A few days earlier I had written about the Academics for Peace Initiative. (here) Well over a thousand professors, teachers, and academics in Turkey joined with thousands of others from around the world in putting their name to an open letter demanding that the Turkish government put an end to the atrocities and human rights violations they are committing in an attempt to “pacify” Southeast Turkey. In response, twenty-nine of the key figures in the Initiative were arrested and criminal investigations were opened on hundreds more signing the document.
Since then, there have been daily news articles coming out of Diyarbakır. Those articles all seemed to fall into two different categories. The first of those ring true, but lack anything close to firsthand accounts or up to date details. They are articles that desire to speak the truth but read like they have been written from the safety of a desk thousands of miles away.
The other set of articles can only be labeled propaganda. They might include some relevant fact but it is embellished in enough spin as to make one dizzy just trying to read it. One soldier killed in this location at that time. Two soldiers injured coming out of this building just before that time. None of this would be happening if only those evil PKK criminals were not so insistent on destroying the peace.
What I could not find were firsthand accounts from those in Diyarbakır that were willing to speak out what was happening. I highly doubt that there are not people living there who would gladly tell their story. It just seems that nobody is listening and writing it down for the world to see. That is how I found myself on Pegasus Airlines flight 197 descending on the city about an hour after noon just over a week ago.
Even before landing I got my first intimation that things are not all that they seem. There out my window to the right I could see dozens of military aircraft and helicopters. Now of course, Turkey would say they are being based here for use in the fight against ISIS. If that were true, it would be much more logical and convenient to house them in Gaziantep, a major city far more central to that front. Anything housed here in Diyarbakır would be much better suited for action against the Kurdish locations in northern Iraq. Little did I know at that point that there were much closer targets for those choppers than anything in Iraq or northern Syria.
The plane’s touch down was smooth. The airport itself looked pretty new but it was practically empty. We were the only passengers standing around when it came time to collect our baggage and a look at the board showed that it would be more than an hour before any other planes arrived. This airport looked to be built for a much higher volume of traffic than I was seeing. I have seen far more traffic than this in cities with less than a quarter of the nearly one million people that Diyarbakır boasts.
Collecting my suitcase, I found my way to the front entrance. Normally, I much prefer walking but google maps said it was a bit too far. The walk would take me a good ninety minutes and since I was already running on a low phone battery I didn’t want to chance it dying before my arrival. Unfortunately, the app store didn’t show any travel apps for the city to use for bussing and so I had to bite the bullet and grab a taxi. My Turkish is very limited and horribly accented. This marks me as a yabancı, a foreigner, and I am always certain they are charging me far more than a local would pay.
The driver seemed to be a pretty nice guy and he was excited to be driving an American. Unless they have been to America themselves and want to comment on that experience, when I meet a stranger I am always regaled with how they have a cousin whose best friend has in uncle in Chicago, or Miami, or… This driver was no exception but it was an older brother whose wife studied for a year in Boston.
The conversation naturally came around to why I am here in Diyarbakır. I am a teacher on holiday. This is technically true and I had created a list of places to visit on my phone to back up that cover. If time permitted, I figured I might even get around to visiting one or two of those places on my list. As it ends up, the Tigris was the only place on that list I was able to go to but officially, I wasn’t even allowed to be there. Finding this out the hard way was one of the many times I would end up having to use my cover when being confronted by the police (or in that case, the army)
The taxi driver’s friendly demeanor changed when we passed by a police checkpoint set up on the far side of the street. He grew angry and said, “These terrorists are ruining our city.”
Not sure he meant to use that English word, I repeated, “The terrorists?”
He nodded yes. “These terrorists make life here impossible.”
To make sure I was understanding him properly I spoke one a phrase that is almost taboo back in Istanbul, “PKK?”
“No. PKK, Diyarbakır…” Here the driver linked his fingers as if in a symbol of friendship. “Police, Diyarbakır…” This time he clashed his hands symbolizing conflict. “Erdoğan is the terrorist. They are the terrorist.”
The taxi driver pointed to another vehicle driving past the other way when he said “they”. This is a vehicle I would end up seeing over and over again all around the city and especially in Sur, where I would be staying. It reminded me a little bit of the Humm Vee from the original Command and Conquer game complete with the gun turret on top. The difference was that this one was painted in white with big bold blue letters on the side spelling out POLIS. It looked a lot more ominous in real life than in any game and, like I said, these vehicles were everywhere.
We passed more areas that could have been checkpoints or just areas fenced off with either blue or grey police fencing. Finally, we came to a point where the road ahead was blocked off. I thought at first that my driver was just getting out to ask directions for how to get around this blockade. Then I saw the sign for my hotel. I had arrived.