Contestant request to sing in Kurdish on Turkish TV sparks pride and pain

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A TV singing show contestant has sparked widespread social media debate in Turkey by asking for permission to sing in his mother tongue of Kurdish, a language whose public use has long suffered restriction by the Turkish state.
Hayri Kasar, from the Kurdish province of Mardin in southeast Turkey, had been appearing as a contestant on “O Ses Turkiye”, the Turkish version of internationally syndicated show The Voice. In his previous appearances on the show, he sung in Turkish.

But upon being eliminated from the semi-final episode of the show, aired on Friday, Kasar asked producer Acun Ilicali if he could sing a 20-second lullaby for his mother – a request you can hear Ilicali approve.

“My mother has a complaint. I always ask my mother about her reaction to my songs. She tells me, ‘My son, I do not understand your songs.’ My mother does not speak a single Turkish word. She kept asking why I do not sing in Kurdish. With your permission, I want to sing a short, 20-second lullaby I heard in my childhood,” Kasac said on the show. 

His performance went on to receive a rousing audience response. 

The video was shared widely on social media. Some linked Kasar’s request for permission to the wider condition of the Kurdish language in Turkey - home to millions of Kurds who have been deprived of mother tongue education and not been allowed to speak their language in official spaces.

“I hope that there will be no need to get permission from anyone or plead to sing a Kurdish song but do it freely,” said Twitter user Kemal Sukru.

Twitter user Dogu Mert described the need for someone to ask for permission to sing in Kurdish on a Turkish TV program as “strange and painful”.

Ilhan Aslan, another Twitter user, praised Kasac for singing in Kurdish. 

“You did not become first [in the program] but you won the hearts of all Kurds by singing in Kurdish,” he wrote.

Appearing as a guest on a current affairs program on CNN Turk in 2011, O Ses Turkiye producer Ilicali was asked why contestants are not seen singing in Kurdish. 

“Our program is entertainment-focused and it needs to stay away from controversial subjects,” adding that the producers prefer “uncontroversial contestants,” he replied. 

This is not the first time a Kurdish song has been heard on the program. In 2017, a clip of a Kurdish soldier in Turkish military uniform was played on the show to the judges’ apparent approval. However, he was not a contestant on the show. 

Use of the Kurdish language on Turkish TV sparked controversy in late 2019 when TV host Muge Anli came under fire for cutting off a caller speaking a Kurdish dialect during a live show. She refused to let the caller engage with her guest on the grounds that her audience did not understand the language.



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