Is Kurdish television here to stay?

By: Martijn Kingma

Ask any given person what they are doing on their evening, and most will say watching television. However, it is all but logical that there are programs available in your language. An example to this would be Kurdish programs, but there is hope for the Kurds to have an enjoyable evening with the family on the couch.

The Kurds have lived around the Middle Eastern region and Turkey for centuries. After World War I, the Kurds were to be given an autonomous nation roughly corresponding to the dots on the map. However, the retaking of  some of these areas under Atatürk led to the Kurds being a minority in his newly founded Turkey and the nationalistic policies of this new nation state
led to severe oppression. For example, the Turkish government never in their history  referred to the Kurds as Kurds, only as  ‘Mountain Turks’, and their language as ‘unintelligible sounds’.

Recently, the Turkish government has taken a somewhat looser stance on minority languages. In 2001 the constitution was amended for accession to the EU. Changes included the right to televise and broadcast on the radio in other languages than Turkish. An interesting fact is even here the Turkish government did not name minority languages explicitly, just ‘the different languages and dialects used traditionally by the Turkish people in their daily lives.’

In June 2004 the state television in Turkey, TRT, began broadcasting in Kurdish on a specialized channel , albeit only news and for a very short time. Another big step forwards was set in 2006, when the Turkish Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) ruled that private broadcasters were allowed to make programs on news, music or culture. These broadcasters were given a time limit of 45 minutes per day on the television and Turkish subtitles were mandatory. 2009 marked the dawn of the golden age for Kurdish television, for the TRT began broadcasting 24 hours a day and furthermore unlimited broadcasting rights were granted to private channels.

Nowadays there are hundreds of broadcasters in different varieties of Kurdish. Why this many?  According to Liza, a 16 year old girl of Kurdish decent currently living in Leeuwarden, because each political party has their own channel on which they portray their own ‘version’ of the news and propagandize their opinions. There are some channels, like NRT, that try to be as neutral as possible while maintaining a Kurdish identity.

Another reason for the vast amount of channels is the fact that there is not one uniform Kurdish language. There is Kurmanji in the northern parts of Kurdistan (mostly Turkey) and Sorani in the Iraqi autonomous region of Kurdistan. These differ greatly in not only idiom but also in the fact that Kurmanji uses the Latin alphabet whereas Sorani uses a Persian one (not Arabic as there are in fact vowels written in Sorani!). Liza says that as a Sorani speaker, she can not understand Kurmanji for about 80% of the time.

(Channel RÜDAW showing the weather in Kurdistan using their own interpretation of Kurdistan.)

The language policies of the Kurdish channels are quite varied. Some, like NRT and Kurdmax, let you choose between various different audio tracks . Another way of using Kurdish in television is by alternating between Kurmanji and Sorani. This policy is used by the channel KTV, which presents news items in both varieties. An interesting fact Liza pointed out is that some channels  do not use the conventional borders when presenting  the weather, but rather how they think Kurdistan should be.

Looking back, the Kurdish have come a long way in recent years regarding television. Even though there are a lot of different channels with different ideologies, the language is preserved and passed on through television broadcasts and some channels even promote ‘bilingualism’ in the two main varieties of Kurdish. This certainly is something the Kurds living in Turkey in 1960 wouldn’t even have dreamed of.


Bayir, D. (2016). Minorities and Nationalism in Turkish Law. Routledge. Pages 169-174