Sur curfew enters its third year

A round-the-clock curfew in six neighbourhoods of the Sur district of Diyarbakır, the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast, has entered its third year, even though there are neither streets nor houses left in some parts of the ancient quarter.

The destruction of Sur dates back to fighting between the armed forces and the youth wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) between December 2015 and March the following year. PKK leaders declared autonomy in parts of the cities of the southeast and its fighters dug trenches and erected barricades to keep troops out. The army responded with tank and artillery fire.

Satellite imagery shows that nearly three-quarters of Sur has been destroyed either in the fighting, but mostly later by bulldozers for redevelopment.

In this combo of satellite imagery made available by DigitalGlobe through Amnesty International, shows the Sur district in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, top, on Nov. 8, 2015, before the major curfew put into effect on Dec. 11, 2015, and below on May 10, 2016, after the end of the armed clashes, showing a portion of buildings in the eastern half of the city have been damaged or demolished. (DigitalGlobe via AP)
Satellite imagery shows the Sur district on Nov. 8, 2015, before the major curfew put into effect, and below on May 10, 2016, after the end of the armed clashes, showing a portion of buildings in the eastern half have been demolished./DigitalGlobe via AP

“In satellite images taken on May 10, 2016, 10.2 hectares out of 75.3 hectares had been demolished and was in rubble. But after 16 months, the destruction level increased to 46.3 hectares. As of today 72 percent of Sur buildings have been demolished, including listed buildings,” said architect Herdem Doğrul, from the Diyarbakir branch of The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects.

In six neighbourhoods of Sur, 87 listed buildings, 247 old houses and 3,500 others have been destroyed, and 22,323 people displaced, Doğrul said.

The Sur neighbourhood is ringed by black basalt city walls dating back to the Roman era and contained numerous historic buildings in its labyrinthine narrow streets.

The government is to remodel the area with new housing, wider streets and six new police stations, planned before the fighting broke out.

“The regeneration of Sur is based on security priorities,” Doğrul said. “Regardless of conflicts, the character of Sur was going to change to be able to widen streets to build police stations. Roads will be rearranged for large police vehicles.”

Satellite photos provided by UNOSAT shows the city of Sur in Turkey's Diyarbakır province on June 22, 2015, top, and on July 26, 2016 bottom. In a report released Friday, March 10, 2017 the U.N. human rights office is calling on Turkey's government to investigate alleged killings and other abuses in the country's southeast in a new report decrying violations during security force operations over 18 months. (DigitalGlobe/UNOSAT via AP)
Satellite photos provided by UNOSAT shows the city of Sur in Turkey's Diyarbakır province on June 22, 2015, top, and on July 26, 2016 bottom. (DigitalGlobe/UNOSAT via AP)

According to the architects and engineers umbrella group, the new buildings do not reflect the traditional architecture of the area. Given the high price of the new homes, those displaced from Sur, a traditionally poor area, are unlikely to be able to move back into the quarter.

“Given the high price of newly built homes offered in Sur, the government wants the Sur people out of the area,” said Doğrul. “However we want locals to go back and rebuild their homes. As a representative, on behalf of my colleagues and our union, I promise we will work voluntarily to make new homes for Sur people if they are given the right.”

Mehmet Çiçekdağ, an unemployed father of five, had his house in the Hasırlı neighbourhood of Sur confiscated with an expropriation order and said he has yet to receive compensation. Çiçekdağ receives $250 a month in state benefits and lives with his wife and a daughter who is suffering from cancer.

“I used to do day jobs in construction in Hasırlı before the fighting,” Çiçekdağ said. “I don’t have any income now. They offered me $12,000 dollars for my old home, but the money has not been sent to my account. But I was also asked to pay $60,000 to buy a new home to replace my old house. We don’t know if it is best to apply to a court or just wait.”

His daughter Remziye said she wants to go back to Hasırlı one day. Receiving state benefits for her cancer, she said she is waiting for the next payment to buy a winter coat as the money is only paid once every three months.

A boy checks his belongings at their apartment which was damaged during security operations and clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants, in Sur district of Diyarbakir, Turkey May 22, 2016. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar
A boy checks his belongings at their apartment which was damaged during security operations and clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants, in Sur district of Diyarbakir, Turkey May 22, 2016. REUTERS/Sertac Kayar

Remziye’s mother Mayile sat weeping cross-legged on a cushion on the floor.

“My daughter is terminally ill and her doctor says she needs to be looked after well, but we struggle here,” she said in a mixture of Turkish and Kurdish. “My husband used to do day jobs when we were in our old house and still we were able to save money. But now we are in great poverty.”

Mother-of-three Derya Çiçekli accepted a cash offer of £15,000 for the family home in Sur.

“Our house was damaged during the fighting, but after the conflict it was completely demolished,” she said.

“My husband works on and off … He looks for day shifts in restaurants, but it was easier to find work before the conflict,” Çiçekli said. There is also competition for jobs from Syrian refugees. “Now Syrians are preferred over the locals as they work for almost nothing,” she said.

She stopped talking as a fight broke out in the street below her third floor apartment.

“There is not the old neighbourhood feeling. Even for Eid, my neighbours don’t visit me. I want to go back to my old area,” Çiçekli said. “My door was pierced with bullets, but still I want to be back.”