A new year for Diyarbakır

Diyarbakır entered 2019 with hunger strikes. The year was then marked by the appointment of trustee mayors replacing elected ones, Operation Peace Spring, and the political stage becoming ever tighter. Despite all this, the city holds onto hope.

Vecdi Erbay

“Solitary confinement is a crime against humanity. As part of this people, I am beginning my indefinite and irreversible hunger strike to protest Öcalan being put in solitary confinement. From now on, I shall not make any defenses to the court. I will continue my protest until the judiciary ends its unlawful rulings and the solitary confinement limitation is lifted. If necessary, I will turn my protest into a death fast.”

Those words were uttered by Leyla Güven, the co-Director of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) and MP from Hakkâri. Güven, who was jailed pending trial for her statements during Turkey's military operation in Afrin, let the public know she was going on a hunger strike at her trial on Nov. 7, 2018 that she joined via video call. Back then, the peace process between Turkish authorities and Kurdish militants had been stopped. PKK operations targeted Turkish soldiers in rural areas and authorities moved against the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) in cities. PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan had not been allowed to see anyone in months.

Hunger strikes are no new affair in Turkey. Though hunger strikes are a form of protest that is open to dialogue, it is difficult to gauge when a hunger strike ends or how many lives it costs.

Following Leyla Güven's statements, the number of prisoners who followed suit under the banner of "Leyla Güven's demand is our demand” kept increasing. Some of them went on a death fast. Seven protesters in different prisons ended their lives.

Mothers whose children were on hunger strikes staged protests across Turkey.

Following a letter lawyers brought from İmralı - the island where Öcalan is incarcerated - Güven and the other hunger strikers put an end to their protest after 200 days.

The rage was quiet but simmering

Diyarbakır entered 2019 with the tension it took over from 2018.

On March 31, local elections took place. All the municipalities that had been won by the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) saw trustee mayors replacing elected ones. Some of the elected mayors were sent to jail or fled the country. Thousands of HDP supporters were already in prison. Those who were free saw their houses being raided periodically, were arrested and jailed for short periods of time while they awaited trial.

HDP entered the electoral contest without properly preparing for it. Voters went to the ballot box again expecting HDP mayors to be replaced with trustees again. Still, despite those circumstances, HDP gained a significant victory.

The newly elected mayors exposed the expenses of the trustees. Diyarbakır mayor disclosed that trustees indulged in lavish desserts and had glamorous bathrooms built.

Almost four months later, on Aug. 19, Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van again saw trustees assigned to their municipalities. The risk of trustees being assigned still lingered anyway - so no one was truly surprised. This policy of assigning trustees, which aims at eroding popular will, triggered a quiet if simmering rage.

Operation Peace Spring

Turkey's diplomatic move against the Independence Referandum in Kurdistan had paid off: The preference for indepence that the referandum demonstrated had not been actualized.

Afrin locals had been removed with Operation Olive Branch, and jihadists were implemented in their place. The military operation in Northern Syria that Turkey called Operation Peace Spring was discussed from many different angles. “Turkey doesn't want the Kurds to obtain any status anywhere in the world.” This is how the operation was interpreted in Diyarbakır.

Combating violence against women

The Amed Network for Combating Violence Against Women has been effectively involved in violence against women and femicide. The network has deal with cases of violence in Diyarbakır as well as from surrounding cities.

Yet this was hardly sufficient. İt didn't deter men to assault women or murder them. Within a year, 13 women were killed Diyarbakır. In addition to that, the "suicides" of three women were regarded as suspicious. As the year was nearing its end, two young women attempted to commit suicide one day apart in Bingöl. One of them died, the other was heavily injured. Both incidents were found suspicious.

"There's no financial crisis, just unemployment"

While the government insists the country isn't mired in a financial crisis, an announcement that a mere 50 people would be hired in public institutions sufficed to prompt a line of thousands of people outside public buildings.

Former AKP member Abdurrahman Kurt's assertion that “people get employed by giving bribes” did not make it to the national agenda. In Diyarbakır, everyone knows bribing is a necessary condition to get jobs. It is an open secret that in order to get a job at trustee-run municipalities, one must rub his or her shoulders with a member of the AKP.

On a more positive note

The assignment of trustee mayors in 2016 left local art scenes in great difficulty. Trustee mayors go rid of performance venues and galleries. Diyarbakır's Metropolitan Urban Theater was laid off. It immediately founded the Amed Urban Theater which still organizes shows. Private establishments like Loading, A4 and Mordem Art also filled up the art scene.

The Tahir Elçi Foundation opened in April 2019. The foundation has begun to publish a magazine called “Kırık Saat” (“Broken Clock”). They published the “Kurdish Legal Dictionary” in the last month of the year. That had been a life dream for Tahir Elçi.

A Diyarbakır Book Fair was also held by TÜYAP despite the tense atmosphere provoked by the trustee assignments. A record-high number of people visited the fair and participated in its activities. Publishers and authors who participated in the fair also joined the anti-trustee protest on Lise Street. Poet Hicri İzgören is to be the Guest of Honor at the next TÜYAP Book Fair. It is a first that the Guest of Honor has been decided so early on before a fair.

Several notable books

I've read quite a few books this year. Amongst them was Zaven Biberyan's “Karıncaların Günbatımı” (“The Sunset of the Ants,” Aras Publishing). I had already read the novel years ago when it was published under the title “Babam Aşkale'ye Gitmedi” (“My Father Didn't Go To Aşkale”). When I picked up the new edition, I couldn't put it down, I read it again. It discusses the Istanbul of a certain historic period, an Armenian family who had been impoverished by the capital tax of 1942, Baret, Baret's torments and suspicions, what they go through with Lula, and work conditions. The novel is 500-pages long, but since Zaven has the skill to communicate something as complicated as psychological deduction through dialogue, it reads very easily.

Milenko Yergoviç's “Saray Bosna Marlborosu” (“Sarajevo Marlboro,” Kutu Publishing) is a series of stories that talks about how war destroys ordinary lives, relationships and really everything, in a very simple language.

Journalist and poet Yergoviç perfectly harmonized the two disciplines and chose to show the violence of war in sober manner rather than dramatizing it.

I also read Ayşegül Devecioğlu's new novel “Güzel Ölümün Öyküsü” (“Story of a Beautiful Death,” Metis Publishing). The novel focuses on children who live on the street, and can be read as a critique of the status-quo without exceeding the bounds of literature.

Murat Özyaşar's “Aslı Gibidir-Diyarbakır Hikayeleri” (“True Copy of the Original-Diyarbakır Stories,” Doğan Publishing). “Aslı Gibidir” is delightfully literary book on Diyarbakır.

Arjen Arî’s “Hemû Helbest” (“Anthology,” Sor Publishing) is one of the year's good works. Arjen Arî's early death was a great loss for Kurdish Poetry. Still, the publication of his anthology will leave its mark on it.

Some have called Murathan Mungan's “Çağ Geçitleri” (“Generational Passages,” Metis Publishing) his “old age poems.” I believe Mungan's poetry remains very much "young".

Peace, equality and democracy

Domestic and foreign politics, as well as the economy may be worsening. Turkey might send troops to Libya right at the beginning of the new decade. Things may get even more tense with Europe. The Kurdish-Turkish knot might get even tighter. Custodians might start to rule not just municipalities but all institutions. 2020 might make us all long for 2019, who knows. But let's never give up on remembering and reminding others of Çetin Altan's famous words “Let's not lose hope.”

Everyone in Diyarbakır longs for peace in the new year. May 2020 bring peace, equality and democracy.