As The Tigris Weeps (2)

[If you haven’t yet done so, please read part one first since this flows directly out from it.]

I was greeted by two men as soon as I entered the hotel. One man behind the desk has white hair and was slightly balding. He looked to be in his early fifties. The other man was probably in his early twenties. He had black hair and what would be taken in America as a great tan. The older man asked if I was “the American” and then butchered an attempt to say my name. I just smiled and said yes. He took my passport and began checking me in while the other one volunteered to take my bag and waited at the foot of the stairs.

After I was checked in, the hotel manager handed the younger man my key. Each key was in its own box behind the desk in a series of compartments you would find world over in schools and business for mail and interoffice memos, etc. I could quickly see that my key was one of three missing. Apparently there are only two other occupied rooms in a hotel that had six floors with about twenty-five rooms per floor.

koprucuThe bell hop took me up to my room. Up there he verified that the TV and all the lights worked and then turned on the heater for me. The room was small and utilitarian but clean and fairly nice for the low price I was paying for it. I had chosen my hotel based on location not the number of stars it was rated. That said, the entire week the service and friendliness of all the employees was as good as one could find anywhere.

I put my stuff away and washed up then turned right around and headed back outside. It was cold. No, really, it was windy and cold. The entire time I was there I don’t think I once saw my phone telling me it was higher than 1C (34F) and most of the time I was looking at temperatures between -5 and -9 (16-23). Since the average high and low for this time of year are 7C and -2C it was clear that I was in the middle of a cold snap. I don’t like the cold but as a New Yorker, I am a bit more used to such weather but all those people trying to escape the conflict and the police curfews, this colder weather was just one more insult added to their injury.

20160127_103502When I went outside, my phone told me I only had about an hour and a half before sunset. I had not been able to find any information about what time the curfew was supposed to begin each evening so I determined to be back inside before dark. That meant I did not have much time to explore and would need to stay fairly close to my hotel. I first walked a block and a half north to the wall and then circled around the portion between the north and northwest gates. The walls of Diyarbakır are the second largest walls in the world. They are about fifteen feet thick, forty feet high, and 3.5 miles long. There are 82 towers peppering the walls and four large gates, one in the north, one in the south, and two in the west. Diyarbakır’s original walls were built over three thousand years ago but it was in 349AD that Constantius II, the son of Constantine the Great, restored and enlarged them into what we see today. These walls encircle the “old city”, the district of Sur, which has become the battle ground between the police and the PKK. As one native would tell me, “Diyarbakır is the capital of Kurdistan and Sur is the heart of Diyarbakır. They [the police/Turkish government] are trying to kill our heart.”

The street that navigates the outside of those walls is a fairly busy one. The far side contained the normal variety of businesses: restaurants, eczanes (pharmacies), electronic, and furniture shops you would see in any such street throughout Turkey. The near side was more of a park. There were a couple walk paths, plenty of trees, and the occasional (vacant) playground. Along the roadside on this side of the street there were alternating simit (bagel) and cigarette vendors about every hundred yards. Nearly all of these had a small fire built inside a can where the salesman was trying to stay warm. I stopped and bought a bagel at one vendor where four people were around that small fire and joined them as I ate. When they found out I was an American yabancı (foreigner) each one wanted to shake my hand. There was one question that was on all of their minds, “Why did you come here?”

“I wanted to see the city and what is happening for myself.”

The one man who did have a small amount of English became the spokesman for the group. “You chose a bad time to be here.”

20160126_153100I nodded along with the others at the circle. Although I am relating all my conversations in English, really they were a mix of both languages along with a very frequent use of my phone’s google translate app where needed. I said, “I just heard today about the school bombing.”

“That wasn’t us. Those were our children in that school. Why would we attack our own children? Why would we hurt our own people?”

What we were talking about was an incident that happened on the morning of June 22. During an outside assembly, the last day before break, a stun grenade (or homemade bomb) was thrown at the school injuring five students. Although to date no suspects have been named or apprehended and the only footage of the attacker is someone of average height completely in black, virtually every Turkish news agency is confident in placing the blame for the attack on the PKK.

Those around this fire not for an instant believe the propaganda that is spinning its way out of Diyarbakır and into the rest of the world. Whether speaking in English or in Turkish, they would use the pronoun “we” whenever they were speaking about the PKK and “they” when talking about the police or the Turkish government. This is a phenomenon I would encounter over and over again in pretty much every conversation I would have over the next few days. It was only when speaking with those in the police or the army that this association was reversed.


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