The historic Hevsel Gardens in Turkey’s Kurdish southeastern Diyarbakir province has been opened to construction with an emergency decree law by the government. The 7,000 year site near the shores of the Tigris river became a World Heritage Site in 2015 along with Diyarbakir Fortress next to it.
Speaking to Kom News, Diyarbakir Chamber of Architects Co-head, Serefhan Aydin, said that Turkey’s ministry of environment and urbanisation had said they were going to build a mosque, cafes, restaurants and parking area at Kirklar Mountain’s sides, next to Hevsel Gardens buffer zone.
“We are afraid that it is a long-term plan which will involve Hevsel Gardens’ occupation to raise the income of this area. We see indications of this already and highly concerned that Hevsel will be destroyed.”
The gardens, alongside Diyarbakir’s historical Sur district, were damaged in military operations and clashes between mid 2015 and early 2016. Tanks and armed vehicles were deployed in the area and led to the destruction of the fertile soil of the gardens, while trees continue being cut down by diggers employed by the government.
According to Kurdish news outlet Sujin, Turkish authorities are insisting on expropriating the area even though locals and environmental organisations have made legal objections. The report claims that Turkey’s ministry of environment and urbanisation has begun to cash deposits into the bank accounts of some citizens who own land in the Hevsel Gardens, without asking permission.
Six neighbourhoods of the Sur district, in the cultural centre of Diyarbakir, were also demolished by heavy artillery and bombs during the conflict between the Turkish army and Kurdish militia.
Serefhan Aydin also stressed that the curfews in the six neighbourhoods, in place since 25 December 2015, had spread with demolitions also going on in the conflict-free neighbourhoods like Cevatpasa.
“The government demolished and expropriated the district without asking the inhabitants. Some of these people didn’t allow the government to urbanise the area even before the clashes started. The authorities used the conflict as an excuse to expropriate the district and also for gentrification,” Aydin said.
According to human rights organisations, around 120,000 people who live in the district were displaced because of clashes. Demolition in Sur, which began in November 2015 has led to around 40 thousands people from the six neighbourhoods losing their homes. A curfew was declared in the area to demolish the buildings without the homeowners permission, another form of expropriation according to residents, reported Sujin.
UNESCO’s silence has been severely criticised by the Diyabakir Chamber of Architects and ecology movements, as well as the inhabitants of the province.
“We wrote a letter to UNESCO to inform and invite them to act against the construction. However, they are silent. They looked the other way and kept quiet during the demolition of Sur. This time, we hope they break their silence and protect the world heritage gardens,” Aydin concluded.