No Sleep 'Til Diyarbakir
Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
351Trip End Ongoing
The Kurdish broadcast was of a Kurdistan Worker's Party group in Northern Iraq. The man was singing "we will not stop until we have taken Diyarbakir," the most populous Kurdish city in Turkey. On this day, the Turkish army had entered into Northern Iraq to destroy the PKK, which is considered a terrorist group. I watched this and Kurdish news unfold in a Kurdish household, where most saw the PKK as freedom fighters like George Washington and the Swamp Fox--perhaps the father of modern guerrilla tactics--to Americans.
After World War I, the Kurdish people, now numbering over 20 million, were denied their own nation and were split between Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran where they have been subjected to everything from making their language or television stations illegal to chemical warfare
I left Diyarbakir, a Kurdish city of two million, just before riots broke on the street; I could tell there was tension in the air. During the riots and protests, one man yelled at the police: "the blood of the PKK is my blood so kill me too." People threw stones, police threw tear gas and beat them. These scenes came via Euro Satellite into everyone's homes; you could look on the rooftops to see that every Kurdish family had invested in a satellite dish to watch several Kurdish channels and see the protests in Diyarbakir, London, and other Turkish cities.
On a sunny warm day, I walked around Diyarbakir, on the old Byzantine and Roman city walls, around black and white stone mosques, and through ramshackle neighborhoods with views of the Tigris River winding from the white mountains of Anatolia through Mesopotamia. The old walls are some of the most intact in the world and extend four kilometers around the old city. A boy tended his pigeons on the roof as I walked the high walls.
On the way, I joined some children playing marbles, learning their game and teaching them what I used to play when I was their age. Another group played football, so I played goalie for a bit and also shot on goal--a brick wall with a stone marker for the boundary
These neighborhoods had a bad reputation for the "feral" kids as well as pickpockets, symptoms perhaps of the tense political situation, where government support for schools and economic development was slow to come. To combat the pickpockets, I left most everything of value back in my secure hotel room. So when the pickpocket came by, digging into my left pocket, nothing was there (he might have found a little more in my right pocket). This was in broad daylight, with many people around. I turned around and faced the loser pickpocket, tail between his legs. He needed to know what he did was wrong, so I took a couple steps towards him--not too threateningly, but to let him know to back off and maybe cut it out. He pulled out a knife, then we went our own ways.
A few minutes before, a man was seriously trying to stone a young woman, with dozens of people watching, other women pointing fingers, and yelling from all sides. The young man held a big stone and was being held back by another man
In the morning, while walking in the Bakircilar bazaar, an older man invited me for tea in his Tigris Carpet shop and gave me his prayer beads as a gift. He told me that since the problems with the PKK, tourists don't come here very often, so his carpet store was suffering. He understood that I wasn't in the carpet market but still wanted to talk over tea.
After tea, I went to a liver kebab lokanta stall, where the kebapši grilled skewers of liver and meat over charcoal. He also grilled hot red peppers and served the kebab with pide bread and fresh tomatoes and onions. A šayci came as usual to deliver freshly-brewed tea to the group surrounding the grill.
Diyarbakir was intense, but a place where the Kurdish situation shows clearly before your eyes.