Police using teargas and water cannon,Diyarbakir region, December 2015. Demotix/ Avni Kantan. All rights reserved.On November 2, 2016, the Metropolitan Municipality of Diyarbakir has been put under forced administration by the central Turkish government. This act of repression is part of a larger campaign of the AKP government to crush the Kurdish and left opposition, increasingly so since the failed military coup in July 2016. In total 35 municipalities ruled by the HDP (People's Democratic Party), respectively its member party DBP (Democratic Regions Party), have now been taken over by an AKP administrator, are occupied by a big number of police and to date hundreds of employees have been fired. This is an account of the life within the Municipality of Diyarbakir by one of the employees after the occupation.
I am walking along the corridor, towards the two police officers sitting by the entrance to the secretariat. Until last week, this was the spot of my colleague M., a security guard who always had a book with him, using his downtime to read. We shared daily conversations, from ancient Mesopotamian mythology, to Marx or Sumerian poetry.
I avoid eye contact with the police, turn left and unlock my office door. For more than one year, I have been working in this room, but now I have not been able to enter it for over a week. I immediately check the desks, drawers and walls. They have only been rummaging around – less than in the other rooms on the first floor. Luckily, I was able to save important and personal belongings beforehand, and saved my files on my private computer.
In the first few days, I can only bear up to two hours in the office. I read news, books, and ask myself: what am I still doing here? What am I supposed to actually work on now?
If I want to see my colleagues in the upper floors, I need to pass more armed policemen. They disgust me, but not as much as their commanding officers. What are these policemen even thinking? How can they reconcile this situation with their conscience? For so many years, this place had been a bit of a safe haven, free from this paranoid state with its inhumane ideology. Almost all friends are still here – but some do not show up to work in protest. Nobody wants to provide services as demanded – except maintenance and other basic public services. Everybody is on edge and asks: what is happening to us? How can we resist? Ever since the town hall has been taken over by force and the use of clubs, firearms, tear gas, and water cannons, everything has changed. The entire city has completely changed.
We drink tea and discuss. Our unanimous opinion is: to engage in passive resistance, to reject promotions and close cooperation, but also to avoid risking easy sackings. The occupation will end at some point – even if that will take two years until the next local elections.
We talk carefully and quietly, as all rooms could be bugged. We had stopped writing emails through the available computers; during the protests, they banned our Internet and now they control it. What is even worse are the facial expressions of the staff workers. Nobody smiles any more, nobody jokes. Without humour, life is lacking an importance essence, its soul.
The municipal staff members are also sad because so many social, cultural and sports institutions and projects had been initiated and built up over the last years. Especially structures for the preservation and progress of the Kurdish language (such as kindergardens in Kurdish), memorial culture, extracurricular education, sports and more than a dozen community houses in the districts will probably be stopped step by step or deprived of their original core soon. Behind them lie years of discussion, preparation, and hard work. It will hurt immensely should they be shut down.
There is only one remaining staff member of the secretariat, he tells me that all other members of staff have been evicted. Now he needs to sit around with a bunch of police all day. Since the arrival of the “occupying force“, I had not dared to enter the lion’s cave.
I miss my colleague X., who has been sacked along with two other staff members on the second day of the administrative takeover of the municipality by the government and the police. I fear that more friends will suffer the same fate. If not immediately, then in a few weeks. It is foreseeable that the state will try to discourage colleagues through these dismissals. The state will also try to put those into high positions who are close to the government or available to switch alliances. In other words: divide and rule. This sounds all too familiar.
The police also occupy the entire town hall; everyone is stopped 50 metres away. Water and tear gas cannons are ready to intervene. For us, this is state terror and colonialism. Only staff members with valid IDs and registered people are allowed to pass. Every morning, there is a 50 metre long queue. We have to endure humiliating personal checks – as if we want to go to the United States or North Korea – even those, who have been working in the town hall for 20 years. Last year, I was so excited to come to Diyarbakir to work on my project on the Tigris River in the city district. That is over now. War is here and it is swallowing the people.
The Turkish state might feel strong. It might have restored “order” from its own perspective. But this repressive behaviour will strike back one day – all bans and occupations will have to be reversed. There is no doubt that one day freedom will return.
This article was originally published in German in the Frankfurter Rundschau on November 21.