The censorship of Kurdish-speaking guests on a daytime broadcast on the mainstream TV channel ATV, known for its closeness to the government, drew a backlash on social media in Turkey this week.
A popular daytime TV show presented by Esra Erol on Thursday hosted a woman named Besime who had come to the show to meet her daughter whom she had not seen for a long time. Rushing to hug her daughter, Besime started speaking Kurdish and her voice was immediately silenced.
In the part heard before the sound was cut off, Besime said, “Kutkê te hene. Qurbana te me. Kechka mi,” meaning “You have children. My dear daughter. Come home.”
“I know that you feel sorry for your daughter. But I want to be able to understand what you’re saying too,” the host Erol said to Besime after censoring her Kurdish words.
Following the programme, Diyarbakır (Amed) bar association described ATV’s censorship of the Kurdish language as “racist behaviour” and lodged a criminal complaint against those responsible for the show.
The censorship of Kurdish or Zazaki*-speaking guests on Turkey’s mainstream daytime television programs is not new.
Three years ago, in another programme broadcast on ATV, another daytime TV celebrity, Müge Anlı, took a Zazaki-speaking woman off the air, saying, “There is no point in broadcasting something we do not understand.”
Didem Aslan Yılmaz, the host of a programme on SHOW TV last year, did the same when a guest started speaking in Kurdish, saying “She should speak Turkish, this is the Republic of Turkey. We do not know that language.”
The programme hosts argue that the censorship of Kurdish is a precaution on the grounds that speeches in languages they do not know may contain insults or profanity. However, in the same programmes, speakers of non-Turkish languages other than Kurdish are not muted, instead, they are allowed to express themselves and what they say is then translated.
After the 1980 military coup, the Kurdish language was officially banned in Turkey. People who spoke, broadcasted or sang in Kurdish were imprisoned.
During a short-lived peace process between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) which ended in 2015, the ban on Kurdish was lifted as a part of the reforms ensuring the cultural and political rights of Kurds.
Some state schools started teaching Kurdish as a subject and a state-run Kurdish TV channel was opened.
However, it is still illegal for either state or private schools to use Kurdish as the language of education, and particularly after the collapse of the peace process, censorship of Kurdish on mainstream television channels has become quite common despite the absence of an official ban.
*Zazaki is a dialect of the Kurdish language spoken mainly in the northern part of Kurdistan, officially inside the Turkish border.