Social media and the Kurds
Social media provides an avenue for Kurdish expression and organisation that supports democracy in Turkey.
By Ethem Cagir for SES Türkiye in Diyarbakir -- 25/07/12
The expansion of social media has changed the face of politics and society around the world, bringing into question what role it plays in Turkey's Kurdish problem.
As witnessed by the revolutions convulsing the Arab world, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have played a significant role in highlighting events and the people's struggle by changing the balance of power and giving direction to events.
Social media is used by Kurds in Turkey and other countries to interact through forums, Facebook pages, on Twitter, Google groups and Friend Feed. They disseminate news and ensure issues don't fall off the national media's agenda.
According to Deniz Ergurel, the director of the Turkish Media Association, social media provides a platform for both Turks and Kurds to express ideas that were not possible a decade ago. In this context, he told SES Türkiye that social media is an important tool for the development of democracy.
With the spread of Twitter, events surrounding court cases involving imprisoned Kurds are instantly announced by lawyers -- and Kurdish political party's messages are shared minute-by-minute with their followers and news services.
In order to protest arrests, Facebook and Twitter are used to organise marches in cities like Istanbul and Diyarbakir. Support for Serzan Kurt, who was shot by police, and Cihan Kirmizigul, who was thrown in prison for a wearing a pusi (Kurdish head garb), are examples of campaigns organised through social media.
Following last year's devastating earthquake in Van, a massive outpouring of support was orchestrated via social media sites to help the tens of thousands of people whose lives were affected by the disaster.
Selahattin Demirtas, chairman of the Peace and Democracy Party, uses Twitter to make statements.
Demirtas told SES Türkiye social media is a "virtual public square," adding that the more Kurdish voices are restricted by the government the more they organise through social media.
But Demirtas also said that social media activities should be followed up with action on the streets to voice Kurdish demands.
According to Demirtas, social media still largely recreates official state ideology and information controlled by the main media outlets.
Harun Ercan, an academic at Koc University in Istanbul, told SES Türkiye that national media coverage is pro-government and presents anti-Kurdish propaganda.
"It’s not really possible for Kurdish social media to break this, because we are talking about the perception of a crystalised political-media establishment …," he said, adding that even the news content of social media users is dominated by the mainstream media.
For Kurds, Ercan said there are two uses. "The first is to make those who are sympathetic to the Kurd's problems more interested in the Kurdish issue. The second is to create a common public opinion among Kurds."
Ezgi Basaran, a prominent writer for the liberal daily Radikal who actively uses Twitter, said Kurds have been able to organize quickly and explain their problems with smart headings and hash tags.
Using the Uludere bombings that killed 34 villagers last December as an example, Basaran said that writers in the mainstream media started to use the Kurdish name of the village, Roboski, instead of the Turkish Gulyazi, largely because the influence of Kurds on social media platforms.
But Basaran argues that it is wrong to overstate social media's influence. "There are people who think things can be finished with the signing of a virtual campaign, with a couple of retweets," she said.