Turkey will launch its first 24-hour television channel broadcasting in the once-banned Kurdish language next week in an apparent attempt to cut support for Kurdish rebels fighting for autonomy in the country’s southeast.
Analysts say the state-run news channel is aimed at taking viewers from the Kurdish Roj TV, a satellite station based in Belgium that is popular with many of the country’s estimated 14 million Kurds but has angered Turkey for broadcasting statements by rebel commanders.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, considered a terrorist organization by the US and the EU, has been fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey since 1984.
The state-run channel, which launches on Jan. 1, marks a change of policy in a country where speaking Kurdish was banned until 1991.
Under pressure from the EU to strengthen the rights of minority Kurds, state television began broadcasting documentaries and news in Kurdish in 2004 but for only about 30 minutes each week.
Turkey is seeking to weaken the rebels who have criticized the government for a lack of broadcasts in the Kurdish language, said Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst based at the Economic Policy Research Institute in Ankara and an expert on the rebels.
“Turkey is changing its policy on Kurdish language broadcasts to cut support to the rebels and create an alternative to the Roj TV,” Ozcan said. “At the same time, Turkey is meeting Kurdish demands for more cultural rights under pressure from the European Union.”
Several stations based in Iraq and Iran already broadcast in Kurdish and can be seen in Turkey, Kurdish leaders say.
However in Turkey, only state-run television will be allowed to broadcast around-the-clock in Kurdish, the language of a minority that makes up about 20 percent of Turkey’s population of more than 70 million.