Turkey has stopped broadcasts of ten mostly-Kurdish TV channels, including the only Kurdish children's station. Authorities said the Kurdish cartoons constituted 'separatist' activity.
Every child likes to watch cartoons, especially ones they can understand in their native language. But tens of thousands of Kurdish children in Turkey woke up Thursday morning to find broadcasting of the first and only Kurdish children's channel off air.
Using sweeping emergency powers granted in the wake of the July 15 coup bid, authorities issued a decree ordering state-run TURKSAT to halt satellite broadcast of the ten, mostly-Kurdish television channels, including Zarok (Child) TV.
Zarok TV broadcasts international favorites such as SpongeBob, The Smurfs and Garfield, in Kurdish. The channel also teaches Kurdish songs and provides other educational programming that would be found on any children's network around the world.
Dilek Demirel, Zarok TV's executive producer, told DW the channel was abruptly shut down on Wednesday night without any notice or explanation from the government.
Through lawyers, she was told broadcasting was cut because Zarok TV was a "separatist and subversive media organization." However, the government has not yet provided an official notice that would allow a legal response, she said.
"What kind of separatist activities are we involved in?" Demirel asked. "We take internationally watched cartoons and provide dubbing." She added: "We want to believe we made a mistake that we can correct, in order to get back on television."
In a country where mother-tongue education in Kurdish is not allowed in state schools, Zarok TV provided a means to educate children and preserve their native language. Turkey is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but with reservations for three articles: 17, 29 and 30.
Article 17, among other things, obliges parties to "encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous."
In the early years of his rule, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan implemented reforms that expanded Kurdish language and cultural rights. An ambitious "Kurdish opening" created optimism as private Kurdish language schools blossomed, channels like Zarok TV emerged and the state opened its own Kurdish channel.
The breakdown of a two-year ceasefire and peace process between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the state last year has led to a spike in violence and clampdown on the Kurdish movement and expressions of Kurdishness.
The Turkish government imposed a three-month state of emergency after the failed July 15 coup attempt, which the government blames on US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his followers.
Authorities have used emergency powers to purge thousands of alleged Gulen supporters and target the Kurdish movement, including thousands of teachers with alleged ties to the PKK. It has meanwhile continued its long-running attack on the media and freedom of speech.
Cem Ozdemir, the co-chair of the German Green Party who is of Turkish origin, told DW the case of Zarok TV highlighted the increasingly repressive nature of the Turkish regime.
"With another attack against the press and media freedom in Turkey the regime is showing its real face. The fury of President Erdogan does not even stop at a Kurdish children's channel," Ozdemir said.
"With such an act important reforms from the early days of the Erdogan government are being reversed. Bans, arrests and repression lead the country into an ever greater internal political polarization, coupled with international isolation," he added.
The move against Zarok TV opened a flurry of critical social media commentary in Turkey, with some mocking the government by saying the cartoon character Gargamel was the leader of the terrorist Smurf organization. Others joked that Zarok TV was taken off the air because Papa Smurf organized a Newroz celebration for the Kurdish new year during which Kurds jump over fires.
An employee of Zarok TV who asked to remain anonymous told DW "the real goal of the government is to quiet the voice of Kurds from every direction."
"Kurdish children's fundamental needs have always been used as a political tool," he said.
Demirel said that if authorities are insistent on closing down a children's television channel without a reason, then "there is no other way to read it other than some sort of retaliation" against Kurds.