Diyarbakır's luxury villas 'aim to remove poor locals from Sur region'

Luxury villas built on expropriated land in southeastern Diyarbakır's Sur district are a ploy to remove low-income locals from the area, a local architect said. Valued at around one million liras, the luxury villas victimized locals who were placed in them, as the state expects them to still pay for the residences.

Vecdi Erbay / DUVAR

Luxury villas built by the Public Housing Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) on land forcefully taken from locals is really a scheme to remove low-income residents from the historic region, Diyarbakır Architects' Chamber co-chair Şerefhan Aydın said. 

Some 28 Sur residents were handed keys to the luxury villas they were placed in on May 5, although residents remained reluctant to move into the structures, which they said were incomplete.

Locals who are placed in the luxury villas used to live in the region, but their homes were destroyed as a result of intense clashes between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in 2015 and 2016.

TOKİ had gone in with construction machinery immediately following the conflict, leaving residents no choice in whether they wanted their land expropriated. 

Locals told the BBC during the handover ceremony on May 3 that they had been forced to take out loans for the luxury villas, as the government valued their former houses on the land way below the cost of the luxury villas. 

Some residents also noted that the Environment and Urbanization Ministry had failed to give them rent aid since 2017, although they were evacuated from their homes in the Sur district in 2016.

The government evacuated Sur residents in a huge rush following the end of the conflict and the construction project had completely excluded locals, which ensured the new structures would be incompatible with their needs, architect Aydın said.

"We were worried that the project would change the local demographics. Now we know that lower-income locals will not be allowed to live here," the architect noted. 

The luxury villas were placed on the market at extreme prices, Aydın noted, adding that the area will inevitably become occupied by "those who reap the benefits of the times, who have money and clout."

"Poor people can't live here anymore, they can only look at it from afar and sigh. That's the only option this system offers them," Aydın added. "The government made a lot of money off of the land of the poor."

The construction also destroyed the area's cultural heritage and essentially robbed the city of its identity, the architect said. 

"They can't destroy Sur's spirit, but this was a harsh blow. These are a bad imitation of the historic Sur houses," Aydın said. 

The damage done to the area can never be entirely reversed, but can be improved over time if all stakeholders of the city collaborate, the architect added.