Diyarbakır’s changing skyline
Like the rest of the country, my attention was focused on Diyarbakır for yesterday’s Newroz celebrations. Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Pervin Buldan, both Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MPs, read the historical message of Abdullah Öcalan, the captive founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), to a festive gathering of tens of thousands. The man who started the Kurdish uprising announced that the era of armed struggle was now over and declared the beginning of a new era of democratic and political struggle. Note that this is the end of a resort to arms, not the end of the Kurdish cause.
We are at a crossroads now. How did we come here? First, thanks to the democratization process in Turkey. There are ups and downs to it of course – just look at the recent press freedom issues. Where we are now, however, is commendable despite all the odds. The second is the change in Diyarbakır itself, if you ask me. While Önder and Buldan were reading their leader’s message in Turkish and Kurdish, I was looking at the Diyarbakır skyline, beyond the tens of thousands gathered to celebrate Newroz. It was full of high rises, so alien to old Diyarbakır.
There is probably nothing that tells the story of a city as vividly as its changing skyline. I remember being in Diyarbakır again about a year ago. A colleague had taken me from the airport and was updating me about the changes in the city. That was when I first heard about the construction boom. “You should see the flats in those high rises,” my friend noted. “Each one is about 300 square meters and there is even a spare bathroom in the master bedroom,” underlining the latter as a change in the lifestyle of Diyarbakır residents. There are now more than 40,000 such apartments in the city, plus about 1,500 new villas. The growing demand for SUVs is also often noted. So Diyarbakır is changing as it develops a middle class. It is no coincidence that Öcalan is ending the armed struggle when people are beginning to have money in their pockets.
A year ago, I organized American-style town hall meetings for the new Constitution in 12 different cities. Participants at TEPAV meetings were randomly chosen by sending messages to their cell phones. They were concerned citizen volunteers, mostly male, well-educated and wealthier than average. We collected a unique data set for the new charter-making process. The one we held in İzmir was the hardest of all our town hall meetings. The audience was full of suspicion, questioning our motives and coming up with conspiracies behind each and every one of the questions. They only calmed down in the afternoon, when they got tired. In contrast, Diyarbakır was the easiest crowd. The town hall of about 500 were ready to participate in every discussion, felt confident, were open to new ideas and were free of undue suspicion. Now that I think of it, I should have noticed the changing skyline of Diyarbakır then and there, a year ago. Better late then never. Diyarbakır has changed, and things will never be the same again. That is Chairman Öcalan’s message.