Sunday, 9 June 2013

In Diyarbakir

Diyarbakir's old town stands on the banks of the River Tigris, and is surrounded by thick, black basalt walls that stretch for 6km and house four massive gates.

Outside the walls and surrounding the old town stand dozens and dozens of partially constructed, glitzy apartment blocks like a besieging army. As the connecting minibus ferries me towards the old town's eastern gate through this vast construction site I'm left wondering who will eventually occupy them - certainly not the average Kurdish family who could never afford such luxury.

The old town is rundown and crowded. Dilapidated shops and hovels stand alongside ancient churches and mosques built of stripes of white limestone and black basalt.


Walking around I immediately noticed two things. First, a massive military police presence; pock-marked armoured cars and soldiers with automatic weapons were highly visible on the main streets. Secondly, I saw lots of homeless people begging for money.

This felt more like parts of India than Turkey.

Previously, I had only seen one beggar on the trip - and he was more like a local madman who lurked around my favourite coffee shop in Antalya with a set of bathroom scales. He delighted in alarming elderly Germans by trying to weigh them for money. I had the impression he did it more a less obvıous reason than cash.

My hotel was unusual in that breakfast was not included, so I made my way to the beautiful, old caravanserai – a stopover for travellers on the ancient trade routes from Istanbul to the east. It was built on two floors around a large courtyard that now contained gift shops and restaurants.

Here, once again it started to pour with rain, so  I settled back and ordered the set breakfast without realising what I was letting myself in for. 

My waiter was a shy teenager keen to practise his English.
"What is your name?"
"My name is Simon." Full, simple response time.
"Where are you from?"
"I'm from England...Ingliterra."
"Yes, Turkey is beautiful."
"Diyarbakir beautiful?"
"Yes, yes. Very beautiful!" Despite the appalling weather.

Satisfied, he started ferrying dishes from the kitchen to my table.

Eventually, I counted eleven dishes not counting the bread. I looked at the clotted cream (kaymak) covered in crushed nuts and honey and resigned myself to putting on some weight.
As I was finishing a plate of fruit salad my waiter reappeared. He pointed at the vanishing fruit salad,
"Very good, yes!"
He slipped away then returned and placed a larger plate of fruit salad on the table.
"Ah, um yes..."
Oh dear, this could end messily.

Eventually the combined onslaught of breakfast and rain halted and I waddled through puddles, past soaking soldiers and tea houses to a recently restored Armenian church.

The roof is only a couple of years old.


From there I headed to the south gate of the city walls where there were stairs leading up onto the battlements. I spotted the Tigris and felt a bit giddy when I realised I was standing in Mesopotamia.

I walked along the walls until the rain returned.


I ducked into a large, old tea house and sat with tea watching the rain outside and being watched by the house regulars. When they were satisfied I wasn't about to do anything else strange they settled back into their games and conversations.

I got my camera out and everyone happily assented to being photographed. They joked and argued about the shots I took.


I eventually left feeling that what had just happened was an perfect example of why I love travelling.

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