Diyarbakir : Kiddy Problems in Kurdistan

Diyarbakir Travel Blog

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Entrance to the Caravanserai.

With the smell of incense still lingering in our nostrils and Aramaic echoes ringing in our ears it’s time to hit the road it’s time to tune into some slightly more heathen hymns.  Leaving Deyrul Zafaran monastery, Mardin and Camila behind us Ronan, Arnold and I are cutting through the landscape on route to the nominal capital of Turkish Kurdistan, Diyarbakir in the eclectic company of Rage Against the Machine, Sting, Bon Jovi, Led Zeppelin, The Cardigans, The Eagles and others pouring out of the hire car stereo.  Nice to hear some music.  Any music.  So little of it accompanies my travels.

Within minutes of driving under a gateway in the historic city walls we’re lost and enmeshed in the rabbit warren of brightly coloured residential streets in the South Eastern quarter of the old city.

Caravanserai roof awnings
  People are looking quizzically at us.  Kids hail us ’Hallo hallo!’  The road - which is increasingly not a road - is narrowing.  ’Whereareyoufrom?’ they cry through the windows.  Not from round here kid, that’s for sure.  This place feels real and raw in ways subtly different to similar settings I’ve strolled through in Turkey.  The car has to contend with old boys who push and pull their two wheel wooden flat-top produce carts through the streets to eke out a living.

Whilst Arnold and Ronan bust themselves with trying to extricate our car and souls from this chaotic, clogged artery heart of these Kurdish residential backwaters I’m left free on the back seat to start to fall for the chaos and the colour and the light that paints its way into every corner of the environment we find ourselves in.

Ablutions foutains at Diyarbakir's main Ulu Camii
  After several abortive attempts at understanding directions one kid leaps into the backseats besides me and very kindly directs us out of the labyrinth.  By way of a minor miracle (as I shall soon see) he does not even stop for a second to ask for money for this favour.

Arnold and Ronan are only in town for a few hours before heading on so I accompany their stroll.  First the charming precincts of the renovated 16th Century Hasan Pasa Hani Caravanserai complex.  Sunlight beats down onto a fountain through fabric awnings.  Çay houses and petite restaurants sit in the courtyard and tucked away in the higher recesses of the black basalt and white stone patterned arches and balconies of the Caravanserai.  If you visit here, even if not a lover of books, do pop down briefly into the book shop (located to the back right corner as you enter the courtyard) to admire the brick-vaulted architecture of the Caravanserai’s underbelly.

Standing ahead of midday prayer : Arnold 2nd from right.
  I make a date with me and my book to return her for çay later in the day.     

Next a further dose of ‘spiritual tourism’ on our religious agenda for the day.  The large rectangular courtyard of Diyarbakir’s main Ulu Camii (mosque) thronging with men and boys undertaking their ablutions ahead of midday prayer.  We slip our shoes off and slip inside.  It’s extremely well attended.  I sit quietly at the back of the long prayer hall.  Arnold, although a professed atheist, has spent plenty of time in Islamic countries observing their cultures and the rituals of the faith and joins the crowds on the carpet to partake in prayer. 

Afterwards we have a short discussion on our approaches as non-believers to the observance and attempts to try to understand others’ beliefs and behaviours therein.

'A Little Prayer'
  It’s something we both remain in two minds about but for now have opted for opposite sides of the coin.  Arnold finds for himself that the best way to observe something is to participate in or at least imitate the process.  Whilst this is undoubtedly true for many things in life, when it comes to the practice of faith I pull up short a little feeling as a (thus far) firm non-believer I don’t have a ‘right’ to participation.  It would be slightly hypocritical or perhaps almost a little mocking possibly.  So I did not line up to kiss the priest’s hand and the Bible this morning with the others.  I dunno?  I am always re-evaluating my feelings in this and other regards.  Part of the journey process of this life I guess.

A Turkish Professor of French, Ahmet, having struck up a conversation with Ronan kindly tours us around some of the city centre sights.

Black basalt walls with white plaster stencil decor.
  A fine example of a traditional Diyarbakir upper-class home.  The residence of the poet Cahit Sitki Taranci (1910 - 1956).  Predominantly constructed of black basalt stone such as that used in construction of the city walls but with a sense of delicacy imparted to the appearance with white plaster stencil patterning.  Ahmet shows us the aforementioned subterranean bookstore and also a cluster of Catholic churches and mosques in the backstreets.  A peculiar four-legged minaret too.  A useful temporary guide.

