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Turkey gears up for Kurdish-language TV

 AFP - Turkish authorities hope the new station will help erode the ROJ TV.

Turkey's public broadcaster will on January 1 inaugurate a television channel in Kurdish, a language banned in the country until the early 1990s, marking a fresh milestone in Ankara's fence-mending efforts towards the restive Kurdish community. 

The new station, which will be Channel Six of the state-run Turkish Radio and Television (TRT), will broadcast round the clock in Kurdish "without imposing the state ideology while offering comprehensive informational programmes," according to TRT director Ibrahim Sahin. 

The channel, whose preparations continue behind closed doors, will initially begin broadcasting in Kurmanci, the dialect spoken by the majority of Turkey's Kurds. 

The ambitious project will face tough competition from Kurdish-language channels based abroad which have a solid audience in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, where, despite rampant poverty, satellite dishes are an invariable fixture of the landscape. 

Turkish authorities hope the new station will help erode the popularity of the militant Denmark-based ROJ TV, which continues to broadcast despite Ankara's vigorous protests to Copenhagen that the channel is a mouthpiece of the Turkeys' separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). 

Channel Six has set the bar high, hunting, according to the Turkish press, for high-calibre Kurdish stars to host some of its programmes such as singers Ciwan Haco and Sivan Perver, whose records once circulated clandestinely in Turkey. 

Ankara had long restricted Kurdish cultural rights, fearing that such freedoms would play into the hands of the PKK, which took up arms for self-rule in the southeast in 1984, sparking a conflict that has claimed about 44,000 lives. 

But eager to boost its bid to join the European Union and under growing criticism that heavy-handed policies serve only to radicalise the Kurds, Ankara has undertaken a series of taboo-breaking moves in the 2000s. 

Legal reforms paved the way for TRT to launch 30-minute weekly broadcasts in Kurdish in 2004, followed two years later by the green light for private broadcasters to follow suit. 

The reforms set a landmark in the Kurdish struggle for cultural freedoms, but were widely criticised as shallow and far from meeting demands for genuine freedom of expression. 

And even before going to air, the new channel has been denounced by activists as a sop to the Kurds from a government which has no serious intention of resolving the Kurdish problem. 

Kurdish lawmaker Sirri Sakik dismissed the project as a "cosmetic" gesture ahead of local elections in March, in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) hopes to take control of major Kurdish-held municipalities in the southeast. Turkey Kurds say Erdogan's economic package not enough to solve Kurdish issue. 

"There is no political debate about this channel. The government wants to use it for propaganda," Sakik, a senior member of the Democratic Society Party, Turkey's main Kurdish political movement, told AFP. 

He charged that the AKP, which enjoys notable popularity among the Kurds, "has done nothing to resolve the Kurdish problem" since it came to power in 2002, pointing at tougher nationalist rhetoric from Erdogan in recent months. 

The prime minister triggered a wave of criticism in November when he said in comments about Kurdish unrest at the time that Turkey has "one nation, one flag and one state" and pointedly added that "those who do not agree should go." 

Since 1984 the Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) took up arms for self-rule in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey (Turkey-Kurdistan). A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels. Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. 

The PKK demanded Turkey's recognition of the Kurds' identity in its constitution and of their language as a native language along with Turkish in the country's Kurdish areas, the party also demanded an end to ethnic discrimination in Turkish laws and constitution against Kurds, ranting them full political freedoms. 

The PKK is considered a 'terrorist' organization by Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list. 

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations. 

Turkey has never, and still does not, recognize the Kurdistan Region Government (KRG) and refuses to meet with its representatives in any official capacity. That reflects Ankara's fear that any international respect shown to the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region would only embolden Turkey's own large Kurdish minority to seek similar home-rule status.

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