Ancient heart of Turkey's biggest Kurdish city ripped up
The world’s longest 24-hour curfew continues in my hometown.
The curfew that began in six districts of Diyarbakır’s ancient Sur neighbourhood has gone on for two years now. These six districts make up 75 hectares of Sur’s total 148 hectares, that is, about half of Sur.
The curfews started in August 2015 and lasted for just a few days at first, then sometimes for a week or 10 days. They became permanent days after the murder in the city of human rights lawyer Tahir Elçi. On Dec. 2, 2015, the sixth curfew notice was issued. Nine days later, on Dec. 11, 2015, the curfew was lifted for 17 hours, but has been in effect around the clock since then.
With the curfew, the fighting started. From Dec. 2, 2015 until March 10, 2016, Sur was under attack for a full 100 days. People in Sur were dying, and 7,000 years of history was being destroyed. Outside Sur, between the sounds of explosions, life continued in a half-dead way. Inside the ancient heart of the city, dozens of people died, many more were wounded.
Today, the exact number of dead and wounded is still not known. After the end of the operation, when it was still possible to repair Sur’s streets, homes, and neighbourhoods, the government decided to tear it all down instead. The demolition started in March 2016.
Sur’s “debris” was thrown into the River Tigris. Among this debris were homes, lives, and a few bones. Some people remained buried under the ground, and some still have not been found.
These six districts have been almost completely flattened. The flat spaces in these demolished neighbourhoods were filled with plain, white, basalt-covered buildings. The powers that be are using a strange architecture to build structures with no individuality or character. The curfew remains in place in all six of these districts.
But it is no longer just a curfew. It is also forbidden to show anyone what has been done here.
While the trucks went in and out, we watched from afar with binoculars as our 7,000-year-old hometown disappeared.
On March 21, 2016, the government announced it had expropriated 82% of Sur by decree. The remaining 18% was already the property of the state. Objections were filed with the State Council, but the outcome was unchanged. The land was taken from the people of Sur and given to the state.
In 2016, the government decided to change the protection plan for Sur, the ancient walls around which were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015. In the new plan, blacktop roads were added to replace Sur’s famous narrow streets. The new roads have to be at least 15 metres wide.
All of the exteriors of the shops on the main street have been remodelled with military uniformity. The top floors are now made of wood, and the lower walls are covered with basalt facades. After making everything on the main street look the same, they came for the market, Çarşîya Şewitî (known as Yanık Çarşı in Turkish). With an artificial re-organisation, my beautiful Çarşîya Şewitî has lost all of its colour and turned into a soulless place.
This much destruction was not enough. In the Spring of 2017, Sur’s Alipaşa and Lalebey neighbourhoods, both the subjects of famous folk songs, were also confiscated in the name of urban renewal. The families in Alipaşa were forced out and the demolition began.
To resist all of this, an organisation called “No to Sur’s Demolition” was founded. During the month of Ramadan in Alipaşa and Lalebey, so-called “Earth Tables” were made to create solidarity among the people living there. People gathered together to break their fasts and discuss the situation in their communities. But it was in vain. The demolition did not stop. It just slowed down a little.
Throughout the summer, people were forced from their homes without being given options for other places to go. Water and electricity were cut. People were getting worn down. Today, 90% to 95% of Alipaşa is gone. The small part of it that remains is due to be torn down this month. After that, the same thing is planned for Lalebey.
Over these past two years, with the 24-hour curfew still in place, seven neighbourhoods were razed; six for the sake of “security,” and Alipaşa in the name of “urban renewal”.
Of Sur’s 15 districts, seven of them are completely gone. In the 21st century while the world watched, 7,000 years of history were destroyed. Institutions such as UNESCO, which is responsible for preserving our cultural heritage, and the United Nations have failed in their duties to protect us.
The last few homes in Alipaşa are due to be torn down in the next few days. There are 20–25 families that are resisting by refusing to leave their homes.
I went into what is left of Alipaşa and met three women who have refused to leave. One of them was pregnant and the three were arguing with the demolition teams in the freezing cold.
“You’re Kurdish too! How can you tear down my house?” one asked. Their houses will probably be torn down by evening. “Where will you go?” I asked. “Have you arranged somewhere?” “No,” they replied.
Another woman begged the demolition team. “My husband is bedridden,” she said. “We don’t have anywhere to go. Please let him die here and then I’ll go.” The team was unmoved. “You have until Friday,” they told her.
A little way down the road, there was another small group of houses still standing. The women there called out so I went over to them. When one elderly woman hugged me and started crying. “Where will I go?” she asked. Another woman, who said she had four children, took some earth from the ground. “Look,” she said. “I don’t know anything but this land. Does God accept this in the middle of winter? Even a snake doesn’t leave its hole in winter. Where will we go?”