Inside all those houses

I’m on the sixth floor of a big apartment block of some twelve floors. From the balcony I look out on the surroundings and chat with R., the lady of the house. The area is called Diclekent, a huge and still new part of the city. The block where R. lives with her husband and three children was completed in 2007. Luxurious, spacious apartment blocks, parks in between, children’s playgrounds. Diyarbakir is still growing fast, and new areas like this continue to be built. It all looks very modern.

It looks modern, but that doesn’t mean life is always very modern here. We look out over other apartment blocks and a small new park with baby trees, but, behind that, over a huge wasteland. There are two fires there, with women sitting around it. ‘I often go there too’, R. says. She is originally from a village in the province of Hakkari. She continues: ‘We make a fire and we grill vegetables, mostly peppers and eggplant. It’s very tasty’.

I know, I have tasted that often in Turkey, and it’s multi-purpose and is also used for a very nice dish, eggplant salad. R. opens the drawer of her fridge and shows me a few big frozen packages: ‘See’, she says, ‘I make a lot at one time and freeze it. I love going there. We sit together with the women, we chat and we grill. It’s very traditional; we don’t give it up even though we live in these modern houses.’

Diclekent (though not the part where R. lives). On the left behind the buildings a wasteland used for grilling and such. Click to enlarge.

In the corner of the wasteland there is a pile of stones. I recognize it from the distance: it’s a bread oven. You make a fire inside and stick the flat bread to the inside of the oven. It’s ultra tasty once it’s ready. I remember once when I was strolling around in Diyarbakir a woman insisted on giving me one. She just stuffed it in my backpack; I felt the heat of it through the fabric on my back. Not too far from this wasteland in Diclekent, there is a bakery shop. Of course, many people go there to buy bread, but the oven is also used on a daily basis.

It is nice to hold on to old traditions. That the women still come together for these traditional ways of cooking, despite not living in villages anymore but in a big city. But a few days earlier, I also heard about the other side of holding on to traditional life. It happened when I was walking in a park close by my house in the evening.

As I was sitting on a bench, two young men came towards me. Could they ask me something? Yes, of course. They recognized me from a TV appearance on CNN Turk, earlier this year. ‘We loved it’, they said. Could they sit down and talk a bit? Of course.

Three minutes later they had told me they were gay. Very suddenly, after asking where I was from and after getting my confirmation that yes, gay marriage was legal in my home country, ‘We want to go there!’ they said. ‘What a freedom!’

I use exclamation marks, but they were actually sort of shout-whispering. Because they soon added they were secret gays. Nobody knew. They met each other via an internet site and became good friends. One of them had a boyfriend, the other didn’t. Nobody could ever know. ‘You have heard about gay Kurds being killed by their families, haven’t you?’ Yes, I have.

Gay rights demo earlier this year in Diyarbakir, organized by local group ‘Hebûn’, meaning ‘To be’. Click to enlarge.

I brought up a gay rights group in Diyarbakir, that actually held its first gay rights demonstration this year in the city. Did they attend? ‘No, definitely not. Hardly anybody from Diyarbakir did. It’s too dangerous. The participants were mostly from other parts of Turkey, just here to support gays in this region. Which is great, of course.’

They dreamed of moving to other parts of Turkey. Izmir, on the west coast, was their dream destination, or Istanbul. There they could live a more free life, away from the pressure of their families. But they worried about living in those cities too. ‘It’s not easy being a Kurd in the west of the country. There is discrimination, you know. When you say you are from Diyarbakir, you are treated differently. So if we ever move there, we will have to be secret Kurds.’ They laughed. ‘It’s tragic-comic, isn’t it?’, one of them said. ‘Here in Diyarbakir we are secret gays, in Izmir we will be secret Kurds’.

They looked around. Cars were speeding on the busy road alongside the park. An older part of Diyarbakir on one side of the park, brand new apartment blocks on the other. ‘Don’t be deceived by all these modern-looking buildings’, they told me very seriously. ‘It’s only the outside. Inside all those houses, life is still very traditional. You have to fit in. And it’s very difficult if you don’t.’

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