Silvan in Turkey is abandoned and deserted

It’s hard to believe that five and half years have passed since my last visit to Silvan in Diyarbakır.

We had gathered together some aid on the morning of Nov. 28, 2015 and headed to the city with a few activists. It was in ruins. While out visiting some local families, Fırat Anlı, who was the co-mayor of Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality at that time, called to tell me that Tahir Elçi had been killed and that he was in the morgue. Everything has been a disaster ever since.

Five and a half years later, I’m back. Some of the houses damaged in the period from 2015 to 2016 were repaired, very few of them were demolished. Local people reveal the government has granted them 5,000 to 20,000 Turkish liras in aid. As everywhere, agriculture and animal husbandry have decreased. There are seven or eight garment workshops. Most people find seasonal or daily work.

Among Silvan’s 87,000 residents, those who can find any employment consider themselves lucky. Politics apparently affects your chances a lot. If you’re not a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), you “have no chance to find a job in the public sector”, said one resident. “State aid, services, jobs… Everything goes to AKP supporters. There is injustice in every sense.”

“The state seems to have abandoned Kurdish people. The government is not even trying to get Silvan’s people to support it,” said another resident. Because the pro-Kurdish, left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) consistently wins the majority vote in the town, authorities “think there is no need to provide public services to them”, the resident added.

I visit nearly 150 families, mostly in the neighbourhoods of Tekel and Mescit. I talk to women a lot. I see painful poverty everywhere.

Most of the families have lost at least one family member. “Some of the young people died, some of them are in the mountains, some are jailed, and some of them went abroad,” one person told me.

Some of those I interviewed say they can’t visit their children in prison because they do not have the money to travel. Others complain about the high fees charged by lawyers.

“We couldn’t even get legal support,” said a member of one of the families. “What about the HDP?” I asked.

“We are completely alone in every sense,” another replied.

These are the parts of the country where many places are cordoned off with barbed wire, where special security units and police stations are everywhere. As I walked around Silvan, I felt like every movement in the town was being controlled. Almost everyone I talked to was unemployed. A Silvan resident who had a business before 2015 but is now destitute said, “Forget about property, Ms. Nurcan, we barely saved our lives.”

Suicides have become a growing issue. Eleven young people took their own lives in the town within a year. Two more people committed suicide last week. In November, a delegation from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) met with families and published a report highlighting local economic problems. The families I interviewed spoke of the same issues, with the addition of rising domestic violence.

Everyone seemed hopeless. Life was at a standstill. I didn’t expect such severe poverty or such deep despair. I was confused, in shock, and saddened.

Silvan is the cradle of many civilisations, an ancient city, from where numerous prominent Kurdish families, writers, and intellectuals emerged. Now there is only abandonment.

Before I left, a local woman knitted some pairs of socks gifted them to me. She had applied for all kinds of jobs, knocking on every door, to no avail.

Let me conclude with her words:

“Silvan has paid, and is still paying, a huge price. They killed my husband many years ago. Then my son went to prison in 2019. I asked for help from others while he was incarcerated. Nobody cared. I realised that Silvan was abandoned and deserted.”