Of all places I visited in Turkey, Diyarbakır felt entirely different.
When I first visited Southeastern Anatolia two years ago, I didn‘t manage to visit Diyarbakır, but met some travellers on the Dolmuş who told me how they were robbed by street kids. But nonetheless, the city is always advertised as one of the places you should definitely see in Turkey. Most famously, the city walls surrounding the old town that are supposed to be the second largest wall in the world, after the Great Wall in China. Build of black basalt stones, it gives the city a sombre look. I also saw further pictures of buildings of basalt stone, often contrasted with white limestone, as well as the Dilce Bridge and the green landscape on banks of the river Tigris, so unlike the rocky and sandy scenery you normally find in South Eastern Turkey.
Amed – Diyarbakır‘s ancient name that is still used by some people – is also considered to be the Kurdish capital in Turkey. Therefore, the city is also known for its political and social tensions.
Last October I finally managed to visit the city, and apart from taking in the sights, I also experienced the tensions.
When I arrived in the old town, I was a bit disappointed at first, because I could only see new houses, that didn‘t look very appealing to me. So, after finding a hotel, I went straight to explore the city. But even with a map I had some trouble finding the sights. Most buildings were new and old mosques and churches were hard to find. So, finally, I decided to walk along the wall. I walked down the main road to the Mardin Gate. Seeing that the Tigris was on the left side from the gate, I decided to walk along the wall in that direction. Soon I ended up in an area with crumbling houses. With the stories of stealing children on my mind, I was very alert, but thought it was better to keep on walking. Most people seemed to ignore me and I felt more or less save when suddenly I saw a group of 10-15 policemen coming towards me. I wanted to walk around them, but then one of the officers blocked my
way. In a demanding tone he asked me what I was doing here. I explained that I was taking a walk. Nonetheless, he wanted to see my passport and after that searched my bag. When his search uncovered a list with Kurdish names he called some of his colleagues. I explained that I had visited a Kurdish café in Mardin the day before where I liked the music a lot and asked the waiter to write down the names of the artists. The tone of the officers got more urgent and I was questioned for 20 minutes about the list, my hotel, what I was doing in Turkey and Diyarbakır, etc. Then I was told to leave the area immediately.
When I finally arrived in the city centre I went to Hasan Paşa Hanı to calm me down with a glass of tea.
Later I became friends with some locals who showed me their city and introduced me to Diyarbakır cuisine and culture. But I coudn‘t shake the feeling of unease, especially walking around the old town – something I never experienced in Turkey before. I felt the tension the city suffered from. When I told people of my encounter with the police, they reacted like it was a normal thing. Living there, one had to arrange oneself with the tensions, I believe.
Originally I expected having to deal with children that wanted to steal my things – but I didn‘t encounter any of them. Every child I saw on the street didn‘t show any interest in me. However, I noticed a lot of homeless people (that, apart from Istanbul, I never noticed in Turkey before) and can imagine that poverty is one of the major problems the city faces that also heats up the tension.
But still, Diyarbakır is a place worth visiting. The architecture of the old buildings is unique and Kurdish culture can be experienced from the singers at Dengbej Evi to modern urban life in Ofis.