At the conclusion of Ahmet’s tour I bid farewell to the boys as they must depart soon and we’ve been brought to the part of the city I’ve been dying to wander all day since we got jammed here in the car earlier on.  It’s a different beast by foot though.

The subterannean book store.
  Almost immediately as I set off a surly woman starts waving and making clear gestures that I am not to go down ‘that’ way.  For my own safety?  For what?  For why?  I can’t tell.  But she and the man and the kids that soon join her are quite emphatic. 

I obey but following them, soon veer off north into the street maze anyway as soon as the opportunity presents itself.  I’m clearly an unusual sight round here.  The Kurdish women sit in doorways chatting, preparing vegetables, fussing over recalcitrant kids.  They stare with their wide, bright eyes as I smile and pass by.  From time to time, on a forehead, a chin or upon a hand I glimpse the faded blue-black tattoos of their former nomadic lives, recalling my friend Farida from Urfa.

A rare example of a four-legged, or walk through minaret.

The majority of attention drawn to me like so many iron filings called forth by this little ginger tourist magnet comes, as ever, from the kids.  At first a few predictable calls from the bolder amongst them ‘Hallo hallo!’  Then the slightly more adventurous ‘What’s your name?’ and ‘Where you from?’  Like skittish birds not sure whether to hop forward and feed from your palm or not, the little grubby boys and the shiny-eyed little Kurdish girls with their garish t-shirts and matted hair start to form a contracting circumference around my progress.  Hop.  Hop hop.  They start to step further from the shadows and doorways drawn together by some psychic link of shared curiosity.

  Soon a fair flock of them throngs about me.  ‘Hallo hallo hallo!’ they twitter and chirp.  An afternoon chorus of an increasingly cacophonic cadence.

A boy I name ‘Ben 10’ for the t-shirt of said character he wears takes a sort of lead in directing us about the streets, but only where I am willing of course.  The numbers and noise all about me increasing now to a pitch of civil disturbance.  ‘Ben 10’ lights the fuse of some mega-destructo fire cracker housed in a small empty bottle of pop.  We all take cover, hunkering down besides graffiti slogans in support of the PKK ( Kurdish Workers’ Party) and its imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan as the thing explodes with a truly war-like ‘CRACK!!!’ and ferocity.

Inside the Keldani Catholic church
  Men and women look disapprovingly our way.  I think ‘Hey!  They’re your kids.  I didn’t encourage ‘em!’

That’s done it now.  A call to arms has gone out.  Tens upon tens of Kurdish kids now swirl all around me ‘hallohallohallohallohallo!’  Screams.  Laughter.  ‘Whatyournamewhereyoucomefromwhatyourname?’  They take me by the arm, bump against me, get under my feet.  Grins all around.  Vying for my attention.  ‘Ben 10’ trying to stamp some form of hierarchy, if not order, on the situation.  Failing.  Avid attention being paid to, and attempts to acquire crappy digital watch I begrudgingly possess, strapped to the handle of my daypack.

Kurdish kids playing in the streets
  Several (I think) good humoured attempts to purloin said article.

I’m enjoying this chaos mostly but it’s getting out of hand.  Getting too, too loud and inescapable.  Kids can be quite a force of nature once fully unleashed as many of you may know.  I feel like some errant knight lost in a dark enchanted forest where all of a sudden every limb of every tree, shrub and bush attempts to check my progress.  These streets; these walls have many grasping limbs.  I am wading through; drowning in a river of pint-sized flesh.  The Kurdish elders look on.  Some impassive and - I assume - disapproving ( ’Who is this strange flame-haired wanderer come to disturb our peace?!’ ) and some of the younger mothers smiling sympathetically as their progeny overrun me ( ‘Now you know what WE have to put up with!’ ).

Curious kids.
  I cast the greeting ’Marhaba’ in their direction in the hope they’ll throw me life ring in return.

Eventually just as the kids are about to reach critical mass and I’m beginning to think ’this ain’t so fun no more’ a burly baker who’s shop the storm happens to be passing grabs a wooden stall and lunges with it, growling like a moustachioed lion to frighten away the shower of imps.  They scatter and reform, squealing and laughing.  He takes me by the arm and drags me through a thick wooden door.  I’m left alone in the haunting precincts of a ruined Catholic church, protected whilst the t-shirt ’n’ skirt storm without subsides.  Saved.

Pestering kids sadly becomes the motif that hounds most of my remaining time in Diyarbakir.

  There’s just no getting away from them and they’re depressingly engendering mantra of ‘money money money’ or rather ‘munnymunnymunny’.  It seems to be the first and only sentence many of them learn.

