Hamlet in Diyarbakir
Unofficially this town, formerly called Amed, is the centre of Turkey’s Kurdish area. For thousands of years it has controlled the northern part of Mesopotamia. Since roman times its huge, black basalt fortifications sit on the hills overlooking the Tigris.
Until 2002 it suffered heavily under 24 years of martial law when it was the centre of the war waged between the PKK and the Turkish army, both of which regarded it as their base. Luckily the last ten years have been more peaceful and have brought visible improvements: blocks of flats have been built, roads and other infrastructure has been improved.
Every new-comer will at once realize that the town is addicted to barbecued meat. Delicious smells circle in the air from lunchtime until late in the evening.
Our friends took us to Hasan Pasha Han, an old guesthouse or caravanserai built around 1575. They ordered tea and kebab for all of us. Here the kebab did not come on a spit but wrapped in a pastry, similar to Tibetan Momos or Italian Ravioli.
The cafe where it was served was run by KAMER. Founded in 1997 this organization has done a lot to improve the situation of women in the region. It seems that in this corner of Turkey, with its continuous wars and conflicts, with its poverty and violence, lack of education and male-dominated structures, women had to suffer from outdated traditions and sexist violence more than in other societies. “Honour killings” or forced suicides of girls were frequent. KAMER and other organizations now offer refuge to women. They have also conducted studies and published their results. What is this concept of “honour” (töre)? What is a woman’s duty? How should she be punished? etc. were among the questions asked in sociological surveys.
One statistical outcome caught my attention:
Asked “What is a woman’s duty?” 5, 4% answered: “To submit.” – Bad! But probably not so different from the practical forms of life we see elsewhere.
28, 6% answered “To listen and obey.” Worse! And it is quite unbelievable if you see the fire in the eyes of Turkish and Kurdish women. But what I found revolting was this: 49, 9% believed a woman’s duty was “To be protected.” 80% of the over 400 people questioned were male. That says it all. This is the cock-eyed, turned-around logic that is at the basis of sexist repression.
This over-protectiveness might have been appropriate in Mohammed’s time when cattle, sheep and women were equally lawless and Islamic law gave women definitive rights for the first time. But nowadays? How can it be a woman’s duty to be weak and helpless, only “to be protected” by superior men?
Luckily the ladies from KAMER whom we met and the young journalist who accompanied us through the old city were educated, powerful and self-conscious women. I am sure people like them will chase away the medieval ghosts of male violence and repression that still haunt this place.
At the local theatre in Diyarbakir they were rehearsing Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
The posters were already out. The audience will recognise many old ghosts as old acquaintances. Many young people here will feel a deep resonance when they hear: “..."Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (I. iv. 90). ... "The time is out of joint; — O cursed spite. That ever I was born to set it right!
Apart from this issue of violence against women, there are still so many things right in this state and in this old town, that it is a pleasure to spend a few days there as a tourist: the old city centre is kept clean,
the platforms on top, where young and old sip their tea and look down over minarets into Mesopotamia,
the quiet and elegant bookshop (one of the nicest we have ever seen!) under the Hasan Pasha Han where you find all European classics as well as boxes with religious Islamic literature,
the group of friendly men playing dominoes,
the groups of chatting young students (Diyarbakir has 40.000 of them!!), -
all this makes a fascinating mixture.
Our friend who was originally from Batman guided us through the city.
“I am in love with Diyarbakir!” he said. When he entered the beautiful quiet hall of the church/cafe under the bastion he waved his hand: “Welcome in paradise!”
And of course one feels instantly safe and protected in Diyarbakir, because in case of an attack against its fortifications, all the kebab men with their spits will at once convert the spits into dangerous weapons and repel the enemy!