Frontline: DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY: Proud city of the Kurds is now in ruins

YILDIZ CELIK watched as two Turkish helicopter gunships passed low overhead, the fight against the Kurdish rebels that has made her a refugee in her own country in its last throes. But for Ms Celik and the people of Diyarbakir, the suffering is not over yet.

The ancient black walls of Diyarbakir tower over the squalid shanty town where she lives. Elegant minarets decorate the skyline. Diyarbakir is the main city of Turkey's Kurd-dominated south-east. Once, its inhabitants liked to call it the "Paris of the East". Now the city is surrounded by shanty towns like the one where Ms Celik lives - unofficial refugee camps that have grown permanent as their inhabitants have found no way of going home.

The 15-year rebellion seems to be over. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) says it has laid down its arms and is withdrawing from Turkey. Its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, is in prison under sentence of death. But in Diyarbakir, life remains harsh for the casualties of the fighting. Ms Celik and her family of seven live in a tiny makeshift concrete house of two rooms. Though they live in a city, like everyone else in the shanty town they are piling up firewood for the winter. They are too poor to pay for electricity to heat the house. Ms Celik's 16-year-old son is the only one with a job. He makes pounds 5 a day working as a scrap metal trader.

The fighting came to Ms Celik's village six years ago. Kulp was one of thousands of Kurdish villages forcibly evacuated by Turkish security forces in an effort to stamp out the PKK. Ms Celik and her family lost all they had.Now, like everyone else in the shanty towns, they have nowhere else to go. "People compare the south-east to Kosovo and ask why the West doesn't intervene here," says Mehmet Tas. "But it's too late here. The real fighting's over. We're living with the consequences."

Mr Tas is the opposite of Ms Celik. He comes from the other side of town: the wealthy modern suburbs, whose smart apartment blocks end abruptly where the shanty towns begin. He is a sophisticated city dweller, from an old Diyarbakir family, and is dressed in jeans and wears designer sunglasses.

But he says Diyarbakir's rich cannot ignore the problem. The war has destroyed the Diyarbakir he grew up in. "The Diyarbakir I remember was a small town where people knew each other," he says. The population has doubled since 1990, and is now more than a million. The Diyarbakir of Mr Tas's youth was a cosmopolitan city, where the churches of the Armenian and Syrian communities stood side by side with the mosques. The city's main Armenian church is vast, but today it stands in ruins, the roof caved in. Most of the Christians fled when the fighting whipped up an Islamic fundamentalist backlash. Those who are left are too frightened to talk.

Modern Diyarbakir is a city of fear. No one I spoke to would give their real name. Diyarbakir is still a hotbed of support for the PKK. Even the mayor is on trial for alleged PKK links. "These people have no future," Mr Tas explains, pointing to the shanty towns. "Most of the PKK guerrillas come from here." But Ms Celik disagrees. "All I want from the government is a proper house," she says. "Our problem is money, not politics." These are the victims of the bitter struggle - the innocents who support neither side, simply caught in the middle.

Justin Huggler

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most