Diyarbakır's streets and markets remain crowded in spite of the coronavirus

Vecdi Erbay writes: When I crossed over to the Gazi Avenue from Dağkapı in the center of old town, the crowds I saw made it obvious that Diyarbakır is not taking the coronavirus seriously. When people saw the police vehicles they made moves as if they were leaving but then returned to the benches they were sitting on after the police left and enjoyed the April sun.

Vecdi Erbay / DİYARBAKIR

In a scene from The Walking Dead, Rick proceeds on horseback through the empty streets of a city that has been turned into ruins. Vehicles that appear to have been scattered about by a storm block the streets, and buildings that somehow have managed to remain on their feet nevertheless recall memories of a massive fight.

Only the clopping sounds of the horse reverberate against the concrete. The nervous look on Rick's face shows the viewer that the silence is sinister and that he is about to encounter a horrific surprise. When Rick makes a turn into one street, all of a sudden he is face to face with the “Walkers.” The “Walkers” are the product of a disaster, the reason for the existence of which we do not know. These people who come back to life after dying attack any sort of living creature with massive and most-likely unconscious gluttony. 

When I crossed over to Gazi Avenue from Dağkapı in the center of old Diyarbakır, the crowds that I came across reminded me of this scene that I liked from The Walking Dead. Because the risk of transmitting coronavirus in crowds is very high, and the crowds that I encountered didn't instill fear in me like the fear felt by Rick, but they nevertheless made me nervous. 

What were this many people doing on Gazi Avenue?

Ok, perhaps people have not taken the danger in question very seriously. Are there not mainstays in the government and on television programs who have not taken the virus seriously and are of the opinion that we will be touched by it lightly? But even if they are sloppy and occurring at a snail's pace, the government has started taking some precautions against the coronavirus. The Minister of Health announces the number of cases and those who have died from the virus every day. So why are people on the streets? 

I actually shouldn't have been surprised by the crowd I saw on the Gazi Avenue, because the Şeyh Said Square, which I had just passed by, was also crowded. Police vehicles were dispersing youngsters who were playing football on the square. Those sitting on the benches were warned to stay at home. But it was in vain, because it didn't look like the square was going to empty out. People make it look like they are leaving, and return to the square when the police are far away. They are enjoying the April sun.

The Gazi Avenue is the most people street in the historic Diyarbakır district of Sur. If you want to feel like you are living in Diyarbakır, walking down this street is all it takes. Maybe this reality answers the question of why people are on the street, because all restaurants and cafes are closed due to coronavirus. People have no opportunity to enjoy a cup of coffee with their friend or spouse at a historic venue in the area.

However, people are taking photos in front of the historic Ulu Mosque, and stopping inside the iconic Hasan Paşa Hanı, which is completely empty, or pacing up and down the street. These people represent the “Walkers” and they are recklessly putting their own health and that of others in danger. 

There are people buying what they need from a shop selling different kinds of nuts or those selling herbs, but they are violating the physical distance rule that applies both inside the shop and in front of it. The gloves on their hands and the masks on their face count for nothing as a result. 

Those without masks perhaps think that nothing can happen to them, but who knows, perhaps because the sale of masks has been banned they were unable to find one. The number of women on the street wearing masks is higher than that of men. It's possible to say that women are taking the danger seriously, but to what extent can the recklessness of the men eliminate this danger? 

The vast majority of street vendors have been forced to leave the street. Their hustling may have made people uncomfortable but it's as if the street is missing something without them. On the other hand, I was able to find a man selling the kenger plant. “Kenger is the best cure for the coronavirus,” he said. While taking his photograph, a man next to me biting on a piece of kenger says “what he says is true.” The guy is standing right next to me. I'm thinking “what about physical distance” but its all for naught as he was taking photographs at the same time. 

“How are the photos?” I asked. Maybe I asked with a serious tone or the man didn't notice the cynical tone in my voice. “They're nice,” he said, taking another bite of the kenger. 

The flowers that bloom from almond trees bring the miracle of spring. The same can be said for kenger. If it has been picked from the Karaca mountains and seen on the stands of street vendors, it means that the Newroz holiday is right around the corner and spring has arrived. 

If there is someone selling lottery tickets on the street, it means there are people with dreams and hopes for the future. “Are people still buying tickets in spite of coronavirus?” I asked the seller. “They are,” he replied. “Good. That means people are still protecting their hopes,” I said. 

“The virus is very sneaky and spreads very easily,” said the ticket seller. When I asked him of he wasn't afraid of selling tickets on the street, he said that hunger is more dangerous than the virus. “I earn a living via a percentage of the tickets I sell. If I don't go out to the street one day that I can't bring home bread. If they gave me 1000 TL a month, I wouldn't go out,” he said. 

Sellers of the lottery tickets, which are owned by a national company, work without insurance. I learned this from the seller I spoke with. I also learned that the unsold tickets cannot be returned, and the money for them is deducted from the seller's earnings. Based on this, I bought a ticket, without thinking that perhaps I'll become rich on April 23. Instead, I thought about how telling people who earn their living on a day-to-day basis to stay home does not comply with reality. How many people could have thought about what it would be like staying home and going hungry? 

The lottery ticket seller offers some cologne. “It's 80 percent alcohol,” he said. I don't refuse it. I'm sure that I've used cologne more in the past month than I have in my entire life. 

The bazaar that I passed by was crowded. For the weekend, a curfew is to be imposed. This curfew was not announced two hours in advance but a week beforehand. People must be preparing for the curfew early on. The tradesmen at the bazaar are wearing masks and gloves but half of the customers are either not wearing masks or using them incorrectly. And of course, there was absolutely no physical distancing.

Once upon a time, the place where Newroz was celebrated became completely green together with spring. It is clear that when the sun shows itself people start to spend time here. People sat side by side in the grass, they were most likely talking about how to protect themselves from coronavirus. A roving tea seller is serving tea. The kids in the neighborhood are playing football on the streets. People are assembling in front of buildings and chatting. A young man that came out of nowhere is quickly serving tea from a tray. 

A police vehicle arrives. The youngsters playing soccer quickly scatter toward the backstreets. The police vehicle shouts at the children “Don't escape, come back here!” Their mothers and fathers look out from their windows and balconies. The police vehicle leaves, the children return to their game, and the mothers and fathers go back inside. 

But it's not police that should be warning people about distance, it should be the people themselves. Only then will real protection be ensured. 

Based on these observations, it can be assumed that Diyarbakır is not taking the virus seriously. But it is possible to talk about a general sense of anxiety in Diyarbakır. Those who have the opportunity don't go to work, those who have to be on the streets are taking the necessary precautions. 

But of course these precautions that people have taken for themselves are not enough. To emerge from coronavirus with the least damage possible is a job for the government. When the government calls on people to stay at home, they need to provide the security that they won't go hungry at home. 

The police can kick people under 20 and over 65 off the streets, imams can call on people five times a day to stay at home, but this won't prevent the fear of hunger. The fear of hunger is very dangerous for everyone.

COVID-19 isolation reminds children in Diyarbakır's Sur of life under curfew, triggers stressCOVID-19 isolation reminds children in Diyarbakır's Sur of life under curfew, triggers stress