A hoarse, low voice swept through the city of Diyarbakır, going further than it should have. Even without understanding a word of Kurdish, he had no doubt about the pain he expressed through his sad tones.
It is considered the capital of Turkish Kurdistan, Diyarbakır (Amed in Kurdish) perched on a cliff overlooking the turbulent Tiger River in southeastern Turkey. I visited in the summer when the heat was stifling, the surrounding landscape burnt yellow. The sun fell heavily on the city’s supposed black basalt walls, absorbing its heat and radiating it again.
That sad, lonely voice went through everything, telling a story of love and loss, hope and despair.
The town seemed empty during the midday heat, but as the afternoon shadows fell, a group of school children staggered down its winding streets kicking a crumpled soccer ball. Women with pale head dragged home, dragging shopping carts filled with a rainbow of fresh market produce, the range of products that match the position of Diyarbakir in the Fertile Crescent.
Following the sound I had heard, I walked through the labyrinth of the narrow, winding streets of Diyarbakir. I saw glimpses of life through arches that penetrated the black brick buildings and opened onto patios. Figs and mulberries provided mottled shade. Shouts of street vendors, barking stray dogs, and car horns sprang up in the city’s sunlit landscape bathed in sunlight. However, that lonely and painful voice went through everything, telling a story of love and loss, hope and despair.
Finally, I entered through an open arch towards Mala Dengbêjan (Dengbêj House). Here, the elegant slab patio of a beautifully restored centennial house was the setting, the stalls and the gallery of an open-air theater.
The sadness in this voice that emanates from here is reflected in the disturbing past of the city. The area once known as Kurdistan was divided between Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran into a secret agreement between the British and the French in 1916. In this stateless nation of 25 to 35 million people, it is the strength of its traditions, language, culture and shared history that unites them.
Since the creation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, Kurdish language and culture have struggled to survive oppression and assimilation policies when the capital Ankara attempted to unify the newly formed country while the Kurds fought for their own state.
The scars of their latest problems, the 2016 clashes between the Turkish state and the Kurdish militants, are still recent. Much of the old part of Diyarbakir has been destroyed, construction works cover its huge wounds and large areas of the city remain surrounded while slowly rebuilding.