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Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 19:12 GMT
Kurdish hopes rise in Turkey
A thriving market in Diyarbakir, where change is in the air

By Chris Morris in Diyarbakir

Can Radyo in the heart of Diyarbakir - the biggest city in Turkey's mainly Kurdish south-east - broadcasts announcements in Turkish. But some of the music is now Kurdish, which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.


It's easier to play our songs now
Mehmet Dalgic
Even now, to make announcements in any of the local Kurdish dialects is illegal. The station would be shut down.

And there are other unusual rules. For example, there is a list of more than 200 cassettes which are banned from the airwaves.

Can Radyo presenters must speak in Turkish
But a little freedom of expression is better than no freedom at all.

"There's been a significant relaxation over the last couple of years. It's easier to play our songs now, as long as they have no political message," says managing director Mehmet Dalgic.

"Our people are becoming calmer. They just want their culture and traditions, and that's all."

Official sensitivity is still remarkably high. Kurdish films are banned by the Ministry of Culture. And TV and radio stations are routinely forced off air for threatening the unity of the state.

Air of change


The people living here are first-class citizens of Turkey
Seyhan Bas
But on the city streets, hopes are rising. The capture and trial of the Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan, followed by his offer of peace, has changed the atmosphere.

Local people say security is less intrusive, and the police less hostile and more relaxed. Now, they wonder what might happen next.

Kurdish films are banned by the Turkish Ministry of Culture
"The territory of this country is indivisible. The people living here are first-class citizens of Turkey, and that's what they deserve," says Seyhan Bas.

"I can't force you to speak Kurdish if you're English, and you can't force me to speak English if my native language is Kurdish," Cemil Bilen says.

"This is a kind of richness. It wouldn't threaten Turkey, it would just make it stronger," he says.

Evolution not revolution

The ground is being prepared, but the state is adamantly opposed to radical change.

The president said recently that even allowing Kurdish TV broadcasts would set Turkey on the road to division.

Diyarbakir's Kurdish mayor says that Turkey is on the right road
But in town halls across the south-east, the pro-Kurdish party Hadep, which has sympathy for the aims of the PKK, has taken power for the first time.

A new breed of politician has discovered professional optimism.

Freudian Celiac, a local politician, confirms this sentiment: "We hope there will be further improvements, because I believe Turkey is on the right road now, and there's no turning back.

"A country that wants to be a member of the EU has to consider the recognition of cultural identity and rights."

Turkey is weighing up the pros and cons, as the south-east sets out its stall for peace.

But additional pressure from abroad could be counter-productive. This is a country which likes to take its own time.

Change has always been a slow incremental process in this part of the world - and no one is expecting overnight miracles.

However, they do want gestures of goodwill from the Turkish state. Some things have got better here but there's still a long way to go.

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See also:
17 Feb 99 |  Europe
Ocalan file: Timeline
22 Oct 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Ocalan fate uncertain
24 Nov 99 |  Europe
PKK commander seeks asylum in Holland
17 Nov 99 |  Europe
PKK: We will not surrender

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