Why is Turkey suppressing the Kurdish communities?

Kurdish publics:
On the representation of the Kurdish conflict in the media

Matthias Loretan, head of the seminar, lecturer on ethics in media communication


With this special dossier, the editors of Medienheft are publishing the results of a seminar under the title “Kurdish publics” at the Institute for Journalism and Communication Studies at the University of Freiburg Ue. Under the direction of the lecturer, students have processed the results of their disputes with the Kurdish public into a website. The publication of the research as well as selected seminar papers on this website are an expression of an initial, leading engagement with the Kurdish culture and the conflict caused by its oppression. The students familiarized themselves with the topic using methods of interpretation, criticism of ideology, journalistic research and scientific analysis. With the publication of the website they try to document the results and to make a contribution to equitable intercultural understanding.

 

Oppressed public in Turkey

Counter-publicity and propaganda by the PKK

Internet and satellite television as forums for communication in exile

Presentation of the Kurdish conflict to the Swiss public

Kurdish cinema: Films by and about Kurds

Goals and method of the seminar
 

“Kurdish publics” - the title is programmatic. The formulation in the plural refers to a confusing and contradicting network of current discourses by, with and about Kurds. What contributions do these discourses make so that Kurds can articulate their cultural and political self-image and represent it in the respective publics with equal opportunities?


Oppressed public in Turkey

In your homeland The Kurds live as minorities in an area that is divided among different states: especially Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Kurdish culture or the public cannot focus on its own (national) state. The attempts by the Kurds towards cultural self-understanding or even towards political self-determination are viewed with suspicion by the states concerned, assessed as a threat to their state sovereignty and fought with political and military force.

On the website of the seminar, the development of the Kurdish conflict is exemplified using the example of Turkey observed. The Kurdish crisis there intensified significantly when, after the First World War, Kemal Ataturk built the Turkish nation-state according to the modern European model. On the one hand, modern Turkey strives for a free market economy, democratic self-determination and the rule of law organization of society. On the other hand, the Turkish nationalist interpretation of this “civilization program” leads to a policy of assimilation which denies non-Turkish minorities an independent cultural identity and denies them the right to cultural and political autonomy. According to the currently valid Turkish constitution, no one may be treated differently based on language, race, gender, worldview or religion. In Turkey, this principle is understood as the mandate of the state to reduce existing ethnic and religious inequalities or to prevent the creation of an ethnic group. In the context of these synchronizing tendencies of modern civilization, the controversial debates about religion, ethnicity and language become explosive. The website presents studies that show how the Turkish state suppresses opposition media (report by "Reporters Without Borders" from 1993) and how it restricts the facilities of the Kurdish public (human rights and special laws in Turkey). A separate chapter is devoted to the question of how women experience the Kurdish conflict and how they articulate their interests.

 

Counter-publicity and propaganda by the PKK

The suppression of Kurdish culture and autonomy in Turkey resulted in various Forms of resistance: from civil disobedience to the formation of publics in the underground to fighting with military means. Since the mid-80s, the Kurdish Workers' Party PKK one of the most important forces of the Kurdish resistance, its leader Abdullah Öcalan became a symbol of the political and military liberation struggle. By dramatizing the Kurdish conflict through militant actions, the PKK was able to mobilize the attention of the international media public and turn the smoldering crisis into news value and thus an international item on the agenda. In its ideology, the PKK followed Marxist-Leninist principles and understood Kurdistan as a Turkish colony that had to be liberated and revolutionized through armed struggle. The PKK thus pursued a similar policy of political and economic modernization based on the European model as the Turkish government, but with different omens. In recent years, however, the PKK has moved away from the demand for an independent Kurdish state and from Marxist-Leninist internationalism. The Turkish state has not yet responded to the various PKK offers to resolve the conflict by peaceful or political means. For the hardliners in the governing parties, there is no Kurdish crisis in the strong, centralized, unitary state, only a terrorism problem. Nationalist circles interpret the PKK's ceasefire offers only as an admission of defeat. They exploit Öcalan's arrest as a propaganda success for Turkey. After all, the pictures of Öcalan tied up aroused the feeling of collective humiliation among the Kurds and, at least for a short time, were able to arouse the world's public interest in the Kurds.


