Denmark, again? Now it's under fire for hosting Kurdish TV station.
Turkey says the satellite network Roj TV is a mouthpiece for Kurdish terrorists.
DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY — From her small apartment in this ancient city, Rabia Celikmilek has access to the entire world. A satellite dish on the roof of her crumbling brick building streams 452 TV channels, with programs from almost every continent.
But Ms. Celikmilek, a Kurd who doesn't speak Turkish, says she only watches Roj TV, a Kurdish channel based in Denmark.
"Roj TV reflects the emotions of the Kurds, our opinions. It's a mirror of the Kurds," says the mother of 10 as she watches the station's 7 p.m. news broadcast.
It's the third time a Kurdish satellite station has tried to beam news into Turkey, whose laws restrict Kurdish programming within the country. The first two were shut down. Now the Turkish government is lobbying Denmark to rein in Roj, accusing the two-year-old station of being nothing more than a mouthpiece for Kurdish terrorists.
"We know for sure that Roj TV is part of the PKK, a terrorist organization," says a Turkish foreign ministry official, referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which battled Turkish troops during the 1980s and '90s in a bloody separatist fight that took the lives of more than 30,000. "[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."
Asked for evidence of this link, the foreign ministry official says only that Roj had released the names of slain PKK guerrillas before the Turkish authorities had released their identities, implying the station must have a direct connection with the PKK. Turkey has also accused Roj of helping incite a three-day outbreak of violent protests in the southeast earlier this month, and says it has provided the Danish government with documentation to prove the station's link to the PKK.
Denmark, meanwhile, finds itself wrapped up in yet another sticky freedom-of-the-press debate. Although nothing compared to what took place during the furor over the prophet Muhammad cartoons first printed by a Danish newspaper, Denmark's embassy in Ankara - Turkey's capital city - has been receiving a steady stream of angry letters and e-mails from Turks incensed by the country's hosting of Roj TV.
The issue even sparked a mini crisis in Copenhagen last fall, when Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan boycotted a press conference with his Danish counterpart, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, because a reporter from Roj was in the room.
"Surely [the Roj TV affair] is not something that helps to improve relations," admits Anders Christian Hoppe, Denmark's ambassador to Turkey. But Mr. Hoppe declined to comment on whether Denmark was taking any steps to investigate or shut down the station.
"The [Danish] government's position is that, just like in Turkey, this is a matter for the courts. Governments in Western countries, including Turkey, do not interfere with the courts," the ambassador adds.
"It is being investigated by the police, the government. We have been given material by the Turks and it has been very helpful." The first Kurdish satellite channel, Med TV, was licensed in Britain. But the British closed it in 1999, saying it had incited violence. The second attempt, Medya TV, was licensed by France and closed in 2004 because it was deemed to be the successor of Med TV.
Roj appears to be treading more cautiously than Med TV and Medya TV, mindful that they were shut down. But it's clear they have open access to the PKK, whose fighters and leadership are holed up in the mountains of northern Iraq. The station frequently airs footage provided by the organization of its guerrillas in action against Turkish security forces. Its news programs also feature frequent updates about imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, a reviled figure for many Turks.
Manouchehr Tahsili Zonoozi, a Kurd from Iran who is the station's general manager, acknowledges that the station maintains contact with the PKK, but says it is not controlled by it.
"We are an independent Kurdish broadcaster. Our job is to be journalists," he says, speaking by telephone from the station's studios in Denmark.
Mr. Zonoozi also rejects the Turkish claim that Roj helped incite the recent violent protests in Turkey.
"If I am going to be [blamed] for what happened in Istanbul or Diyarbakir, then you should [blame] Le Figaro for [the recent riots that] happened in France. I'm sorry, but that is rubbish," Zonoozi says.
"We are very popular, and that's hard for the governments in the region."
Until the recent introduction of reforms that are part of Turkey's push to join the European Union, local stations in the country were forbidden from broadcasting programs in Kurdish. But limits remain. Stations are only allowed to broadcast in Kurdish for four hours a week, cannot air children's programs, and must avoid "political" subjects - though it's up to managers to interpret what that means.
Deniz Gorduk, news manager of Gun TV, a local Diyarbakir station, says Roj - which, among its various programs, shows children's cartoons in Kurdish - fills a vacuum created by the Turkish government's controls.
"There are so many limits on us and that is why Roj TV is so popular," he says.
In the increasingly restive southeast of Turkey, where satellite dishes now adorn even the humblest village homes, the Turkish government's efforts to shut down Roj TV are now being added to the list of grievances. In January, more than 50 mayors from the region sent a letter to Denmark asking it to keep the station on the air.
"When Roj TV started, it was like a sun rising," says Ali, a tailor who asks that only his first name be used. "We only have Roj TV and now Turkey wants to shut it down."