x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Turkish TV host derides Kurdish quake victims

Uproar as comments fan ethnic tension.

ISTANBUL // Derogatory comments by a Turkish television host about Kurdish victims of last Sunday's earthquake in eastern Turkey have fanned ethnic and political tensions.

"First they throw stones [at police] and kill [soldiers] in the mountains. But when they are in trouble, they call for the army and the police to come to their aid," Muge Anli, a presenter for ATV, a private Turkish channel, said in comments during a live broadcast this week and posted on the internet by various groups. Her remarks referred to the clashes between rebels and security forces in predominantly Kurdish eastern Anatolia that preceded Sunday's earthquake there.

"Let's get some kind of balance here. People should know their place," she added.

Angered by Ms Anli's remarks and comments from nationalists in support of the TV presenter, dozens of survivors in the quake-hit city of Van yesterday hurled stones at journalists and police, the AFP news agency reported.

Ms Anli's comments also provoked an uproar of criticism by commentators and in social media and drew a sharp rebuke from the Progressive Journalists' Association (CGD) because they appeared to describe the country's estimated 12 million Kurds as troublemakers and terrorists.

The CGD pointed out "news stories and comments that carry racism and discrimination" are punishable under Turkey's criminal code. Cevat Besi, a Kurd living in Istanbul, said in a Facebook message he and others were planning to take Ms Anli to court alleging incitement of racial hatred.

She told another ATV programme later her remarks had been misunderstood, but she did not offer an apology. ATV management was not available for comment yesterday.

A Facebook group titled "Dishonourable Muge Anli" had more than 6,500 supporters yesterday.

But there was also support for her. "I am applauding you for the first time. You have done the right thing for the first time," read one comment on Twitter yesterday. Turkish nationalists at a Facebook page called "The six percent share" said yesterday they were sending their condolences only to the six per cent of voters in Van province that had not voted for the main Kurdish party there.

Another comment, quoted by the news agency AFP, said the quake had been "God's wrath on Van ... God does what the Turkish Republic could not do". In Van, some journalists were hurt after being pelted by stones and police used pepper gas to disperse the angry crowd, according to the news agency.

The row erupted just a week after members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a group seen as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and the West, killed 24 soldiers in an attack in Hakkari province. Hakkari is a southern neighbour of the province of Van that was devastated by Sunday's earthquake.

Turkey's long-running Kurdish conflict, which started in 1984 and has cost tens of thousands of lives, has created deep divisions between Turks and Kurds. Turkish nationalists accuse Kurds of harbouring dreams of an independent homeland in the south-east, and many otherwise well-travelled Turks in Istanbul have never been to the Kurdish area. At the same time, many Kurds complain about disadvantages on the job market and discrimination by the security forces.

Sunday's earthquake triggered a wave of aid from Turkey's western areas, where many people donated money, clothes and food. Several companies sent water and warm clothes while policemen donated blood for the victims, the Sabah newspaper reported yesterday. More than a thousand rescue workers from all over the country have been searching for survivors.

The CGD, the journalists' association, also chided another television speaker, Duygu Canbas, who had told her audience after the earthquake struck: "We feel sorry, even if it took place in Van." Ms Canbas, a presenter at Haberturk, a private news channel, has since apologised.

tseibert@thenational.ae