16 June, 2010

Diyarbakır: motif #4

My trust is injured. the world hardens into companions and competitors, friends and thieves. Sometimes the lines are hard to draw.

Day 3. Two days of wandering, being hounded, and i was ready to leave Diyarbakır behind. Having secured a bus ticket onward, i left my things in care of the hotel and set out to see more of Diyarbakır than just the bubble of tourism and hard sell in the old city. Speciically, i wanted to see the broad expanse of green labeled "Hevsel Bahçeleri" (market gardens) on the map, spreading from Mardin Gate towards the Tigris. I passed the row of street cobblers on Gazi Caddesi; passed şerbetçı jingling their cups, children with three-wheeled barrows. By Mardin gate i saw a tangle of parked tractors; once i passed outside and turned left towards the green space, the city's turmoil vanished.

While the new city marches away far to the north and northwest in ranks of modern high-rises, the southeast corner abruptly stops outside the ancient walls. First come the orchards - apple, peach, plum, you name it, interspersed with few mixed-vegetable plots Americans would more typically think of as market gardens - then, within the river's floodplain, poplar plantations. The road quickly turns to dirt, fields on either side and a trickling stream for company. The same general assemblage of agricultural weeds grew in the ditch, a familiar and comforting element in a foreign place. In the midday heat, the gardens were deserted; even the apples have already been harvested. In over an hour of walking, i saw only six people, coming and going from their work.

Over a mile out, to look back at the city walls is an inspiring sight. They lie low, at the brow of a hill, and in today's age of airborne weaponry they seem ineffectual. Yet picture them looming in the eyes of a Seljuk invader and you will have a sense of their power. These walls are one of three motifs of Diyarbakır. The black-and-white band of alternating stones can be seen in handcrafted, hand dyed carpets (but i advise you beware the carpet shop folks, who are especially persuasive here). Even in the new city, meter-high walls complete with miniature towers stretch alongside Koşu Yolu Park.

Since this was at one time a Christian city, the second motif is churches (the Turkish for church is kilesi).  One can visit the Church of the Virgin Mary, Katolik Church, Protestant Church, Armenian Church - the map lists seven in all, scattered among the more plentiful and, in some cases, architecturally unique mosques. While mosques throughout Turkiye show domes and rounded surfaces typical of Ottoman design, here there are several in the Arabic style with flat roofs and square minarets of the same dark basalt as the walls. (There are also a couple of unusual Ottoman-period minarets to be seen.) I would hardly have noticed these tourist sights if not for stumbling across them as i traversed the city in search of my camera.

Each of Turkiye's major cities has an emblem that appears on municipal signs, police badges, you name it. In Istanbul, it's a stylized image of the ubiquitous Ottoman mosques. Here in Diyarbakır, the emblem consists of two stone towers flanking a church steeple, and forming the rounded base, the third motif: a watermelon. Karpuz, as they're called in Turkish, are the region's specialty, and images on souvenir magnets depict the massive fruits. Watermelon colors are everywhere; red and green is common on signage, they are the Diyarbakirspor team colors, and even within the Great Mosque courtyard, ceiling and timbers underneath an overhang are painted red and green.

The other color i saw a lot of was lavender. Here in D-bakır, older men often wear loosely wrapped scarves to keep the sun off their heads, and lavender was by far the most common hue, leaving me to wonder about its significance.


The fourth motif of Diyarbakır you will not find on souvenirs. 

Last night, tired and hungry, i'd gone to a restaurant on Gazi Caddesi. It looked like your typical "Lokantasi" (cafeteria-style eatery), perhaps cheaper than the restaurants scattered among the hotels on Kibris Cad. Inside, the options weren't inspiring, but i ordered a plate of pilaf and another of vegetable goulash. It was the same sort of thing the Ministry fellows had shared for lunch - a spicy mixture of peppers, tomatoes, and onions - though this one had no potatoes, and instead of being ground, the meat came in bony chunks. 

It's rather troubling if you stop to think about the difference between tourist food - the gourmet specialties of the city, rich şiş kebabs - and what the locals actually eat. Protein, for example, is not plentiful. As i picked carefully at the scarce meat hidden among those vegetables, i reflected how life in Diyarbakır's old quarter is rather like this meal: a spicy, muddy mingle where things lie close to the bone, where the meat is hard to find.