Kurdish lifestyle and Syria censorship

Syria is a country notorious for its control of the media, but Kurdish media have nevertheless found a home of sorts there. Mehyi Eddine Isso surveys the Kurdish online presence in Syria.
kurde syria
Kurds fight for their right to publish their concerns online in Syria. R.R.

DAMASCUS, July 21, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Syria, not a country known for its press freedom, may seem like an unlikely place to be getting news about Kurdish political and cultural life from.

And yet, a number of Kurdish news websites have managed to stay afloat in an otherwise oppressive media environment.

Ironically, if the press is usually considered the fourth pillar in a democracy, it is the first for the Kurds since the other three (executive, legislative and judiciary) are pretty much non-existent for the Kurdish minority in Syria.

The original

Keskor.com was considered the first comprehensive Kurdish website when it was launched in Syria in 2002. With modest resources, it set out to be a free platform for all things Kurdish at a time when there were no official Kurdish media in Syria.

Keskor's adminstrators told MENASSAT that the site succeeded in attracting a good number of visitors and contributors when it launched, partnering with other European-based Kurdish sites to create an online Kurdish media presence that didn't exist before.

According to Keskor, Syrian authorities banned the site in early 2003 for reasons unnamed. But Keskor managed to launch another version of the site in 2004, keskor.net, which was online for only three months before it too was banned.

Finally, keskor.info was launched in 2004, and over the last three years the site has built up a network of reporters all over Syria and Europe. Although outside visitors will find it hard to view the site consistently because of Syria’s online security blockages.
Recently, Keskor merged with another website, derbasiya.com, under a new name, www.soparo.com, and continues to work despite an official Syrian ban.

The site depends on self-funding, and refuses any outside sources of finance, a move site administrators said was to maintain its integrity and independence.

The ships

A highly charged Kurdish political affairs and news website called "Kurds Ship" (www.gemyakurda.net) began in 2005. The website has faced numerous obstacles in trying to operate under the watchful eye of the Syrian authorities.

Among the main obstacles, Gemyakurda told MENASSAT, is that many of its Kurdish writers have been afraid to contribute to the site because of its editorial line – that of openly opposing Syria’s Baathist regime and exposing instances of governmental corruption and abuses of power. These editorial guidelines led to the site being banned in 2005.

Gemyakurda has focused not simply on political and news oriented articles but on cultural material as well – literature, short stories and poetry. But site administrators said the Syrian ban has been a sharp blow to the site’s financial well-being and has presented huge obstacles for its future.

Another similar site that was launched in Dubai in 2005 in tandem to Gemyakurda was Semakurd.net. Although it is not hosted in Syria, it has focused on establishing links with the Kurdish diaspora, including with Kurdish writers and intellectuals in Syria. Semakurd has expanded its political and cultural news and has featured a number of articles from Syria. Semakurd is unique as well because it is in four languages – two Kurdish dialects (Kermanji Kurdish and Sorani Kurdish), Arabic and English.

Lifestyle sites

Welateme (www.welateme.net) is a political and cultural website that started in Syria in 2006, but it is a more comprehensive Kurdish lifestyle website that publishes everything from political, cultural, social, artistic and sports news.

The website features activities and events that take place in Syria and abroad, and is reliant on a network of correspondents in different areas with a focus on the Kurdish situation in Syria. But Welateme also features significant events in other parts of Kurdistan.

The site has four main sections: an Arabic section, a Kurdish section, a cultural section, and the forum. It publishes both in Arabic and Kurdish.

Another comprehensive Kurdish lifestyle website is Kurdroj (www.kurdroj.com) that was launched in 2005 and publishes in four languages, Kurdish, Arabic, English and German.

Kurdroj told MENASSAT that they started the site because they said there was a void of Kurdish sites, and a lack of objectivity for the sites that did exist.

The original idea for Kurdroj was to have a specialized academic website, that would analyze the news and look at what was behind the news. But site founders said the lack of news material and specialized academic studies forced them to publish whatever news articles they received, although occasional field reports have been published.

Kurdroj told MENASSAT there are currently four people running the site.

Common difficulties

With many of the Kurdish lifestyle websites surveyed, financial shortfalls have limited the overall content possibilities. Site administrators consistently told MENASSAT that they could not pay their reporters, and were often forced to write the articles themselves.

Among the other problems faced by the aforementioned sites was the fact that there have been a limited number of specialized journalists who could help craft proper editorial guidelines for the websites. And, more often than not, the reporters submitting to the sites are amateur journalists.

The Syrian government's censorship policies and their crackdown on websites not toeing the government line have had the biggest impact on these sites.

Nonetheless, Kurdish site administrators interviewed for this story consistently told MENASSAT that they were committed to covering local Kurdish life, expressing the oppressed Kurdish voice despite the history of persecution they've faced at the hands of the Syria government.