A Primer in Turkey, Turks, Kurds, Arabs, and Syriacs: Alef FM starts broadcasting in Mardin

MARDIN / TUR ABDIN, Turkey – Multi-cultural and multi-ethnic radio station Alef FM has started broadcasting in Turkey’s southeaster city of Mardin. The new radio station Alef FM has its studios in Mardin city and will broadcast in Kurdish, Arabic, and Syriac in addition to Turkish. Alef FM has as its slogan ‘The place where cultures meet’. Live broadcasts are only allowed in Turkish.

According to Alef FM Managing Director Soner Tufan to The Independent Türkçe, Alef FM received permission from the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) through help from the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) after they started upgrading an old radio station in Mardin at the end of 2018. The application process was quite a hassle but during the long application period trial broadcasts started in the middle of 2019.

The RTÜK radio license does not allow for Alef FM to broadcasts live other than in Turkish – Alef FM will have to hand in a translation of every non-Turkish program – because RTÜK does not allow live broadcasts in languages and dialects other than Turkish. Tufan said that Alef FM will,

“definitely stay away from politics. We will definitely not include politics in our broadcasts. Although it is not as it should be, politics is being discussed enough everywhere else.”

“The language of politics in Turkey lacks empathy and is very hurtful. Therefore, we will maintain an in-depth broadcasting policy on uniting people, emphasizing and revealing commonalities, forgotten traditions and ways of thinking, and cultural richness. We will introduce the cultural richness of Mardin. In short, we can say that it will be more cultural and infotainment.”

Alef FM will broadcast in the four languages as the license allows for one hour of broadcasting per day in Syriac, Kurdish, and Arabic. Only after approval of the translation will the programs be allowed to be broadcast. Tufan said to The Independent that Alef FM will broadcast in Kurdish for one hour, Arabic for one hour, and Syriac for 15-20 minutes a day.

Mardin (of Syriac origin and meaning “Castle”) is one of the oldest cities of Beth Nahrin (Mesopotamia). Its city view still has churches present. The Syriac Orthodox Mor Hananyo monastery or Dayr- al-Zafaran (est. 493 AD) is nearby. In its long history Mardin has hosted many cultures and languages and many civilizations. In its long history it has seen many peoples come and go.

Today it hosts Kurds, Arabs, Turks, and Syriacs. The Syriac population of Mardin however has diminished significantly since the Sayfo Genocide of 1915 and its long aftermath. Only some tens of Syriac families remain.

Developments just Across the Border

Whether Turkish authorities have allowed Alef FM to broadcast in Kurdish, Syriac, and Arabic because of the developments of recent years just across the border in the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) is unknown.

In the DAA Kurds and Syriacs have opened own TV- and Radio stations and own schools. In case of the Syriacs, radio station Suroyo FM started broadcasting in early 2020. Suroyo FM broadcasts mostly in Syriac and Arabic. Maybe related is that in the DAA, Kurds have taken over many state schools from the Baathist regime and introduced curricula in their own language. In case of the Syriacs, this only succeeded with regard to the Syriac curriculum in lower grade school classes after Syriacs in the Gozarto and Zalin (Qamishli) opposed the introduction of a Syriac curriculum on their school.

In recent years Mardin Artuklu University also allowed for inclusion of Syriac language and culture in its faculties. As with Alef FM, maybe the same censorship applies at Artuklu as in a recent study the Artuklu scientists referred to the Syriacs as a “religious minority” and not a distinct people with an own language, culture and history and associated rights.