I am in Diyarbakır with a group of academics. The first thing that must be said about the city is that it is not like its image in the media.
It was demographically devastated, as it were, as a result of the migration of the people who were forced to vacate their villages and many of these people still live in terrible conditions. But it is also an observable fact that the city is benefitting from the general growth trend in Turkey under Justice and Development Party (AK Party) rule. New towns are now being added to the city center and these are full of luxurious apartment tower blocks. The city is getting more prosperous everyday and commercial life is very dynamic. One observes all sorts of fashionable trademarks being sold in most corners of the city. The old city has been rebuilt by the central government that wants to show that it has jettisoned the previous governments’ old policy of leaving the city underdeveloped. The city’s very rich Islamic heritage is also being revived through the renovation of historical buildings, mosques, tombs etc. Until the PKK-related terror incidents, the city was known to be the city of prophets and as the city was captured from the Byzantine Empire during the lifetime of the Prophet’s companions in the seventh century, several companions are buried here. White Kurds, secularist PKK-friendly Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) politicians, do not like the Islamic identity of the city, but that is the history of the city and even though the municipal government controlled by the BDP does not care about this dimension of the city, the central government very wisely is polishing this aspect which at the end of the day well only strengthen the brotherhood ties between Kurds and Turks.
Diyarbakır is a cosmopolitan city and people from all sorts of ideological backgrounds share the same public space. Yes, it is true that is a Kurdish city but it is hard to say that it is equally a Kurdist city as argued by the BDP. The BDP does not have monopoly over public opinion in the city and there are other serious and influential groups in the city as well. Everyone knows of the Hizbullah in Turkey, who resorts to terrorist activities not only against the PKK but also against moderate practicing Muslim leaders. They were simply trying to achieve what the PKK temporarily achieved in the region: eliminate the moderates and establish a hegemony over the public opinion of practicing Kurdish Muslims. The PKK has tried to do this with almost all Kurds and silenced in one way or another moderate Kurds who were against violence and terrorism. It is only very recently that moderate and pro-Turkey Kurds started raising their voice again. Hizbullah now claims to have jettisoned its ties with terrorism even though the police reports and indictments still suggest otherwise, the group is very influential among the practicing Muslims Kurds here. The Gülen movement is also very active here, which makes it a target of not only PKK attacks, but also campaigns by the BDP, that controls municipal governments. The movement operates with difficulty; however, in addition to many private schools it also has dormitories. In the last decade, the movement started a new project: reading centers. These are free tutorial centers where Kurdish children can get help with their courses. In Diyarbakır alone there are 22 centers and thousands benefit from them. Fearful of the influence of the centers, the BDP municipal government is now establishing such centers.
We have been reading about the newly emerged civil society institutions that keep voicing their concerns against terrorism. They have been slowly speaking out against the PKK, showing that the state is winning back its authority in the region. Despite the fact that they are not sufficient, the AK Party’s Kurdish policies are winning hearts and minds of the Kurds. Everyday more and more Kurds start believing that their Kurdish identity problems could be solved in a more democratic Turkey. When the PKK tried to impose a three-day boycott by closing shops here, almost everybody had to obey as masked groups simply went and bombed shops that remained open and the police were unable to fully control these incidents. But the PKK gave up on the second day as the ban was simply harming Kurdish businessmen and the PKK and BDP union was losing the hearts and minds of some Kurds that they had previously won. One can now clearly see one more reason why both the PKK and Ergenekon are afraid of a peaceful atmosphere.
Published on Today's Zaman, 20 May 2011, Friday