I take to the fabulous 6 kilometre ring of the black basalt Citadel walls that encompass the city’s heart in various states of repair or disrepair.  Walking along a particularly poorly preserved (probably not supposed to be traversed) section to the south east I am suddenly in the unwelcome company of three more grotty kids.  Less friendly than their ground level brethren.  These guys are straight onto ‘Turista! Munny munny munny!’  Backtracking along the wall as I was anyway, one of them makes a very determined attempt to have my watch off the back of my bag.

A tiny fraction of the madness that would soon ensue on the backstreets of Diyarbakir.
  I recoil.  It’s a dodgy situation.  I’m not so great on heights and we’re all upon a 2 foot wide unprotected stretch of well-weathered wall with at least 40 feet down on either side.  A push or a scuffle even in jest could end badly.  Following the attempted theft I turn and declare ‘No! Polis.  Polis!’  This doesn’t do the trick so I raise my camera threatening to  capture their identities and this has them turning tail and scampering.  ‘Phewf!’ out of another tight spot!

The walk around the much, much longer, uninterrupted stretch of wall starting south, south west and ringing all the way to the north east of the old city passes without incident.  I ignore utterly all further calls for my attention.

'Polis! Polis!' - my wall top troubles scarper after trying to thieve my watch.
  The sun’s evening progress getting hampered as it gets caught up in clouds.  A tapestry of street-life sounds weaves its way into the air from the sprawling township that fans out from the wall’s exterior and the parks and streets within its bounds.  Many a home and the activities within observable from up here.  Every now and then a thunderous ‘CRACK!!!’ from somewhere in the distance booms.  I know not to be shocked now.  Just another ‘Ben 10’ and their mega-destructo fire crackers conducting an military insurgency against their parents’ peace of mind.

In need of descending from the wall but many of the available stairways having crumbled into ruinous impassability I ask directions of a bleary eyed lad sat within one of the periodic circular tower structures.

  He points me into the interior gloom with pallid, band aid covered arms that betray the painful signs of drug abuse.  Society can’t judge him up here.  My sun-dazzled pupils take an age to dilate and bring me vision within.  As with several other such structures I’d part explored on my wall circuit this place is carpeted with the detritus of societal rot.  Foot deep litter, burnt black ghosts of fires, cans of alcohol, plastic bottles galore and the smell of urea all about.  The descent, when I finally find it, hazardous for the extent of human discard covering the vertiginous steps. 

Sat back safely in the Caravanserai, keeping the date I’d made earlier with my book and some çay, the only kid around the one who - as with all of his brand of over-entrepreneurialism - offers to black my unelectable shoes.

  ’No thanks kid’  I have enjoyed meeting Diyarbakir and within moments of having arrived had decided to stay a whole day longer than intended.  The colourful Kurdish rabbit warren, a travel photographer’s dream… potentially!  And that’s the catch.  For all its humour and chaos it’s quite clear that the kids will always render any attempt to take the place in slowly, calmly, appreciatively and artistically utterly fruitless.  But hey, it’s their territory.  Not mine.   So I decide to move on tomorrow after all. 

sheba124 says:
Love it!!
Posted on: Sep 17, 2009
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Entrance to the Caravanserai.
Entrance to the Caravanserai.
Caravanserai roof awnings
Caravanserai roof awnings
Ablutions foutains at Diyarbakirs…
Ablutions foutains at Diyarbakir'…
Standing ahead of midday prayer : …
Standing ahead of midday prayer :…
A Little Prayer
'A Little Prayer'
Black basalt walls with white plas…
Black basalt walls with white pla…
The subterannean book store.
The subterannean book store.
A rare example of a four-legged, o…
A rare example of a four-legged, …
Inside the Keldani Catholic church
Inside the Keldani Catholic church
Kurdish kids playing in the streets
Kurdish kids playing in the streets
Curious kids.
Curious kids.
A tiny fraction of the madness tha…
A tiny fraction of the madness th…
Polis! Polis! - my wall top trou…
'Polis! Polis!' - my wall top tro…
Prayer Feet
'Prayer Feet'
I loved this ramshackle theatre s…
I loved this ramshackle 'theatre …
Nine Inch Nail & Lightbulb
'Nine Inch Nail & Lightbulb'
View from the city walls
View from the city walls
Kids upon the wall.
Kids upon the wall.
Diyarbakir sprawl
Diyarbakir sprawl
Brothers in Red
'Brothers in Red'
photo by: Biedjee