Kırklar Mountain, which has been the subject of several songs and legends in the culture of Turkey’s southeastern province of Diyarbakır, has been at the center of a new discussion recently. A memorial forest is being built in the name of Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the ultranationalist far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), at the mountain.
Non-governmental organizations in Diyarbakır and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) reacted harshly to the project.
Diyarbakır Municipality reforested the area last month after the destruction of the apartments built on Kırklar Mountain and named the recreation area "Conquest Forest." The Diyarbakır Municipality was won by the HDP in the 2019 local elections, but the elected mayor was later removed from office. Now the municipality is run by a trustee appointed by the central government.
MHP’s Diyarbakır provincial head talked to BBC’s Turkish service with regards to the decision to name the forest after Bahçeli. “We will plant around ten thousand saplings, it has already started,” said Cihan Kayaalp. “We will name each sapling after our martyred security guards. Some deliberately make it political, but it's completely humanistic and it's an effort to serve Diyarbakır. Devlet Bahçeli is an important and historic figure in Turkey. As the MHP, we are against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), not Kurds.”
HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar said the project is an insult to Kurdish people. “What did Devlet Bahçeli serve to the people of Diyarbakır? What does he do other than rhetoric and politics that insults the Kurdish people every day, that targets us, the political representatives of the Kurdish people, and the HDP, which unites the legitimate will of the peoples of Turkey? For what reason is a memorial forest named after him in Diyarbakır?” he asked during HDP’s parliamentary group meeting on Jan. 11.
Nearly 20 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) made a joint press statement on Jan. 11 in Diyarbakır. Their march was prevented by the police.
They described the project as an insult to the Kurdish people. “The level that fascism has reached shows that they can no longer tolerate even the names of historical places. They say 'First we will destroy you culturally and historically, then we will destroy you in every way, we will not leave anything that belongs to you',” they stated.
Some citizens criticized the project as well. One said Bahçeli doesn’t represent Diyarbakır at all. “When I think of Bahçeli, I think of racism. He is anti-Kurdish,” they expressed. Another citizen asserted that 80% - 90% of the people in Diyarbakır don’t want this name as a memorial forest.