Diggers demolish ancient district in Diyarbakir

Police and armored vehicles guarding diggers in Sur.

Diggers accompanied by police that arrived in Diyarbakir’s historical Sur district on Tuesday morning and began demolishing buildings in Alipasa and Lalebey neighbourhoods were met with protests by local residents.

Although water and electricity had been cut, people refused to leave their homes in protest of the decision to demolish the areas.

Sur was one of the main sites of fierce clashes between Kurdish militants and Turkish security forces between 2015-2016 that resulted in 2,000 deaths and 500,000 displaced over Kurdish dominated southeastern Turkey, according to the United Nations.

On 24 July 2015, Turkey announced an official military operation against PKK targets in Iraqi Kurdistan and Rojava respectively, claiming to inflict dozens of fatalities on PKK fronts – which caused the PKK to withdraw from the peace talks and announce a full-scale rebellion against the government. The same day, Turkey also performed a nationwide crackdown on so-called PKK operatives, arresting hundreds, including Peoples’ Democratic Party members and leaders.

The walls surrounding the Sur district were first built in the mid-fourth century AD by Romans under the order of Constantius II and expanded and fortified over the next 1500 years. UNESCO listed the fortress as a world heritage in 2015 along with the Hevsel Gardens that streches out below the walls.

Turkey’s only UNESCO goodwill ambassador, author and poet Zulfu Livaneli, resigned from his position in protest of the destruction of historical Sur district and due to “UNESCO’s silence on human rights violations and lack of fundamental freedoms” as Turkish security forces layed siege on the city.

Thousands of new flats were already planned for the Sur district but the TOKI mass housing agency that works directly under the Prime Ministry since 2003 could not realise the urban transformation and renewal projects due to local resistance.

“Even if there were no clashes in the region”, Davutoglu said, “areas like Sur, Silopi and Nusaybin would need to undergo urban transformation because those places have suffered from decades-long irregular urbanization. We will restore all the historic places without changing anything. We will restore Sur so that it looks like Toledo. It will become an area people would like to visit.”

A digger destroying houses in Sur on Tuesday.