Cablegate: Kurdish Language Nudges Into Prime Time

Published: Tue 4 Nov 2003 08:48 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) Summary: In a small sign that Turkey's EU reforms
are beginning to have some impact, Kurdish singer Ciwan Haco
performed on a popular prime time television show on October
25. The show's host, Hulya Avsar, herself half-Kurdish, took
pains to strike a balance between Turkish patriotism and
Kurdish cultural expression. Despite initial hesitation by
the television station, Haco interviewed only in Kurmanji
(the most widely spoken Kurdish language in Turkey), using a
translator. While no major milestone in linguistic freedom,
the 15-minute performance and interview suggests there may be
greater room to maneuver on "mother tongue" issues in the
future. End Summary.
Hulya and the Show
2. (U) Actress/singer Hulya Avsar's eponymous show featured a
rarity in Turkish broadcasting on October 25: Kurdish singing
and discussion. Avsar, a native of Edremit, is the daughter
of a Kurdish father and Turkish mother. Her highly-rated
show, sponsored by British retailers Marks & Spencer, is
popular with youth of both sexes, and some middle-aged Turks.
The show airs on Saturday evenings at 11pm on a major
Istanbul-based station, Kanal D.
3. (SBU) Kanal D producers sought to soften the impact of
inviting a Kurdish pop star to perform on the show. Poloff
learned from Haco's translator, who also appeared on the
show, that the program executives initially asked Haco to
talk with Avsar in English. Haco (a Syrian-born Kurd who
lives in Norway and speaks fluent English) refused, saying
that he was a Kurd and wished to perform and speak in
Kurmanji. Poloff contacts opined that Haco's status as a
citizen of another country may have made it easier to get
Kurmanji past nervous television executives.
Elderly Counter-balance
4. (U) Ultimately, Haco's wishes prevailed, but his
appearance was preceded by a short interview with a
105-year-old Turkish veteran of the Turkish War of
Independence. The feisty vet (who brought his bayonet with
him and discussed the three Greeks he killed with it) talked
of letting Ataturk drink water from his hands, and was a
clear counterweight to Haco's Kurmanji performance.
5. (U) Following the elderly veteran, Haco was introduced and
began by conversing with Avsar in Kurmanji. Avsar, after
somewhat nervously saying that she was in fact partially
Kurdish, spoke little herself, but recognized and used
several basic phrases. (Note: Older Turks with whom poloff
spoke said this was not the first time Hulya had taken some
risks professionally. Avsar once publicly defended Ibrahim
Tatlises, an icon of Turkish arabesk music who at one time
was banned by the government. End note.) Two Kurmanji songs
by Haco followed the interview.
6. (SBU) To date, post is not aware of any press reaction to
the Kurdish performance. Use of a "mother tongue" language,
even briefly, without major outcry, is a small step forward.
The true litmus test, however, will be the introduction of
regular "mother tongue" broadcasting, something which was
legalized as part of the 2002 EU reforms, but which has yet
to be implemented. End comment.
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