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Turkey to Launch 24-Hour, Kurdish-Language TV Channel


On New Year's Day, a new 24-hour-a-day channel will be launched that will target Turkey's estimated 15 million Kurds. The new broadcast is seen as groundbreaking considering the strict controls on the use of the Kurdish language in Turkey. Analysts see the new channel as one of the first democratic moves from the government toward a solution to the Kurdish problem.

TRT 6, the state-run channel devoted solely to Turkey's estimated 15 million or so Kurdish population. The channel will broadcast in Kurdish Farsi and Arabic.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will give addresses in Turkish, with voiceovers in Kurdish.

The 24-hour channel will air news, music and sports programs. There are also women's and children's programs. The new channel is considered by some observers as some what of a revolution for Turkey. Between 1983 and 1991 it was illegal to speak Kurdish.

Last week the channel started test broadcasting and many Kurds have already started watching. Speaking to Kurds in one of Istanbul's numerous Kurdish quarters there is a mixed response.

"If there is a Turkish broadcast there should be Kurdish one as well since there is an audience for it," a woman says.

But one man, while welcoming it , has reservations.

"This channel is late," he said. "This should have been done years before. This is good but there has to be more drastic steps to be taken. We need peace."

He's is referring to the ongoing conflict between the Turkish state and Kurdish separatists of the Kurdistan Workers Party or the PKK.

Since 1983, the conflict, centered in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey, has claimed nearly 40,000 lives. In the last year, fighting has intensified.

Throughout the year Turkish forces have regularly bombarded PKK bases in Northern Iraq, the latest earlier this week. While dozens of Turkish soldiers have been killed in recent clashes. Political scientist Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Bilgi University says in the new Kurdish channel could mark an important change in the state's mentality in fighting the PKK.

"The Turkish state has not been wise enough to break the PKK's game and so long as you remain solely on the ground of violence you cannot beat them up," said Ozel. "You need to be moving in the direction where by you are reduce the tensions between communities, and make the openings so you can actually alienate the PKK from the constituency that it obviously has in the southeast."

But some Kurdish leaders criticized the new channel saying its nothing more than a cosmetic reform aimed at securing votes in next March's local elections. The governing AK party is seeking to win the main cities in the predominantly Kurdish southeast.

Critics point out that while the state run channel uses the Kurdish language, including the letters x and w, Kurds still cannot use names containing them in state documents. And, private Kurdish radio and TV channels still face strict controls on the use of Kurdish.

Turkey's main Kurdish party, the DTP, is also facing closure by the country's constitutional court, for supporting separatism.

The success of the Turkish government's latest initiative towards its Kurdish population is being closely watched by the European Union. The EU is making Kurdish cultural rights a key membership requirement for Turkey.

Member of the European parliament's committee on Turkey, Richard Howitt, says Europe is increasingly impatient with Ankara over it commitment to membership reforms.

"We haven't in the last one two three years seen a continued momentum for the reform process," he said. "And, again, Turkey must not underestimate that it must not fail to read the signals. It has got to respond and start moving things in the right direction again or one day the train crash that has been warned about may and will happen."

The train crash Howitt is referring too is a suspension of membership talks. Experts warn if that were to happen it would probably mark the end of Turkey's EU aspirations.

Analysts say the new state-run Kurdish channel will be broadcast in Brussels. But, they point out, unless it is part of more wide-ranging reforms including allowing Kurdish to be taught in schools and universities, the new channel may end up having only symbolic value, both in Turkey and Europe.