Internet and satellite television as forums for communication in exile

An important part of the Kurdish public is educated in the exile. The cultural and political leeway of the Kurds who fled to the western Turkish cities is limited. Until recently, Kurdish organizations such as the PKK in particular used neighboring countries such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon to set up bases for political and military training and for armed struggle. The largest Kurdish colony Exiles lives in European states like in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland. From their exile they support and finance the political and military struggle. With their commitment in exile they are helping to ensure that the Kurdish conflict is perceived in the international media. A typical example of this were the peaceful and militant demonstrations in 1999 with which the Kurds protested against the arrest and kidnapping of Öcalan in the most important European cities. - The Kurds use cross-border media technologies such as satellite television and the Internet to build up those forms of cultural and political publicity in exile that are denied them in their homeland. They consistently use the press, the Internet and satellite television to collect the Kurds in the diaspora, to keep contact with the people in their countries of origin and to create a sustainable counter-public for the concerns of the Kurds internationally.

Presentation of the Kurdish conflict to the Swiss public

With their external image or their perception from outside, the media in third countries that are not directly involved in the Kurdish conflict can make an important contribution so that (1) the crisis is not forgotten internationally, (2) news from sources that are as independent as possible remain available, ( 3) Connections are analyzed and (4) developments are interpreted with regard to peaceful and understanding-oriented solutions. With content analyzes, students examined the Presentation of the Kurdish conflict in selected Swiss newspapers like the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the Tages-Anzeiger, the Berner Zeitung, the Bund, the Freiburger Nachrichten and the tabloid Blick. They presented the results of their analyzes to the relevant editorial offices in order to discuss the results with them and to get to know the possibilities and limits of international reporting in the respective editorial offices. During the periods examined, the first half of 1999 and 2000, the Swiss newspapers gave a lot of space to the Kurdish crisis. The high level of attention is explained by the dramatic and media-effective escalation of the smoldering conflict through Öcalan's arrest and the trial against the PKK chief. Otherwise, it is above all the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and the Berner Bund, which, as quality newspapers, have the space and resources to continuously journalise the long-term smoldering Kurdish conflict. The Tages-Anzeiger and the Berner Zeitung mainly take up events and analyze them from various aspects using examples. When selecting and processing the news, in addition to the importance of the event, news values ​​such as closeness and concern, especially for the tabloid Blick, play an important role. This finding also applies, to a lesser extent, to all other newspapers, with the exception of the NZZ. Due to the regionalist-moralizing abbreviation, the Bouelvard newspaper and the letters to the editor perceive the Kurdish conflict primarily as a violent domestic disturbance of the peace, for which they obviously show little understanding.

How can European media adequately inform their publics about the "distant" and smoldering Kurdish conflict so that Citizens take political responsibility and recognize possible courses of action. Beyond the domestic political consternation, beyond the distant description of the crisis as a premodern conflict between foreign, rival tribes that should only be civilized in a capitalist or socialist way Jörg Dietziker to draw attention to historical and current relationships. The freelance journalist shows the links between the Kurdish crisis and political developments in Switzerland: (1) Together with the Bern Declaration, he participates in an international campaign against the GAP project. With the help of Swiss technology, an international consortium with the support of the Turkish government is building a huge dam project in the middle of the Kurdish settlement area. With the ability to regulate the water in the dams, Turkey has with the CAP an extortionate means of pressure on the neighboring states that are dependent on this water. In Switzerland, Dietziker and the Bern Declaration their campaign against the state assuming the export risk guarantee, thus making Swiss links with the GAP a political item on the agenda. (2) In addition to criticizing arms exports to Turkey, Dietziker tries to show the connection between Swiss asylum policy, which seems helplessly complaining about the increasing flow of refugees, and the policy of development cooperation, in which Switzerland could make a contribution to the stabilization of the region concerned.

Kurdish cinema: Films by and about Kurds

The interest in Kurdish cinema required patience in a double sense. On the one hand, researching sources and films turned out to be extremely tedious. The status of the research is therefore documented in detail on the website. With the permission of the author, a text by Martin Schaub is also published, which appeared in the magazine of the Zürcher Tages-Anzeer in 1982 shortly before Yilmaz Güney's death. For the theatrical release of "Yol" Schaub interprets Güney's last work as a legacy of the Turkish-Kurdish actor and film author. - On the other hand, the films of this poor and archaic cinema prove to be bulky. It has no state funding or infrastructure and has to defend itself against state censorship and other forms of harassment, especially in Turkey. As a “Turkish” filmmaker, Güney took this path. In an interview with Schaub, shortly before his death in exile in Europe, Güney explains how much cunning and strength his method cost him. - Today there is a group of filmmakers around the Mesopotamian cultural center in Istanbul who use documentary and fictional means to authentically express the experiences and sufferings of the Kurds. Kazim Oz designs in his half-hour film "Ax" ("The Earth") a poetically encoded, visually powerful elegy about an old man who was left behind in a destroyed Kurdish village.

