My four companions had an appointment with friends in a distant suburb, so we went our separate ways. I spent more time in the narrow streets around the church, then went to examine the fortifications along the west side of the old city.
I had just finished walking along some of the wall, when I heard people playing drums and a wind instrument that may have been a qernete. I walked toward the music where a group of Kurdish men and women had linked fingers to dance in a circle. They were supporters of the HDP and it was not long before I was added to the circle and photos were taken. About fifty people had gathered to look on. The pious Sunni women wore solemn expressions betraying contempt for what was going on or regret that they could not join in. Most or all of those taking part in the dance were secular in inclination. Dancing proved a delightful thing to do as the shadows lengthened with the approach of evening.
I waved goodbye to everyone and went quickly to Gazi Caddesi to buy some lokum, then, returning to the hotel, called at a supermarket to buy a large piece of kasar cheese and orange juice. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, I left for my last proper meal in Turkey itself, an Adana kebap at somewhere in which I had eaten during an earlier trip, Nasir Usta Lokanta just outside the old city on Ali Emiri Caddesi.
I ordered a one and a half portion of Adana kebap and ayran knowing that water and salads would be brought as free extras. In fact, six free dishes arrived, one with slices of lemon and coriander, one with pulped tomatoes, one with tomatoes and lettuce, one with fresh onion, pepper and coriander, one with yoghurt and bulgar, and one with three portions of cig kofte. The lokanta was busy inside and out with many customers decidedly middle class in appearance. Based on the appearance of the children and women alone, most customers were secular in outlook or very relaxed about their commitment to Islam. With time to spare I delayed departure, not least because I was given a glass of tea to end the meal.
Nasir Usta Lokanta proved a fitting place to end the trip, given the quality of the food and the crisp and clean, female-friendly surroundings. It was not quite the trip’s best meal – my first meal in Sebinkarahisar and the late lunch in Solhan were better, partly because of the novelty of some of the food available – but I was delighted with what I had.
I went for one last walk around the old city concentrating on the area near the Ulu Camii and Nebi Camii, the latter mosque being where, even on a Sunday evening, about a dozen men sat among their boxes, tins and other necessities to polish or repair shoes.
It would soon be dark, but quite a lot of young women still walked around, albeit in the company of male relatives or friends. A more liberal air prevails in Diyarbakir than in cities such as Elazig and Erzincan, even though Sunni Islam is the dominant expression of religious faith. This said, especially in the parts of the old city where some of Diyarbakir’s poorest families live, women are often dressed from head to toe in loose-fitting black garments and they often cover their faces. Older women who do not routinely cover their faces pull their headscarf over their mouth and nose when unknown men come into view.
I was reluctant to extract myself from the streets where lots of businesses remained open, people were milling around and there was much to enjoy (however, a lot of police were walking around and armoured motor vehicles had been parked at street corners). I would miss the lifestyle, the opportunities to engage with friendly people, the unusual destinations and the rarely visited monuments, but, in particular, I would miss engaging with some intelligent, forthright and assertive women who confound the stereotypes of women in overwhelmingly Muslim nation states.
It was now dark so I returned to the hotel. I arranged everything for the last time in my bags to spread the weight as best I could; read some of Gerard Russell’s “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: journeys into the disappearing religions of the Middle East”, the ideal book for the sort of trip that was about to conclude; showered again; finished the orange juice; and went to reception to pay my bill. I then walked the short distance to the taxi rank where I noted that it cost 20TL to get to the otogar because the otogar is further from the city centre than the airport! The insanity of it all.
A growing number of police and armoured motor vehicles had been coming onto the streets as nightfall approached. By 8.00pm helicopters were flying overhead. On the way to the airport armed police officers in cars and armoured vehicles had blocked some roads to traffic or were guarding important intersections. Diyarbakir felt like an occupied city. And the reason for the massive police presence? Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, was in the city attending a pre-election rally on behalf of the AKP. Because the AKP had become so unpopular in Diyarbakir, an extremely expensive and disruptive police operation had to be undertaken to guarantee his safety. Other than confirming that the AKP was the political party of government and could therefore demand that such a police operation be mounted, it was difficult to imagine what use the rally would serve because the vast majority of Diyarbakir’s population will vote HDP. Still, a few shots of Davutoglu in newspapers the following morning speaking to supports of the AKP in the HDP heartland will be good for AKP morale.
The taxi driver could not take me all the way to the terminal. I paid my fare before walking through a temporary barrier staffed by police officers who confirmed that people had a right to access the airport. It was obvious that disruption to normal routines would persist until Davutoglu returned to Ankara by plane later that night.
After getting my boarding ticket for the flight to Istanbul and confirming that my big bag would not be seen again until I arrived in Manchester, I settled down in the departure area. My flight was delayed for about an hour because Davutoglu’s movements took priority. I read some more of Russell’s book concentrating on the Yazidis, a community I would have liked very much to have encountered, but would probably have encountered only if allowed access to a refugee camp. A refugee camp 10 to 15 kilometres south of Diyarbakir is said to contain many Yazidis, but, even if I had gone to the camp, I doubt the Turkish authorities would have let me in. During a visit to Midyat two or three ago, I was refused access to a nearby village because the road leading to it went beside a refugee camp.
I examined my wallet and found about 60TL. The Turkish lira was slowly dropping in value against major world currencies and the trend was likely to persist for at least a few months, so keeping the liras was unwise. Turkish and Kurdish passengers were enthusiastically buying boxes of baklava from the airport’s branch of Saim, one of Diyarbakir’s best sweet manufacturers, so baklava seemed the obvious thing to buy. I asked for half kilos of two varieties to fill a kilo box, but was not given the sweets until I had had one to eat. It tasted excellent and, back home, Hilary and I agreed that it was some of the best baklava we had ever consumed.
I looked around at my fellow passengers and noticed something that had been confirmed earlier during the trip: more Turks and Kurds are overweight now than ever before. A product of growing prosperity and a more sedentary lifestyle, excessive weight has led to an interest among the better-off in jogging, gyms, organic food and experiments with celebrity-endorsed diets. Men are more prone to being overweight than women, and young women, whether pious or not, are the people least likely to have weight problems. In fact, some young women are painfully thin. I, in common with many others, blame this problem on the adverts and photos of actors, models and other celebrities with ludicrously slim bodies which inspire in young women wholly unrealistic images of what constitutes desirability in appearance.
P.S. Partly because Diyarbakir had such a large Armenian population at the time, and partly because even more Armenians lived in the surrounding towns and villages, Diyarbakir became one of the cities where the number of Armenians murdered in 1915 and thereafter was the largest during the genocide. Christopher Walker describes Diyarbakir at the time as “an inferno of torture and murder”. In 2006, David Gaunt estimated that almost 70,000 Armenians met their deaths in Diyarbakir province and only 3,000 of the province’s Armenians remained alive after world war one. Some scholars put the figure for Armenians murdered in Diyarbakir province even higher than this.
P.P.S. On 23rd April 2015, the Armenian Apostolic Church canonised all the victims of the Armenian genocide in what is believed to be the largest canonisation service in history. It was the first canonisation conducted by the Armenian Apostolic Church in four hundred years.