It was a cold but sunny day in Diyarbakır, or with its Kurdish name, Amed. Every lunch hour, I take a break from work and walk to Sur, the old city and the heart of Amed. While walking, I pass the Lise High School at the corner of my street. Yesterday, the students were outside, laughing and talking on the corner. However, when I look at that corner I always remember the same thing: a young man who was killed on that corner in the 90s. 25 years have passed; I still see his image lying on the ground in a puddle of blood. I found myself walking towards the students to ask them, “please don’t walk here, someone is lying here”. Then I stop. What am I doing? It means nothing to them. These children do not know the ’90s.
After Lise Street, I enter the old city, Sur, from Dağkapı Square. Saraykapı Street was to my left. I crossed the street and entered the İçkale area. İçkale was the administrative centre of the city until the 1950s. Now it is a museum quarter. Three years ago, the government assigned trustee who was appointed in place of our elected mayor, built a beautiful park with flowers, trees and cafes. There were many people in the park. Children were playing, the elderly were trying to benefit from the sun. Many people were taking photos with the Tigris River behind them. It is a nice park, but I hate this park. I asked myself why do I hate this beautiful park.
Whenever I see this park, I remember what we have lost here. Before this park, there was a very quaint district filled with residences. It was demolished after the military curfews of 2015 and 2016. When standing in the park I can’t see the beautiful flowers, I can’t see the trees. I can only see what lies beneath: the rubble of those lives.
Near the park, you reach the curfew area I walk through the barriers in the narrow streets of Sur. I came across two people looking towards the curfew area. They were trying to look at a historical school building. They were talking about how beautiful it is. Yes, it is a beautiful old building. Again, I see something different. A young man, Hakan Arslan is said to be buried in the garden of the school building. He was only 23 when he was killed on 22 January 2016 during the military operations in Sur. His body has not yet been found. After learning his son was buried in the garden of this school, his father Ali Rıza Arslan applied to the Diyarbakır Governorate several times seeking permission to enter the curfew area to look for the body of his son. He was rejected. I wrote about this old father and his son a few times but nothing has changed. The Diyarbakır Governorate has refused to excavate the area. While looking at the beautiful historical school building, once more I remember father Ali Rıza and his pain.
I continue to walk towards the Diyarbakir Cafe House. On my way is the Dört Ayaklı Minare (the Four-Legged Minaret). I saw some tourists from western Turkey. They were taking photos under the famous legs of the Minaret. I was shocked. I wanted to shout at them: “You can’t take a touristic photo here. Brother Tahir is lying here”. Tahir Elçi was the chairman of the Diyarbakır Bar Association and my friend. He was assassinated under the legs of the minaret in December 2015 during the clashes and military curfews. How can anyone take a smiling photo here? How can people forget Tahir in only 5 years? How? I was completely depressed.
I storm into the Diyarbakır Cafe House with a red face and tried to calm down. While eating a toast, I looked out across the destroyed area, the ruins of Sur. You can also see some parts of Sırp Gıragos Armenian Church, the biggest Armenian Church in the Middle East. The church was re-opened in 2011 after significant renovations funded by the Diyarbakır municipality and the Armenian community. Hundreds of Armenians from around the world came for the opening. It was a big event. After the military curfews, the church was destroyed and looted. I remember my grandmother’s stories about her Armenian neighbours, how they were killed at the beginning of the 20th century. Who remembers the genocide today? What do we remember from our Armenian neighbours today? Nothing, nothing!
We have a saying in Kurdish, “Amed Bajarê Bîr û Evînê”. It means “Amed, the city of memory and passion”.
Over the last few years, we have not only lost our memories but also our passion. The other day I was with a former mayor. He told me a story of a man who came across him while he was walking. The man said: “Mayor, you (the Kurdish movement) wanted us to march. We marched. You wanted us to close our shops in protest. We did. You wanted our children. We gave them. What more can we give; we have nothing left.”
This man is just one of many, who have exhausted their passions. His words stayed with me for many days. While looking at the ruins and the out-of-place new villas that are under construction in the demolished area, I am afraid we are also losing our memories. How many people will remember the old Sur in the coming years? My children will not know the old Sur.
I am afraid my proud homeland, the unofficial capital of Kurds, Amed, is not the city of memory and passion anymore.