan:

When I went to Diyarbakir and Mardin in December 1995 for the Turkish general election, I inquired particularly whether that TV station was being received and what was the public response. I was told that the viewers were positively rapturous. Old people had wept for joy after such a long period of cultural starvation. For all, it was a new window on the world and, what is more, in their own language. The poorest families clubbed together to buy sets and satellite dishes.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199798/ldhansrd/vo970718/text/70718-08.htm
That page from the British parliament is an excellent read all the way through, including those parts arguing the question of “terrorism.”

In the end, MED-TV was shut down in April, 1999 when the British Independent Television Commission revoked its license. This was a political decision that created a dangerous precedent, not only for Kurdish broadcasting but for free speech itself. Following closely the closure of MED-TV came Medya TV, which began regular broadcasting in July, 1999 from Paris. With the precedent already set by the closure of MED-TV, Medya TV broadcasts came to a screeching halt in February, 2004, at the instigation of the Kemalist state:

The transmission licence of Medya TV, which had been broadcasting since 30 July 1999, has been revoked by CSA, (the French Licensing Authority), on the grounds that it was the successor organisation to Med TV. The station¹s lawyers appealed against the decision, but this morning the French Appeal Court confirmed the decision of the CSA. News of the judgement was given to the Paris office of Medya TV today.

Together with the judgement, an order from the Appeal Court was served on ABSAT, the satellite operator, instructing it to cease transmission immediately. The broadcaster was thus immediately silenced without even the chance to make a statement to its audience.

http://home.cogeco.ca/~kurdistan1/15-2-04-france-closes-media-tv.htm

Roj TV began broadcasting from Denmark in February, 2004, as Medya TV was shut down and now, at the end of 2005, Roj TV and the Danish government are facing the same fascists who wish to silence the voice of Kurdish freedom. At this point, the Danish government is standing firm against the Turkish state and considers that this issue is one of the right to free speech. Additionally, Danish police have been investigating while Danish broadcasting authorities determined at the beginning of the year that Roj TV is not guilty of any of the Turkish accusations. The following are links to this latest news:

http://www.krg.org/articles/article_detail.asp?LangNr=12&LNNr=28&RNNr=70&ArticleNr=7516

http://euobserver.com/9/20357

http://kurdistanobserver.servehttp.com/nov/21-11-05-us-calls-denmark-shut-down-roj-tv.htm

The last link is to an article that shows the US government has also begun to pressure Denmark over the issue of free speech, with the US taking the side of the Turkish state, as it has done for decades in spite of the fact that the US State Department’s own annual reports on the human rights abuses of the Turkish state generally print out to some 50 or 60 pages, and include Turkey’s domestic free speech violations. I guess the US government doesn’t bother to read its own reports.

What does it mean then, when the US claims its desire to spread democracy through the Middle East and goes to the expense of some 2,000 American lives to pay for this end yet it encourages censorship, violating that very foundation of democracy–the right to free speech? Is it a warped democracy, devoid of free speech, for which so many Americans have died?

I mentioned a second component to the issue of Roj TV and that component would be the feeble attempts by the Turkish government to initiate Kurdish-language broadcasting within Turkey, under the ever watchful eye of the authorities in the form of the Turkish Radio and Television High Council (RTUK). Undoubtedly the impetus for creating Kurdish-language broadcasting comes from the fact of Turkey’s desires for EU accession but the fact is also that Kurdish-language broadcasting abroad has also prodded the Turkish government to consider the issue. The Turkish state must reason that since Kurds are determined to have their own broadcasting–as the adventure in European-based Kurdish broadcasting proves–then the Turkish state should control it. The Turkish state also knows it must make some attempt in the matter to try to satisfy the Copenhagen Criteria.

Why do I characterize the Turkish government’s efforts at Kurdish-language broadcasting as feeble? Am I merely a malcontent? An ingrate? No, the fact is that:

The Regulation on Broadcasting in Traditionally Used Languages and Dialects on Radio and TV Stations provides that radio and televisions broadcasts in traditionally used languages are allowed provided that they are approved by the Radio and Television High Council (RTUK), and that radio broadcasts do not extend 60 minutes per day for a total of five hours a week and television broadcasts do not extend 45 minutes each day for a total of four hours per week (HRFT Jan. 2004; MRG July 2004, 19). According to Article 11 of the regulation, “only the state channel and the national private channels can broadcast in these languages” until such a time when “a survey about traditionally used languages is complete” (ibid.).

http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/research/ndp/ref/?action=view&doc=tur42658e

But this reasoning only makes one wonder, why should the state control all broadcasting?

“Even if it is commendable that the state media are involved in the project, why are they the only ones to be allowed to broadcast Kurdish shows?” Kaya asked during an interview with AFP. “Private and local radio and television should be just as free to do the same.”

http://home.cogeco.ca/~observer/27-12-02-kurds-struggle-for-their-voice.html
Two additional restrictions on Kurdish-language broadcasting, as the Turkish state would control it, include bans on educational and children’s programming. These are not permitted to Kurds at all (Note: the next link is a .pdf download. If you do not wish to download, you can skip it.).

http://www.khrp.org/news/pr2004/OSCE%20submission%202004%20Warsaw.doc

Such restrictions violate freedom of speech and, as a result, I consider them feeble. . . at best.

Before ending, I wish to say something about PKK. I do not consider PKK to be a “terrorist” organization per se and I think this for many reasons, not the least of which is that very, very few outside the Kurdish situation ever bother to consider the actions of the terrorist Turkish state against the Kurdish people when they condemn PKK, which means that they are contaminated with the hypocrisy that has permitted the Turkish state to commmit atrocity after atrocity. The PKK has been a natural progression of the Kurdistan national movement as well as a natural progression of Turkish policies. It has had an immense influence on Kurdish nationalism and the way that Kurds think politically. If there were to be a purge of all outward signs of PKK, such a purge would never remove PKKs influence.

As a result, it doesn’t matter if anyone hates PKK, loves PKK or remains indifferent to PKK. Its influence is lasting and has contributed to the shaping of the Kurdish movement as it is today and as it will be in the future.

In the meantime, all Kurdish eyes and those of friends of Kurds are focused on Denmark, with the hope that this tiny European country will continue to stand up to the Turkish bully and its American companion for the sake of freedom of speech. I am placing my hope in Denmark and her people. After all, their ancestors were the Vikings. If anyone can stand up to the Turks, it is the children of the Vikings.

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