Diyarbakir: The City of Hope and Fear
Fighting is not the solution and problems should be finalized through negotiation. The Turkish and Kurdish politicians should trust their leadership in acting for their good and privilege.
A historic era has started in Turkey as the Turkish government has commenced peace negotiations with the Kurds and their imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan. Unlike previous attempts, this time Turkey has accepted the presence of Kurdish problem in the country and acknowledged Ocalan’s key role in solving the problem. The current status of Kurds seems to be the best since the establishment of the modern day Turkey in 1923, as they enjoy freedoms which were unthinkable few decades and even years ago. However, despite great changes and optimism, decades of war and violence has made both sides suspicious and cautious about the real intention of the other side. These fears and hopes were clearly perceptible in my short visit to Diyarbakir, or Amed as Kurds calls it few days ago.
“I am not happy to see guerillas are pulling out while government has done nothing. Why they should withdraw for nothing?” This is the fear expressed by young Kurds in Diyarbakir, the biggest Kurdish city in southeast Turkey, who do not trust the sincerity of Turkish government in the peace negotiations aiming at solving the Kurdish issue in the country. In spite of their mistrust towards government, Kurds are encouraged that their leaders know what they are doing and trust the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan. After touring the city for two days and talking to journalists, people working in the Kurdish political party offices and cultural centers as well as ordinary people I started to sense why the city is full of hope and fear.
Maybe the first things noticed as one arrives at the city is the disturbing noise of Turkish fighter jets flying over the city and presence of few armored police cars in the main quarters. After complaining over the sound pollution created by the jets, I was told it is normal as the city’s airport is in fact a military airbase with a small section allocated to civil aviation and the city hosts a military garrison as well. It seems people living in the city are used to this phenomenon, but an outsider may feel he is living near a war zone, which is not far from reality.
Kurds I talked to were referring to decades of assimilation, repression and bloody conflict in the region. Turkish government fearful of the country’s disintegration denied accepting their existence as Kurds which resulted in numerous Kurdish unrest, arm struggle and heavy military response by government. Their life story was one of denied people trapped in an ironic identity dilemma. Born as Kurds in Kurdish speaking families, they were confused who they really are when bombarded with the state rhetoric at schools that Kurds do not exist, notices on the walls saying ‘speak Turkish’ and the claim that everyone living in Turkey is Turk. Their parents were fined for speaking Kurdish in front of them and even the Kurds who were satis- fied to identify themselves as a Turk were treated with suspicion and distrust.
However, now much difference is felt walking through the streets of the city. Kurdish language is spoken freely, Kurdish songs are played everywhere and photos of Kurdish leaders, such as Sheikh Said, Barzani, Talabani, and Sayed Reza worked out on small decorative carpets could be purchased at the heart of the city. Meanwhile, Kurdish parties, papers and cultural centers are working and it seems Turkish government is seriously attempting to solve the Kurdish problem in the country. Many Kurds believe this progress is the result of Turkish government’s failure in defeating the PKK fighters and that is why they are worried about the early withdrawal of these fighters to the Qandil Mountain. In fact, the bitter historical experience and the fact that military presence still makes the city resemble a war zone justifies why Kurds are worried and cannot fully trust the gov- ernment and regard these fighters as their guarantee and guardian of national rights in future. However, there is an optimistic side to the story as everyone I met believes that fighting is not the solution and the problems should be finalized through negotiation and they trust their leadership in acting for their good and privilege.
Hence, now Diyarbakir; a city subject to decades of repression and assimilation, where people have been insulted and punished for expressing their identity and speaking their mother tongue is hopeful that peace process bring calm and prosperity. However, it is alarmed and waits for milestone positive steps from the Turkish government to take away the mistrust created by decades of conflict, a task which needs strong resolve, sincerity and flexibility from the Turkish government in Ankara as well as Kurdish fighters and politicians.
A view of a street in Diyarbakir city of Turkey.