Day 33: Hello, I love you, won't you tell me your name?

Diyarbakir Travel Blog

 › entry 46 of 260 › view all entries
Ulu Cami, the great mosque

People I met here and/or travelled with: Sabahattin (Turkey)

Ah, sleeping in. Can't remember when I last did that. I was quite happy to be in a comfortable hotel room again, even if by 10:00 the room had become almost unbearably hot. Today's temperature would hover around 35 degrees again and once again I was so glad to be visiting this region in spring and not in summer.

I had not planned to have breakfast in the hotel (it was an additional 5 TL) but as I was feeling particularly lazy I did in the end. I left the breakfast room at 10:55 only to be told by the receptionist that check-out time was 11! Yikes!
They were kind enough to give me another hour though, so that I could at least have a shower. I contemplated staying another night here, instead of taking yet another night bus tonight, but I figured if I did that I would be really pressed for time during my last days in Turkey, so I had to say goodbye to comfort for now and move on.

The streets of Diyarbakır


But first there was some serious sightseeing to do. After all I had not come to Diyarbakır for nothing. If the name Diyarbakır rings any bell, it is because the city was in the news frequently in the 1980s as this was the centre of the Kurdish resistance movement. Throughout the eighties and early nineties this was the site of frequent violence and the Kurdish locals speak of civil war (though the Turkish government prefers the word terrorism, since civil war would indicate that there is such thing as ethnicity in Turkey).

But its violent recent past is not the attraction of  Diyarbakır, no, the reason for my visit was the chaotic Middle Eastern old city, surrounded by huge basalt city walls, full of old mosques, churches, caravansaries and bazaars.

I started my city walk with the city walls.
The city walls of Diyarbakır
These 6km long walls are considered by the locals second-largest to the Great Wall of China. The fact that the walls in China are about 1000 times longer (and also about 1000 times more impressive) doesn't face them. And the fact that the walls are actually the fourth largest defensive walls in the world (after China, Istanbul and Antalya) even less so!
Although the walls have not entirely survived the industrial revolution (some chunks have been demolished to make way for roads in and out of the old city), there is still an impressive amount left standing. Parts of the walls have been restored, including several defensive towers and a large hall underneath the wall which has now been turned into a modest restaurant.
A quick reminder of just where I was


After walking a semi-circle over the top of the walls, before returning into the maze of tiny streets of the old city. Let me put one thing straight: Kurds are nice people. Though in the west the Kurds are often portrayed as violent fanatics, the common people aren't anything like that at all. not being I wasn't able to walk 100 metres without being stopped in the street by someone curious about where I was from. By the time I reached the city walls my belly was already sloshing from the excessive çay intake.

As it was weekend there were children playing in the streets everywhere and almost all of them came running towards me as soon as they saw me. Laughing at me, trying to practice what little English they knew and, unfortunately in the case of some annoying boys, asking for money as well.
bunch of cute kids (before they started asking for money)

As I reached one of the mosques in the northern part of town I was approached by some young girls who wanted to know all about me. Some elderly ladies came over to check what was happening and at the same time a few boys came towards me as well, asking for money. What happened next is a sight I will never forget. One of the old ladies first started shouting at the boys and then she started hitting one of them with her stick. And hard! She was furious.
She muttered some apologies to me and it made me realised just how delicate the balance is between tourism being a blessing and a curse for local communities. Yes, visitors like me bring some much needed cash into the local economy, but at the same time if tourists give in to children begging the step from skipping school to become a full-time beggar is only a small one.
one of my new girlfriends

(by the way: I never give to beggars. That said, I have never hit one either!)

The girls were very sweet though. They wanted to show me around the old citadel and the mosques that lie within a separate section of the city walls in the northern end of the old city. One girl was the leader of the group and she did most of the talking. In her limited English she tried to explain what she and her friends were thinking of a big bald tourist: “me, my friends, we, I love you very much”.
Hmm, not sure what to think of that coming from an 11 year old Muslima. And with me more people had their doubts, or so it seems, because everywhere we went the girls had to explain themselves to older men undoubtedly asking them just what the hell they were doing talking to a man.
one of my brides to be - would she know what the message on her shirt says?
At least, that was my interpretation of it, since this is quite a conservative area of the country. All the while the girl had to explain that I was “blah blah blah turista blah blah holandala”.
Later I would find out that the concerns weren't so much born out of conservatism, but rather that kidnappings are very common in this area. Apparently the organ Mafia is quite active here. I was quite shocked when I found out.
After our little tour the girls walked me to the city gate and said their goodbyes (though not after presenting me with some flowers they picked).

Before coming to Diyarbakır I had tried to arrange a place to stay via couch surfing. After the positive experience of the meet-up in Istanbul I had wanted to use this great concept a bit more. I had been in touch with one guy who regretted not being able to host me, but he wanted to meet up with me for a drink instead.
Another one of my brides to be
Well, since I value the meeting people aspect of the whole couch surfing experience more than the free accommodation, I gladly accepted.

