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  • Former executive producer of SBS Radio's Kurdish program Chahin Baker (Supplied) (SBS)Source: SBS
It's been 40 years since a bold experiment started in Australian broadcasting. Before SBS TV there was SBS Radio which this year is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
By
Peggy Giakoumelos

28 May 2015 - 12:52 PM  UPDATED 12 Sep 2016 - 11:22 AM

It was a chance encounter that inspired SBS Radio's Kurdish broadcaster Roza Germian to become a journalist.

She wanted to tell stories much like those of her own family, forced to flee Iraq in 1991 after the first Gulf War before settling in Australia.

"As a nine-year-old, when I was a refugee with my family on the mountains, a French journalist tapped on our window,” she said.

 

Ms Germian and her mother were on the road, fleeing unrest in their hometown.

"It was then that I thought, 'People are watching us’,” she said.

“So the world is watching, but nothing was being done. As a nine-year-old, I decided to become a journalist and be a voice for my people, basically." 

But it would be a long road to journalism, which started for her family as refugees in Iran and Turkey before they finally settled in Australia.

The first thing that struck Ms Germian about Australia was the silence of the suburbs and that no one really worried about where she was from.

"It was actually very liberating to be able to say 'I am Kurdish' to everyone who asked 'where you from?'” she said.

“As I travelled through countries in the Middle East, we were recommended by many people not to say what our background was if we wanted to live peacefully, or just to be able to go on about our daily lives.

“It was suggested that we don't mention that we're Kurdish."

 

 

Scattered across Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, the traditional Kurdish homelands in those countries have been a source of conflict for centuries.

And those conflicts have created Kurdish diaspora communities within the Middle East and across other parts of the world.

The last census recorded more than 4,500 Kurdish speakers in Australia but in 1975, when SBS Radio began broadcasting, the language was not even listed in the census.

Many Kurdish speakers in Australia arrived after the 1980s, fleeing conflict and persecution in the Middle East.

SBS listener Zaria Marf was one.

Born in the city of Slemani, in the Kurdish region of Iraq, Ms Marf arrived in Australia with her family when she was eight-years-old.

While it was easy to find overseas Kurdish news online, the political divisions in Australia's Kurdish community made balanced information harder to get in Australia.

 

 

 

 

"It's very political, it's kind of divided by politics,” she said.

“So you've got the nationalists, the communists, the religious people, the non-religious people ... they're separated. We're a small community."

Ms Marf said in terms of addressing some of those sensitivities, SBS Radio offered her something many other media sources did not.

Lana Mohammed has been in Australia for two years, and she too has been affected by changes in the Kurdish town of Slemani.

"Most of the people that I know are in Slemani, which is a bit up north in Iraq,” Ms Mohammed said.

“It is affected, because the situation is kind of just spread out. It's affecting the economy. People are just not feeling very safe, in that sense. But, otherwise, it's alright."

Unlike many Kurds arriving in Australia as refugees in recent years, the former executive producer of SBS Radio's Kurdish program Chahin Baker was not a refugee when he arrived.

In 1968, Mr Baker was simply a young man looking for adventure.

 

 

It was a documentary about Australia that inspired Mr Baker, born in a Kurdish town in Syria, to make one of the biggest moves of his life.

"I was in Europe as a student and I went to the cinema and, before the movie, there was a documentary about Australia,” he said.

“And they showed the forests and the mining industry and so on. So I kept it in my mind. Later, I went to the embassy and was studying at the University of Munich and, one day, I got a telegram from the embassy saying 'your interview has been successful and your ticket is waiting for you’."

But the Australia he had encountered was very different to what he had imagined.

"I hated Australia, it was a shock for me,” he said.

“But I gradually fell in love with this country. And I thought, for a person like me, it was the best place to be. And that's why I made it my home and my country."

 

Leaving the Middle East was not really a problem for Mr Baker because as a Kurd, he said he had never really had a home.

As for his family who stayed back in Syria?

They have been caught up in the chaos and bloodshed of that region, most recently when the self-proclaimed Islamic State militants took over his home town.

The Kurds had to launch a major fight to regain control.

"My brothers lived in Kobani, and in a village, themselves,” he said.

“They all were there until towards the end of September. They all now left everything behind and became refugees, unfortunately, and are in Turkey currently. We're hoping they'll be able to return."

 

For Mr Baker, his leap of faith more than 45 years ago paid off.

He found his place in the Australian community and also at SBS Radio, only recently retiring after more than 30 years.

When he arrived in the country, the Kurdish language was nowhere to be heard on the airwaves, so he had started one of the first Kurdish community-radio programs.

He moved to SBS as the station's first Kurdish broadcaster in 1985, and it remained one of the defining moments of his life.

"Over 20 million Kurds at that time didn't have a radio station of their own freely,” he said.

“And here in Australia, for a small community, I was broadcasting in the Kurdish language. And I wasn't even allowed to study it back home. And it was a proud, emotional moment in life."                      

The Kurdish program is broadcast on SBS Radio on Friday nights at 6pm and Sundays at 2pm.