As an American, I have been blessed with the basic right of free speech. Other countries and ethnic groups do not fare as well, unfortunately.
Oppression is not unusual for the Kurds in Turkey, at least since World War I. During the Ottoman Empire, they were allowed to roam freely in the Mesopotamian plains. But with the creation of nation-states after the Great War and the lack of creation of a Kurdistan, the Kurds have had trouble finding a physical place for themselves. As a unique ethnic group, they have met with failure in the chance to live their lives in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Armenia, the countries that politically hold the territory that the Kurds call their home. They are discouraged from keeping their own identity and, instead, are forced to adapt to the prevailing majority.
With the advent of the internet, the almost 20 million Kurds who live in Turkey have been better able to establish a voice for themselves.
The internet has been an intriguing advancement for Turkey. As of March 2011, 35 million Turks use the internet, making it the country with the fifth largest internet population in Europe. And at a 1650 percent growth rate from 2010 to 2011, the internet is becoming increasingly important in bringing freedom to a culture that is traditionally less open, even though the Turkish government still censors a number of websites, such as YouTube.
As much as all of Turkey is prohibited from certain aspects of the internet, the Kurds have been denied equal rights throughout their Turkish history. A number of pro-Kurdish media outlets, for example, are inaccessible due to censorship. For the Kurds, sites such as Facebook and Twitter actually give them a chance to share their culture in a comparatively safe environment. Facebook is a great example with Kurdish-related pages including Kurdish Culture (over 180,000 fans) and Kurdish History and Civilization (over 40,000 fans). Such tools have enabled Kurds to communicate with a wider audience and to spread and to receive more information that may not be highlighted in the mainstream Turkish media.
And just as with revolutionary countries like Tunisia and Egypt, social media has given a voice to the repressed population of Turkish Kurds. With the June 12th general elections of this year, the Kurdish minority used this opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with their inequality. The campaign first began offline, with the Peace and Development Party (BDP) announcing a civil disobedience campaign in March 2011. Even with the government’s internet censorship, they were still able to use social media tools to rally together when they took the campaign digital two months later. A group called TwitterKurds announced its intention to tweet every Friday before the elections to “raise the Kurdish issue” with the media, bloggers, and tweeters. Kurds can speak out with one voice against the oppressors in Turkey.
This digital campaign is a great addition to the offline civil disobedience campaign in garnering support for the Kurdish cause without going the way of the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is often considered a terrorist group. Sit-ins and hashtags can be just as effective and are much less harmful in media attention as violent acts. While they may not have affected the elections in their favor, the TwitterKurds still managed to make a statement.
With the general suppression of Turkish Kurds, social media is the best way for them to express themselves as a community. These tools allow them to reach Kurds online in Turkey, other Kurdish populations, and netizens all over the world who could be interested in the cause.
Freedom of speech is incredibly important to me. Turkey still has a ways to go before eliminating censorship, but Twitter, Facebook, and other tools are helping to give a voice to the long-suffering Kurds. They deserve to take advantage of this liberating technology.