TV As A New Political Voice

A Kurdish Immigrant living in Denmark at a protest
against Roj-TV being brought to court. 

Modern mass media can be a vehicle for political mobilization and a platform for political discussion. For the Turkish Kurds, mass media has become a means of widely disseminating ideas and articulating dissenting opinions strictly banned in Kurdish regions of the Middle East. As a people who find themselves spread among various countries in the Middle East, mass media provides a means of liberating themselves from the state's suppression of their cultural identity. Mass media has enabled the Turkish Kurdish population to gain a heightened political awareness, engage in more political discussion, and articulate a representative voice.


  In response to government censorship of the media, most heavily in Turkey but also in Iraq, Syria, and Iran, Kurds in the diaspora developed media outlets in European countries that have allowed them greater freedom of expression. Taking its name from the Medes, the ancient name for the Kurdish people, Med-TV was established in London, England, in March 1995. The first-ever TV station broadcasting in the Kurdish language-- Sorani and Kurmanji dialects as well as Zaza, English, Arabic, Assyrian, and Turkish-- Med-TV offered a plethora of programming ranging from children’s entertainment, music, and dramas to news and political shows. TV became a means of bringing the Kurdish community together and constructing a collective identity. Ownership of a TV was not merely a material possession; it was a symbol of belonging to the larger Kurdish community that had finally gained a voice. The television became “an ear to the homeland”.

Med-TV became more than a way to unite the Kurdish people culturally; it acted as a political statement challenging the mainstream media and policies. Through the provision of information that addressed the changing issues affecting their lives, a political consciousness was revived. The use of Kurdish dialects was an attempt to mitigate Kurdish assimilation, which had been exacerbated by the state owned media. 

The distance of Med-TV's studios from the Kurdistan region has afforded this media outlet the autonomy to choose the topics it covers. Because it often covers controversial issues, the channel has lost its licensing both in the UK and in France, and is in a perpetual state of uncertainty. Between 1999 and 2004, the perception that it was a vehicle for inflammatory messages and connected to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) forced Med-TV to move from London to France and eventually to Denmark, where it was rebranded as Roj-TV in March 2004. In addition to attempting to ban the station within Turkey, the Turkish government has lobbied the countries from which the channel broadcasts about the dangers of the channel and demanded that it be banned and ordered to cease broadcasting. A Turkish Foreign Ministry official stated, “We know for sure that Roj-TV is part of the PKK, a terrorist organization.... [The PKK] is listed as a terrorist organization by the EU. Denmark is a member of the EU, and we would expect that the broadcasting organization of a terrorist group would not be given a free pass”. However, Roj-TV says that the Turkish government merely seeks to block the station's uncensored discussion of the Kurdish question and to silence its opinions about the Kurds and the government in Turkey. This dispute places the countries from which Roj-TV broadcasts in a sticky dilemma involving diplomatic relationships, the freedom of speech, and the history of the strained relationship between the Turkish government and ethnic Kurds.

Following internal reform of protections for minorities in January 2009, Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan inaugurated a 24-hour Kurdish-language channel under the auspices of Turkish State Television. Some Kurdish critics argued that the new channel is merely an attempt to counter Roj-TV by providing an alternative network the Turkish government can control. This sentiment makes it difficult for the channel to recruit native Kurdish speakers to produce programming and causes Kurdish musicians who perform on the network to be branded as traitors to the Kurdish people.

Ultimately, the use of mass media has forced both the Turkish government and the Kurdish people to revisit the Kurdish problem. TV and other media enabled the Kurds to enjoy free expression of political ideas and to build a sense of community, and identity. Consequently, the Turkish government’s campaign against Kurdish media abroad has helped bring Turkey's oppression of Kurdish identity to the attention of the international community, Turkish society, and particularly the Kurdish people.


Articles referenced can be found at :1)     David Romano's Modern Communications Technology in Ethnic Nationalist Hands: The Case of the Kurds: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3233172 .
2) Nik Gowing's The Media Dimension1:TV and The Kurds:http://www.jstor.org/stable/40396307

Ariel Brickman

Diwaniyya Contributor

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