No turning back from peace process: Diyarbakır locals

No turning back from peace process: Diyarbakır locals

DIYARBAKIR - Hürriyet Daily News
No turning back from peace process: Diyarbakır locals

A rise in the number of foreign and local tourists is visible in Diyarbakır streets, where clothes in the style of PKK militants are also commonly displayed. DAILY NEWS photo, Selahattin SÖNMEZ

The residents of Diyarbakır were broadly optimistic about the recent developments in the country, with locals agreeing on one thought: There can be no turning back from the ongoing process to find a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue.

“There can be no return from this process. Either the government or the PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] will lose credibility in the eyes of the people if either of them takes a step back,” said Saffet Azbay, a local reporter.

A step back from the ongoing process is not accepted now because the expectations are high as many steps are taken to end 30-year-old clashes which killed more than 30,000 people from both the civilians, soldiers and militants. “There is no return from this process. We have been waiting for the peace for so long,” said a young man on the streets of Diyarbakır, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Full of hope

He said Diyarbakır was filled with hope on the Kurdish issue. A few years ago, it was a tough job for the journalists to talk about the Kurdish problem on Diyarbakır streets, as locals avoided talking about this issue with various fears. However, today, they have a confidence in speaking loudly about their opinions.

“We were very hopeless about the future in the past. Good things are happening now. We don’t have to hide our identity,” said a young boy selling corn on the street. To give a solid example of the reflection of changes in his life, the young man said that one could now speak Kurdish at the police department.

“We could not speak Kurdish in hospitals in the past. Do you know what it means [for us to be able to] speak Kurdish in police departments?” he said. He also said that unemployment was the second most significant problem in the region.

The optimistic atmosphere has been reflected by a rise in the foreign and local tourists who can be seen on the streets of Diyarbakır. “Have you ever seen so many foreign tourists in Diyarbakır?” asked Hasan Tekin, a local store owner in the old market in Diyarbakır. I had to agree with him as I came across many foreigners in the city, having touristic visits in beautiful places such as the old walls. Tekin pointed at the scarves in colors of green, red and yellow, a traditional Kurdish combination also used in PKK flags, hung in front of a store. “One would be jailed for 15 years, if he had worn one of these [scarves] 10 years ago. Now it’s free to sell them here. What’s bad about freedom?” he said. The militant suits for children are also openly sold in the old market. 

Diyabakır Municipality’s tourism coordinator, Metin Özçelik, confirmed that the domestic and foreign tourists increased this year. “We cannot keep up with the demand this year in Diyarbakır. Tourist numbers have doubled, especially the number of those coming from Ankara, Istanbul and İzmir have increased significantly,” said Özçelik, also a tourist guide. Tekin said he is very hopeful this time that nothing will reverse the steps taken so far, saying “even sabotage or an attack” would not work.

The PKK militants will start withdrawing from Turkish soil as of today, the group’s senior leader told a press conference recently. Diyarbakır, which is the most populous Kurdish city in Turkey, is highly excited to the day to come.

“Everyone is waiting for May 8 to come. Everything will change then,” said a young man selling wedding clothes in an old market, adding that the first day of the withdrawal would mark the start of "peace in the minds." A woman, who declined to give her name, said that the withdrawal would be positive for both sides. “Those in the mountains [the PKK militants] are living in tough conditions. It would be good for them to return,” said the woman.

Meanwhile, a group of university students having tea at the old city walls said the release of the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned for life on İmralı island, was a must for the ongoing process to be successful.

“Öcalan has to be freed. We deserve an apology for what has been done in the past,” said one of them, also choosing to remain anonymous. He was also content with the ongoing process, but believed that the popular perception in Turkish minds that “Kurds are the enemy” has to change for a sustainable peace to be secured.