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Diyarbakir: The Heart of this City Beats in Suriçi

[Suriçi. Image via the author.] [Suriçi. Image via the author.]

One day in Suriçi, 1 March 2017: from Melik Ahmet Avenue to Balıkçılar, from there to Dağkapı, we follow the destruction and reconstruction.

From Melik Ahmet Avenue, we are moving on to Balıkçılar. There are several police and task forces ahead on one of the narrow streets to the right. Mostly female police, wearing bulletproof jackets, are waiting with long black batons in their hands. The street entrance is closed.

Thinking that he might be a journalist, I approach someone holding a camera in his hand and wearing ordinary clothing to ask what is going on. He says it is a women’s meeting. In the evening, I learn from the newspaper Şûjin: women met to make a call for the international women’s day rally on 8 March. With their gillyflowers, tambourines, and songs, they were inviting the women of Sur to a rally on the 8th of March. There is an atmosphere of festivity in the pictures. The surrounding police with their fingers on their triggers couldn't overshadow women’s joy for 8 March.

We keep walking. From Balıkçılar, we turn to Dağkapı. The front facades of the stores on Çarşîya Şewitî and across the street are being renewed. This is the gift of the Ministry of Environment and Urbanism to the shopkeepers of Gazi Avenue. We approach Dağkapı. There is a crowd in front of the Nebi Mosque. In addition to the police tanks, it seems like there are more cars than a regular day; there are noises of horns and sirens approaching.

As we approach the exit close to the Şeyh Said Square, we see that almost all the vehicles are black and white official rangers. Task forces, the doors of their vehicles wide open, stand by on guard, with their long-range firearms. Since the exit from Gazi Avenue is closed to traffic, the vehicles coming from the direction of İnönü Avenue do not move. Closer to the Square, the number of task force personnel and police in civilian clothing carrying automatic weapons increases. Thinking that something bad has happened, we move towards the Square. While we have difficulty in finding someone to ask what is going on, we notice that the most crowded point is across from the Dağkapı restaurant. It turns out that a statesperson came, and wanted to eat liver…

The Demolition and Reconstruction Project

The Ministry of Environment and Urbanism has implemented a demolition and reconstruction project in Suriçi. On 9 March 2016, it was officially announced that the operations conducted in Suriçi by the military, police, and task forces were over. However, even though it has been more than a year since the operations ended, curfews still continue in six neighborhoods of Suriçi (Cemal Yılmaz, Cevatpaşa, Dabanoğlu, Fatihpaşa, Hasırlı, and Savaş). These neighborhoods—in which around thirty thousand people lived prior to the curfews—are closed for entry, using cement blocks, travelling police stations behind cloth walls, and iron bars.[1] While passing across the neighborhoods, it is not possible to see what is going on inside. From the pictures taken from satellites or airplanes, you can observe the extent of destruction, and the fact that the neighborhoods are mostly demolished; it is also possible to see this from the high-rise buildings in Suriçi.

On 21 March 2016, shortly after the operations ended, a decree for the “urgent expropriation” of large sections of Suriçi was issued. This expropriation is not only limited to the neighborhoods that are closed and continue to be demolished; it covers almost all of Suriçi (eighty-two percent) except the public buildings. No justifications are given for this expropriation. During the expropriation, there is quite limited information, though plenty of rumors. The process of expropriation has already started in six demolished neighborhoods. Residents whose houses have been demolished in these neighborhoods are offered prices that are way below their current market prices. People are asked to accept the sale of their houses in return for these low market prices or else to pay the high price difference and buy an apartment built by TOKI (the mass housing administration) in Çöl Güzeli, or else to go to court to object. Local authorities that we have talked to maintain that people refuse to sell their houses.

In the Change of Master Plan to Protect Suriçi posted on 28 December 2016 following the demolition and expropriation, it is stated that six police stations will be built in the closed neighborhoods. To have each police station within the sight of the other and ease the transportation between them, Suriçi’s traditional narrow streets are to be demolished and the paths are to be broadened. Just as Eyal Weizman reminds us, the state has no limits when it comes to carving out spaces for its armed forces.[2] The state seeks to establish its hegemony by transforming the space through “cleaning the landscape” by means of destroying and demolishing houses, schools, shops, roads, trees, gardens, history, every aspect of everyday life. It is certainly not possible to measure the extent of this societal and environmental disruption.

In Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism, Stephen Graham argues that the most destructive aspect of new militarism, which transforms the city into a “battlefield” through endless strategies and tactics, is that it takes aim at urban everyday life.[3] The “city dweller” is turned into a target that is constantly followed, watched, documented, and monitored. But it does not end here, as the urban space itself is designed as a battlefield at the same time. The city is not an ordinary site in which the battle takes place; rather, it mediates the war and violence. The city goes beyond being simply the background for war, with its infrastructure and culture, and instead is transformed into a subject of war, through its destruction and reconstitution.

