New threat in Sur: urban transformation

The curfew and the clashes that follow it continue in Sur province of Diyarbakir. There have been intermittent curfews in Sur since September 6. There is a ban on entering or leaving the province. Civilians were killed and many buildings in the province are damaged.

Sur is a historical province in Diyarbakir, where there are a lot of old houses, inns and cultural structures. It is known that the cultural structures are damaged. Diyarbakir Bar Association Chair Tahir Elçi was killed in front of the historical Dört Ayaklı (four-legged) minaret, while he was emphasizing the threat against the cultural structures. Kurşunlu Mosque, one of the most important structures in the province, was damaged because of the clashes. Photographs from the region show that the houses of the civilians became almost inhabitable. Almost 20.000 people left the province. 

“TOKİ on duty”

In Sur, urban transformation has been discussed for a while. In 2010, 330 buildings were demolished as part of the transformation plan. After the reactions, demolitions had stopped. In 2012, the region was declared “risk area” by the Cabinet Council. With the clashes, the transformation is put on the agenda once again. The Governor of Diyarbakir, speaking to Habertürk newspaper, stated that the damaged houses won’t be repaired, but compensation will be given to the right-holders. Then, on Tuesday, Star newspaper called TOKİ (Housing Development Administration of Turkey) for duty and wrote that TOKİ should launch urban transformation in Sur. It is claimed that a decision for “urgent expropriation” might be made. HDP Diyarbakir MP Felaknas Uca brought these claims to parliamentary agenda. She prepared a written question addressed to Prime Minister Davutoğlu: “Is there a link between the curfew in Sur and the urban transformation project that TOKİ tried to launch in Sur in 2009?”

Caution: the ministry

People are worried that there will be a transformation threat in Sur after the clashes.

Speaking to Agos, the Union of Architects Diyarbakir Branch Chair Merthan Anık reminded that the planned urban transformation in Sur was stopped because of the reactions and stated that the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning tries to take advantage from the current clashes. Pointing out that heavy weapons are being used in the clashes, he claimed that the clashes are about the transformation project.

Anık said: “Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality has protective zoning plans for Sur and they are still in effect. Anyone who wants do something in Sur has to act in accordance with these plans which were designed to protect the traditional architectural structure of the province. However, the ministry has broad authority and might exclude the municipality for designing new plans. In this case, social opposition would emerge and the municipality should lead this opposition movement.”

“Return of the locals should be waited”

Emphasizing the forced immigration of the locals of Sur, Anık said, “People were forced to leave their houses. They left, but they want to return. First of all, we should wait for these people to return. Locals are what make Sur as it is. Cultural heritage is not only about architecture. The population and the culture shouldn’t change.”

Reminding that Diyarbakir Walls are in UNESCO Cultural Heritage List, Anık said, “Sur is the buffer zone. Any change that would be made in the province should conform to UNESCO regulations.”

Churches shut down

Mufti of Diyarbakir Burhan İşleyen declared that 18 mosques cannot serve because of the clashes. Sur is the only center in Diyarbakir with houses of worship of the non-Muslims. Surp Giragos Armenian Church, Assyrian Church, Chaldean Church and Protestant Church in Diyarbakir cannot serve at the moment. There are no other churches in Diyarbakir. 


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Uygar Gültekin