In blow to Kurdish independent media, Syrian Kurdish website shuts down


May 15, 2016 – ARA News  – QAMISHLO – The Syrian Kurdish news website Welati shut down its website on 8 May after facing financial difficulties. This comes just two weeks after an independent radio station ARTA-FM was burned in the town of Amude city in northeastern Syria by PYD gunmen.

“The main reason we are closed is that we don’t have sufficient financial resources and enough manpower to continue our work,” Zara Misto, a Welati editor from Kobane told ARA News.“When we started Welati in 2011, we aimed at covering news in Rojava [Syrian Kurdish region] independently,” said Him Omar, the founder of the website.“Our goal was to work independent from political parties and the website was financed privately by its owner,” he told ARA News. “We wanted to report on the differences between the Kurdish parties and report about sensitive subjects in a constructive way.”However, the news website faced several challenges. “Our website was hacked several times and we lost our archive. Moreover, we had financial problems and we tried to find financial support from international organizations that support free media, but we failed,” he said. “Slowly our work became impossible.”

For local reporters in the Kurdish areas of Syria it’s difficult to work due to security challenges and the increasing polarization between the dominant Kurdish parties such as the Kurdish National Council (KNC) backed by Masoud Barzani, and the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) backed by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The two sides signed an agreement in Duhok in October 2014, but failed to implement it and share power on the ground.Currently, a local administration dominated by TEV-DEM and it’s Christian, Arab and Kurdish allies is ruling large parts of northern Syria.There are several Kurdish TV-stations covering the current situation in the Kurdish areas of Syria but most of them are either affiliated with TEV-DEM such as Ronahi or Rojava TV, or funded by Iraqi Kurdish parties such as Zagros and Rudaw, affiliated to Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). As a result, most Kurdish media is used as instruments by Kurdish parties to attack each other. “The KDP-S [Syrian branch of the Iraqi KDP] have Rudaw and Zagros, the PYD [TEV-DEM member] have Ronahi and Rojava TV. Amid this, independent Kurds are left with less options,” Mustafa Mashaikh, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Unity party, told ARA News.

“The media is more dominated by politics,” a TEV-DEM official said.

As a result, the local Kurdish media in Syria is often forced to choose sides due to the lack of financing.“The war in Syria is becoming more bloody and you are forced to support a party and cannot have different opinions,” Omar said.“We [Welatî] wanted to be active in Rojava and other parts of Kurdistan and needed more reporters and financial support, we tried several times to get international support since we knew we would loose our independence if we would receive backing from local parties,” Omar told ARA News. “We rejected proposals to finance our website from Kurdish organizations, because we wanted to maintain our independence.”

“That’s why we took the painful decision to stop the website and have no new plans to start again,” he said. “Welatî was an example of moderate media within the Kurdish society. It could prove neutrality and moderation when published events and crises reports,the website was away from parties and political groups influence,” Idris Nassan, a former Kurdish official in the Kobane administration told ARA News.“It’s team could not gain financial help from its supporters as they did not seek for politicians’ approval, so it came to an end, and in this way the Kurdish media lost one of it’s media outlets to publish the reality and truth in a neutral way,” Nassan added.