Suriçi, which likewise is sought to be destroyed and reshaped, is the heart of Diyarbakır. As a friend of mine says: “Everyone who lives in Diyarbakır has a story of Suriçi. Suriçi is the place that shapes us into a dweller of Diyarbakır; it is the heart of the city.” It seems like for the first time in years, the state has found the opportunity to change this city into something that it is not, and establish its absolute rule. And it attempts to achieve this goal through attacking the heart of the city. It thinks that by influencing the heart of the city, it can influence everyone.

À la Konya Street Arrangements, Wild Pansies in the Shadow of TOMAs

While the demolition of the closed-off neighborhoods in Suriçi continues fast, a renewal project on Gazi Avenue, along which stores, banks, restaurants, and dessert shops are lined up, operates at full speed. The stores on the avenue, with their own different and unique styles, are being transformed into identical structures. This enforced similarity wipes away differences, so much so that the other day I had difficulty finding the restaurant that I always go to; I passed by it a couple of times, not even noticing it.

The enforced similarity is not particular to Gazi Avenue; it in fact extends all the way to Konya. In order to cut down on the expenses of the project, or perhaps because everything looking identical is of no concern—or is even a desired end—to them, this storefront renewal format was copied from the Municipality of Konya’s street renewal project in the city center of Konya.[4] Store awnings and windows are the same. The only difference is that the plating they put in between stores is limestone in Konya, and basalt in Suriçi. Basalt is the type of stone used in the making of Suriçi structures; they must have used it to add a flavor of tradition, to create a “we’re protecting your culture” image. We should, however, note that this “favor” granted to the store owners on the main street of Suriçi is withheld from those forced to evacuate the demolished neighborhoods that start at one hundred meters behind the main street.

We could add to this face-saving attempt the wild pansies which are being planted in the gutters of the city’s busy roads, and in Seyh Said square. The plants are beautiful; but unfortunately, they are not able to cover up the gigantic armored riot control vehicles (TOMAs) that wait around every street corner, nor the makeshift police stations built around Sur that we have to walk by.


It is not possible to capture the “creative meaning” of a city by confining it to a copy of another place, or even of itself. David Harvey states that “the shaping of space which goes on in architecture and, therefore, in the city is symbolic of our culture, symbolic of the existing social order, symbolic of our aspirations, our needs, and our fears. If, therefore, we are to evaluate the spatial form of the city, we must, somehow or other, understand its creative meaning as well as its mere physical dimensions.”[5] What bring out this creativity are the everyday practices of the city dwellers. According to Stavros Stavrides, for a city to keep its role and maintain its significance in reproducing a society, it is necessary to control and shape the existing power relations in the city.[6] However, rather than conceptualizing this design and control as an actualized and finalized state, he sees it as an ongoing project. Therefore, it is vital to unpack the workings of this project, which aims to construct the urban and the societal order, so that we can look at how it changes and transforms power relations and how it affects everyday life, and also to understand how these types of projects are accepted/rejected, or accommodated and normalized, by the residents of these spaces. Stephen Graham claims that we can start the fight to construct counter-geographies by mapping and unpacking the hidden geographies of the new militant urbanism.[7]

The creativity of Diyarbakır and Suriçi residents’ organic relationship with the space as political subjects will shed light on the direction that the city will head towards in the future. Perhaps we will see the first symbolic manifestation of this creativity in Diyarbakır and Sur residents’ response to the constitutional referendum.

For now—even though it is only one person’s response—let us make do with what a shop owner whose storefront will be renewed as part of the Street “Healthification” Project (Sokak Sağlıklaştırma Projesi) said: “Of course, they will do it; they knocked it down, now they’re rebuilding. [But] even if they covered the whole street with gold, let alone renewing the stores, we would not change our minds.”

[The original version of this article was first published in Express, No. 15, 1 April 1, 2017—before the constitutional referendum. Translated from Turkish by Kaner Atakan Türker and Mukadder Okuyan.]


[1] Some small sections of Fatihpaşa and Dabanoğlu neighborhoods were opened eventually.

[2] Eyal Weizman, “Lethal Theory.”

[3] Stephen Graham, Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism (New York: Verso, 2011).

[4] I thank Nevin Soyukaya, whose job as the head of Cultural Landscape Management of Diyarbakir Castle and Hevsel Gardens was terminated by an omnibus bill, who drew my attention to this topic.

[5] David Harvey, Social Justice and the City (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).

[6] Stavros Stavrides, Towards the City of Thresholds (Trento: Professionaldreamers, 2010).

[7] Stephen Graham, Cities Under Siege. 

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