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Kurds no longer speak of peace

I am back home again, after a long time apart. My hometown is scorching hot and trying to ward off this virus. Every person I talk to knows one relative or at least a neighbour who has tested positive for COVID-19. Some of my own relatives are also battling the coronavirus.

Hospitals in Diyarbakır, Turkey’s largest Kurdish-majority province, are almost completely full. Most of the COVID-19 patients are at home, trying to get treatment with remote support from doctors.

People are dying every day. Most people wear masks and try to take individual precautions. Schools have already partially opened for children who have exams this year, like my son. At school, they leave a row of desks empty between pupils.

There are measures in place at schools, but children do come into contact with each other one way or the other. So we, the families, continue our lives, hoping nothing will happen.

There are no closed shops in the city. Weddings continue at full speed, and many who criticise crowd sizes at weddings and funerals say they would prefer not to attend, but social obligations make that impossible. Unless all weddings, funerals and wakes are banned, it doesn’t seem possible for Diyarbakır to make progress against the coronavirus.

I visited my favourite district, the Sur, which has seen near-complete destruction after the collapse of a peace process between Turkey and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2015 and the resurgence of violent clashes.

There were decidedly fewer people with masks in Sur. Shopkeepers were not keen on wearing masks either. Every one of them I talked to told me that they could be forced to close up shop for good very soon.

After the peace process collapsed in the summer of 2015, the PKK declared autonomy in several provinces and districts, sparking a large-scale response from Turkish security forces. Months-long clashes in city centres between security forces and PKK’s youth wing, and a round-the-clock curfew resulted in more than 22,000 people displaced from Sur.

The curfew declared back then continues today in six neighbourhoods. I will be expanding on this in a later article.

Unemployment has been on a steady rise since 2015 and the economy is at a gridlock now. Everybody is looking for a job. All the factories that various governments opened with great fanfare close down one by one. The industrial zone in Diyarbakır is dying.

In Sur, new houses were built after almost the entire district was razed to the ground. It is still unclear who will receive these new houses that were built in the neighbourhoods still curfewed.

Come nightfall, I saw the streets of Sur were quickly and completely deserted. There was garbage everywhere. Street vendors, most of them children, were packing up their stalls. I watched the poverty exude from my seven-millennia-old city and walked along the border of a curfewed neighbourhood.

A friend stopped me on the way.

“Welcome home, sister,” he said.

“Thank you. How is everything?” I ask. The reply is: “Worse every day, sister. We have no bread to take home.”

That was the tone of our conversation. We spoke of the economic crisis and of poverty. I noticed that it wasn’t just politicians who were no longer speaking of peace. The people didn’t say the word either.

So, at the end of our conversation, I asked my friend: “But what about peace?”

“We have forgotten that, sister,” he said.

As we celebrated World Peace Day in Turkey on September 1, peace has turned into an increasingly aging dream.

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