He has an astonishingly diverse range of references to the Kurds Swiss film on. Two Kurdish filmmakers in exile in Switzerland are presented with short filmographies: Esen Isik and Ayten Mutlu. - The only Swiss feature film to be awarded an Oscar, “Journey of Hope” by Xavier Koller (1989) uses the emotional means of narrative cinema to tell how a Kurdish farmer sets off on an arduous journey into exile in Switzerland and loses his child and all hope in the process. - A year before Hollywood awards Koller's politically correct fable about a so-called economic refugee, travel Erich Schmid e.g. to Turkey to get on with their political work "Confessions in Mamak" Document the mass trials of political prisoners and their statements about torture and other ill-treatment. - 1993 portray Dorothea Keist and Christina Karrer in "Jiyana me - Our Life" four Kurdish women: a farmer who has been driven from her farms, a doctor engaged in politics, a PKK political activist in exile in Basel, a partisan during her military training. In their different contexts, they tell about their lives and reflect on their struggle for their own freedom and that of their people. - "Sertschawan - Welcome to my eyes" (1992) is probably one of the most beautiful films about an approach to Kurdish culture because of his documentary patience. Your authors, Hans Storm and Beatrice Leuthold, turn away from the television reports that fixate death and suffering and seek life in the Kurdish villages. With their cumbersome film equipment, they do not steal any images from the community with their vulnerable balance of nature and culture, but give the people enough time to be in front of the camera in order to then show the viewers their pictures, their memories and their fairy tales give.

Goals and method of the seminar

The Institute for Journalism and Communication Science at the University of Freiburg Ue leads to the deepening of the lecture “Ethics of Media Communication”. since 1990 has held a block seminar in the summer semester. It is dedicated to the reflection of the media and their actors in the filmmaking of a selected country or a selected group of countries (89: USA, 90: Poland and GDR, 91: Italy, 93: Switzerland, 94: France, 99: urban publics). When dealing with journalistic models in films, various cultural mentalities and journalistic peculiarities can be observed, but ethical-existential and aesthetic dimensions of normative conflicts can also be worked out.

In recent years, the topics of the seminar have focused on film and media cultures in the so-called Third World or in emerging countries: 95: War reporting using the example of Bosnia, 96: Latin America, 97: West Africa, 98: Algeria, 00: Kurds. The focus of the studies shifted away from the professional actors of modern media systems (the reporters and editors in the respective countries) towards the cultural self-image of the respective societies and the structures of their public communication. The films were used as authentic sources for dialogue with other "foreign" cultures. The respective cinematographic self-image was compared with reflections of the corresponding society in European and American films as well as with reporting, especially in the Swiss media. The comparisons of these findings led to a critical preoccupation with the world information system and with the structures of international understanding.

With the seminar "Kurdish publics", the Institute for Journalism and Communication Studies aims to interest students in other cultures, to familiarize them with methods of an open approach and to make an exemplary contribution to intercultural understanding. The publication of the results of the research as well as selected seminar papers on this website are an expression of a first, leading engagement with the Kurdish culture and the conflict caused by its suppression. Before the seminar, neither the lecturer nor the students had in-depth expert knowledge on the subject. They used methods of interpretation, criticism of ideology, journalistic research and scientific analysis to familiarize themselves with the topic.With the publication of the website they try to document the results and to make a modest contribution to equitable intercultural understanding.

We owe our thanks to our companions who have relevant biographical or professional experience. They gave us access to better understanding and protected us from all too naive and absorbing interpretations: Ayten Mutlu led the seminar with me. The Kurdish woman in exile in Switzerland completed her studies at our institute in the mid-1990s and now works as a journalist and filmmaker. Ayla Drüssel is currently studying at our institute. The Turkish woman campaigned for political prisoners in her home country and is now also living in exile in Switzerland. Jörg Dietziker works as a freelance journalist for a fair solution to the Kurdish conflict.