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Free press, free speech - a free nation

By Bashdar Ismaeel - posted Thursday, 15 June 2006

Arguably, Kurdish journalism has been as tentative and colourful as the Kurdish struggle for nationhood and freedom. Invariably freedom of the press and free speech are the cornerstone of any sovereign and free nation in control of its cultural and domestic affairs. From the first publication in Kurdistan in 1898, the press has been used in the struggle for nationhood, largely in foreign cities far from the Kurdish plains or up in the midst of the Kurdish mountains.

Recent Kurdish history is anything but the environment of peace, freedom and human rights commonly associated with the well-developed and renowned journalism found in the West.

For the Kurds, still the largest nation without a state, repression, suffering and impoverishment have been ubiquitous.


The media is commonly depicted as an effective communication tool, designed to bind a nation by common news sharing, reporting across a region and so promoting unity and brotherhood. Media is also a powerful and influential tool at the disposal of governments wanting to subjugate and control.

Every long-term authoritarian ruler has used the media to bolster power. The Nazi regime, through a policy of propaganda spearheaded by Josef Goebbels, successfully used journalism to bring an entire nation into their way of thinking. At the same time, by controlling the press, harassing and imprisoning journalists and using heavy censorship, no other group would dare to negatively portray Adolf Hitler’s regime.

As the Kurds have successfully demonstrated, media cannot only be used effectively to control and repress a nation, but also used as a powerful resistance weapon.

The Kurds, in their fight for identity and their resistance to attempts of complete annihilation by successive regimes, soon realised their power, might and artillery were simply no match for the brute force of their repressors. They realised while a Kalashnikov might kill a single target, the pen could reach thousands more.

Furthermore, in the lonely battleground of the mountains - a common sanctuary for resistance fighters - so-called “mountain journalists” can reach out to the international community. Without their help the Kurds would never break free from the chain of repression.

An historic Kurdish folk saying is that they have no friends but the mountains. Kurds were repressed, chemically gassed and denied all cultural and identity rights, without it even registering with the international community. Now, however, with the advent of technology, more effective journalism in Kurdistan and the use of satellite television, Internet and the radio, the world has quickly obtained a much clearer understanding of the fate of the Kurdish people.


This has given the Kurds new visibility and recognition. There is common belief among Kurdish intellectuals that those in the diaspora are now in a much more powerful position to resolve the Kurdish issue.

Journalism is more than just news reporting: it is also an integral vehicle for the spread of idealism, innovation and a sense of community. For a nation, long divided across four countries that inhibit their large Kurdish minorities, there needs to be a regional policy across these host counties.

Syria, Iran and particularly Turkey - which has the largest Kurdish population - have done a remarkable job of censoring the press and denying common rights. They have not allowed a productive and liberal journalism to flourish. Kurdish as well as Turkish and Syrian journalists have been tortured, detained and imprisoned for promoting material against state constitutions and ideals.

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First published in the Hewler Globe on March 29, 2006.

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About the Author

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance writer and analyst, whose primary focus and expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq and Middle Eastern current affairs. The main focus of his writing is to promote peace, justice and increase awareness of the diversity, suffering and at times explosive mix in Iraq and the Middle East.

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