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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
  • Get to the point
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: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing