Daily life struggles on in Turkey’s Sur as curfew enters 83rd day

Daily life struggles on in Turkey’s Sur as curfew enters 83rd day

Zeynep Bilgehan – DİYARBAKIR
Daily life struggles on in Turkey’s Sur as curfew enters 83rd day

HÜRRİYET photo / Sebati Karakurt

Residents, business owners and local officials have expressed their wish for a return to peace in the six neighborhoods of Sur in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır that have been under curfew for over 80 days, amid military operations against outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants.

“When the peace process was still in place, Diyarbakır was busier and more crowded than it had ever been,” Jiyan Edemen, a 19-year-old college student living in Sur, told daily Hürriyet, saying a resumption of peace talks between the Turkish government and the PKK was a must. 

A number of towns in Turkey’s east and southeast have seen fierce clashes between security forces and PKK militants since the collapse of the peace process in July 2015, when PKK militants shot dead two police officers inside their apartment in the Ceylanpınar district of the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa. That triggered a rise in clashes between security forces and militants, shattering a fragile peace process and a two-and-a-half-year de facto cease-fire.

The manager of a historic inn in Sur, Sait Özkan, said the district was no stranger to military curfews. 

“There were curfews in the 1980s and 90s. But back then everyone had normal lives during the daytime. I don’t get how these trenches came about this time,” Özkan said, referring to barricades and trenches dug in the streets by militants creating “liberated zones.”

“Right now it’s more important to save our lives than build Toledo,” Özkan added ironically. He was referring to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s remarks earlier this month that Sur would eventually be “reconstructed so beautifully that it will become a tourist attraction with its architectural texture ... It will be rebuilt just like Toledo.” 

Mehmet Baran, a resident who has been living in Sur for 60 years, said peace and tranquility had been in place during the fragile cease-fire but that is now a distant memory.

“I want to live together in a democratic society of Turkey,” Baran said.

Business owners in Sur have also borne the brunt of the clashes and many have either closed down or laid off workers.

“The economy in Diyarbakır is reliant on Sur,” said Çetin Nazlıcan, a restaurant owner who said he had to lay off seven out of a total of 13 employees at his restaurant.

Nazlıcan estimated that around 20,000 people had lost their jobs since clashes in the town flared up.

“Our children already had psychological problems ... Now they will grow up with even more problems,” he added.

The curfew in the six Sur neighborhoods entered its 83rd day on Feb. 22, and their overall population has dropped to just 2,000 from around 24,000 because of the ongoing clashes.

Some 44 soldiers, 17 police officers and a village guard have been killed in Sur since Oct. 6, 2015, while the security forces claim they have killed over 200 PKK militants. 

Having been under curfew for more than two months, Sur now has security checkpoints every 20 meters on main access roads. 

Diyarbakır Governor Hüseyin Aksoy signaled last week that the curfew may soon be lifted, stating that 95 percent of the area subjected to military operations had been cleared of PKK militants.

“We hope to lift the curfew as soon as we can,” Aksoy said at a press conference.

Hürriyet photographs Diyarbakır’s restive Sur amid ongoing curfews and clashes

Daily life struggles on in Turkey’s Sur as curfew enters 83rd day