Late December was an especially hectic time for Nilufer Akbal. A leading Kurdish singer in a country that denied Kurds existed until 1991, she had agreed to appear on Turkey's brand-new state-run Kurdish television channel to host her first weekly music show.
"I wish I could say 'wow', but I'm too tired", Akbal says. "I'm happy, of course, but the time for celebrating passed long ago."
Her decision to work with TRT-6, which began broadcasting on January 1, has earned her accusations of treason from hard-line Kurdish nationalists.
For them, the channel is a cynical attempt by Turkey's religious-minded government to win Kurdish support before local elections next spring. Shortly after it came to power in 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took bold steps to end a 30-year war with Kurdish rebels that had resulted in at least 40,000 deaths. It has backslid into nationalism since then, losing its once broad support among Kurds.
Despite the general air of despondent fatigue, though, many Kurds see TRT-6 as the harbinger of potentially revolutionary change. "With TRT-6, the first link in the steel chain of the mentality that has governed this country for 85 years has been broken", says Muhsin Kizilkaya, a prominent Kurdish author and translator.
"In Turkey, it is the bureaucrats that hold the authoritarian flame. If state television makes this move it means they are changing too."
The cynics do have a point. Given a trial run on December 26, TRT-6 aired clips of a hugely popular nationalist Kurdish singer who fled to Germany in 1976, and is still banned from Turkey. When a local television station ran the same clip in 2002, its editor was jailed for five years.
Sub-titling the speeches of welcome made by Turkish politicians in Kurdish, the trial run made liberal use of the letters q, x and w, which do not exist in Turkish. This summer, border guards at Istanbul's main airport refused entry to a six-year-old Kurdish boy who lives in Germany simply because his first name began with W.
When politicians use Kurdish in parliament, meanwhile, parliamentary clerks record the asides as "words in an unknown language."
For Serdar Yilmaz, who heads an NGO in Diyarbakir, the unofficial capital of the Kurds' southeastern Turkish heartland, such paradoxical behavior shows how divided the Turkish state remains on the Kurdish issue. "Yes, TRT-6 is a remarkable step, and yes, I wholeheartedly support it," he says. "But it is only a first step, and the state would be making a grave mistake if it now thinks it can tell the Kurds they have nothing to complain about."
Down in the southeast, TRT-6's main challenge comes from a nationalist Kurdish satellite channel that has been beamed out of Europe since the mid-1990s. "Roj-TV gives a voice to our people," says Seyhmus Gur, a Kurdish villager who says he sold a cow to buy the satellite dish now sitting on the roof of his three-room house.
Even Nilufer Akbal's new music show looks set to be the most delicate of balancing acts, with shifting state taboos on one side and a hugely politicized public on the other. "The other day, I was looking through the files for a program we're preparing about dengbej," she says, referring to the traditional Kurdish singers who have played a central role in keeping the Kurdish language alive. "Many have been exiled, had their villages destroyed, their houses burned. How am I going to introduce them? This is X. He was born in 1942 and now he lives in Ankara?"
Nicolas Birch specializes in Turkey, Iran and the Middle East.