Diyarbakir prison

A school, who could be against founding a school? In Diyarbakir, the biggest Kurdish city in the southeast, many people are strongly against it. Well, against one special government project. The former (military) prison of Diyarbakir should be given new life as a school, says the government. No, say many Kurds, it should be a museum, so nobody ever forgets what happened there.

Diyarbakir prison was once one of the world’s most notorious prisons. After the 1980 coup many people were tortured and murdered there, and in the nineties, when the war between the state and the PKK was at its dirtiest, itwas the country’s most horrible torture centre. I’m not going to get into details, but dozens of people were killed and permanently injured there, both physically and mentally.

I was in Diyarbakir this weekend and saw the prison for the first time. A protest was held in front of the entrance to support the call to turn it into a museum. I expected the building to be on the outskirts of town, but it was actually in the middle of the busy neighbourhood of Baglar. In Baglar there are a lot of Kurds  who used to live in south-eastern villages. Those villages were burned in the fight against the PKK and the inhabitants had to seek refuge in the city. They came to a very hard life in Diyarbakir: all of a sudden they had to pay rent (in the village they had their own houses) and couldn’t make a living any more from small-scale agriculture and breeding animals, like they were used to. Many of the huge apartment blocks have a view of the prison complex, where (alleged) PKK members and supporters (and Kurds at random) were tortured and killed. In Baglar, you could say, all lot of horrible consequences of Turkey’s way of dealing with it’s Kurdish population come together.

The prison is still in use, but it’s not the hell it used to be anymore. Some progress is being made in working towards a real solution of the Kurdish question. But the system which is behind the whole matter, is still in operation. That system is based on the Turkish nation state, and one of the most important slogans of the system is: One State, One Flag, One Nation (and sometimes ‘One Language’ is added). It leaves no room for anybody who has any identity other than Turkish. It created the Kurdish question by denying the very existence of the Kurdish people.

Every Turk knows this slogan, from childhood on these ‘truths’ are imposed on children in classrooms around the country. Also the sentence children have to proclaim every morning in front of the flag before they enter their classes reveals this nationalistic idea: ‘I’m a Turk, I’m honest and hardworking’. Which makes it totally clear why Kurds are against turning the prison into a school: the building will again be used to keep a system alive that created so many victims.

No decision has been made yet, but Kurds campaigned this weekend for establishing a museum. There was a protest, a symposium, and in the municipal art centre a photo exhibition was opened. I spoke to a few former inmates who endured the torture for three, six, and one of them for even eighteen years. They can never forget what happened, and feel that others too should never forget. I wonder if they will be able to convince the representatives of the system.

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