Ever heard of a weekly that is only published once a month? In Turkey, there is one. Hüseyin Aykol, editor in chief of daily paper Özgür Gündem which publishes a lot about the Kurdish issue, shows it to me: it’s called Demokratik Ulus, or “democratic nation”. It gets banned from publishing for a month practically every time it appears. But like many bans, there is a way around it.
Aykol explains why Demokratik Ulus gets such treatment: ‘In our weekly, we publish statements that we get from the PKK in the Kandil mountains. We can’t publish those in Özgür Gündem, because it would be forbidden immediately and that causes a lot of trouble. So we publish it in our weekly. That gets a publication ban for a month. A month later, we can publish it again, and in the three weeks in between we continue the weekly under another name.’
So, there is one weekly publication which publishes under four different names, changing weekly (or less often when is there is no ban): Demokratik Ulus, Demokratik Vatan (motherland), Demokratik Ülke (country) and Demokratik Modernite (modernity).
Kurdish civil society is constantly trying to find a way to create freedom for itself where the state doesn’t allow it. The biggest example of this is regional autonomy. It is still unthinkable under the current Turkish constitution, which considers it a violation of the unity of the state. At the same time, many municipalities in the Southeast are being governed by the BDP, which tries to create as much independence as possible. It’s not ‘autonomy’, but creating freedoms that are not possible yet by law. The way the weekly magazine which Hüseyin Aykol showed me is organized, is, in my eyes, also an example of creating more freedom than Turkey’s laws and judicial practice offer.
The interesting thing is that many of the things Kurds did in the past that were forbidden, were allowed in the end. Look at papers that write about the Kurdish question, or publish in Kurdish, like Özgür Gündem and Azadiya Welat. They have been forbidden and they had to be distributed to subscribers secretly. Now they are allowed (but not yet totally free) and distributed nation-wide alongside all the mainstream Turkish papers, besides still having subscribers that get their paper delivered to their doorstep. The same with Kurdish politics: Kurdish parties could never be in parliament without having found a way to get around the ten percent election threshold. The Kurdish parties have joined with independent candidates to get around that threshold.
Kurdish civil society often seems a step ahead of what the state allows or can handle. Let’s see what that means for the Kurdish press. And, for that matter, for regional autonomy.