I met Sabahattin in the old city in the early evening. We immediately hit it off together. He is a  Kurdish Turk with a great outlook on life. He was able to explain so much about the whole Kurdish situation, as seen through the eyes of someone who is Kurdish but not a terrorist. Up until a few years ago it was illegal for him to speak his own language, or to celebrate the Kurdish cultural day on 21 March. During his childhood Diyarbakır had been the site of violence and civil war, though he would not want to live elsewhere.
He told me most Kurds prefer autonomy within Turkey over a separate Kurdish state shared with Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi Kurds.
Inside the Hasan Paşa Hanı, a restored caravansary where I went for a drink with Sabahattin


Within a few hours after meeting we were chatting as if we had known each other all our lives, discussing sensitive topics like religion, politics and virginity (or the losing of either three).
It was a real pity I had to leave for my bus which left at 23:30 from the Otogar.

Arriving at the otogar was a bit of a shock. My bus to Erzurum was a tiny, tiny bus. When I saw the bus from the outside I noticed neck pillows were provided, which was definitely a first in Turkey so far. Would this finally be a bus in which I could sleep comfortably?
Once inside all thoughts of sleeping disappeared, since leg room was virtually absent. There were so many seats crammed in this bus that I was not able to fit in the seats.
The bar street in Diyarbakır's new town
There was just no room for both my legs and my feet in between my seat and the one in front of me.

People seemed quite surprised to see me travelling this bus. As I walked in all throughout the bus I heard murmering “turista, turista”.
As the bus was not full they were kind enough to give me two seats, so that at least I could fold my legs somewhat sideways.
Throughout the journey the TV was on and loud music was blaring out of the speakers - how was I ever going to survive this?

Biedjee says:
Yes, and even the "fact" of Diyarbakir being the fourth largest city wall, after Beijing, Istanbul and Antalya seems a bit weird, now that I have seen the city walls of Xi'an, which are at least twice the length of those in Diyarbakir :-)
Posted on: Jan 07, 2011
Stevie_Wes says:
Sounds like you did well my friend. Diyarbakir certainly was a 'trial by children' for the 24 hours or so I was there. I ended it up in all sorts of pickles, positive and negative, with them during my strolls of the Old City - and was also at one point rescued by a local baker! :) Love the insights into the Kurdish 'situation' and also the misplaced pride in the Great Wall of Diyarbakir :)
Posted on: Jan 07, 2011
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Ulu Cami, the great mosque
Ulu Cami, the great mosque
The streets of Diyarbakır
The streets of Diyarbakır
The city walls of Diyarbakır
The city walls of Diyarbakır
A quick reminder of just where I w…
A quick reminder of just where I …
bunch of cute kids (before they st…
bunch of cute kids (before they s…
one of my new girlfriends
one of my new girlfriends
one of my brides to be - would she…
one of my brides to be - would sh…
Another one of my brides to be
Another one of my brides to be
Inside the Hasan Paşa Hanı, a re…
Inside the Hasan Paşa Hanı, a r…
The bar street in Diyarbakırs ne…
The bar street in Diyarbakır's n…
Ulu cami
Ulu cami
Şeyr Mutahhar Camii with its four…
Şeyr Mutahhar Camii with its fou…
the base of the four-legged minaret
the base of the four-legged minaret
inside the Keldani Kilisesi (Chald…
inside the Keldani Kilisesi (Chal…
inside the Keldani Kilisesi (Chald…
inside the Keldani Kilisesi (Chal…
one of Diyarbakırs many house mu…
one of Diyarbakır's many house m…
The Otel Büyük Caravansaray - a …
The Otel Büyük Caravansaray - a…
the walls of Diyarbakır
the walls of Diyarbakır
Tigris valley seen from the city w…
Tigris valley seen from the city …
Tigris valley seen from the city w…
Tigris valley seen from the city …
inside one of the retored guard to…
inside one of the retored guard t…
at the top of the city walls
at the top of the city walls
Diyarbakır seen from above
Diyarbakır seen from above
Diyarbakır seen from above
Diyarbakır seen from above
Diyarbakır seen from the walls
Diyarbakır seen from the walls
the narrow streets of Diyarbakır …
the narrow streets of Diyarbakır…
another inquisitive kid I met in t…
another inquisitive kid I met in …
remains of the old citadel
remains of the old citadel
northern end of the old city
northern end of the old city
shades being opened at the Hasan P…
shades being opened at the Hasan …
Diyarbakir Hotels & Accommodations review
Great choice if you like pink and orange
The Surkent hotel is a fairly standard Turkish hotel where little English is spoken. What makes this place stand out amongst the competition are the c… read entire review
Diyarbakir
photo by: Biedjee