Call For Sur

Dear Friends,

In the aftermath of armed conflict in 2015-2016, in more than ten historical towns in the Southeast of Turkey, with months of uninterrupted curfews and forced evictions, the area is faced with the wholesale destruction of cultural, social and economic urban life, as well as a large number of registered cultural heritage sites.

In the walled city of Sur, the historical centre of Diyarbakir and an important multi-cultural historical heritage site in Northern Mesopotamia with roots going back to millennia, a Historical Conservation Site since 1988 and buffer zone to the city walls which were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2015, the destruction has been immense. An area consisting of six different residential quarters and once boasting many registered cultural heritage sites, has largely been razed and turned into empty land and barren boulevards. More than twenty five thousand residents have been forced to find refuge outside the city, the number going up to forty thousand together with the affected contiguous areas. Entry into four different quarters of Sur is still prohibited. Meanwhile tens of cultural historical landmarks have been damaged or destroyed, including the St. Giragos Church, whose impeccable restoration received a European Heritage Award in 2015, given jointly by the European Union and Europa Nostra.

In March 2016, 80% of the land in the Sur district, including 595 registered monumental or civilian cultural sites, was expropriated by government decree, underpinned by a “Law for the amelioration of disaster risk areas,” passed in 2012 by the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government. The government has declared that brand new neighbourhoods are to be constructed in the area, without any consultation either with the Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality, Municipality of Sur, the Site Management Directorate, or the more than 300 civil society organisations making up the Sur Conservation Platform. No detailed plans have been divulged so far.

This tragedy is now threatening to be repeated in the residential quarters of Alipasa and Lalebey in Sur, under the pretext of an urban renewal project (viz. “disaster risk” law cited above)undersigned by the Greater Diyarbakir Municipality and the Housing Development Administration (TOKI) in 2009. It should be noted that the conditions of the project stipulate that the street plan and significant works of civil architecture, be they registered or not, shall be conserved; these considerations have been blatantly violated. At the time about half of the parcels were vacated in return for new housing provided by TOKI, and these abandoned houses have been partially demolished and made inhabitable. Those who refused to give up their houses continued to inhabit them until 2016, when forced evictions were put into effect and (un-negotiable) indemnities deposited in bank accounts in the name of the homeowners regardless of their lack of consent. At the moment, about half the original residents have been continuing to live in their houses in spite of the cuts of basic amenities like water and electricity and even the disruption of sewers since the end of May 2016 (beginning of the month of Ramadan), as well as continual harassment. With the full expropriation of Sur, 90% of the land will pass into the hands of the state, ironically including many of the cultural sites which are already state property.

The indemnities paid to many residents will be far short of ensuring equivalent housing. The neighbourhood network, strongly based on family relations, will be completely disrupted; the livelihood of these families, partly based on tilling the Hevsel Gardens skirting the city walls, will be completely cut off. Demolition has already started in parts of Alipasa and Lalebey. Neighbourhoods with one or two story houses built out of basaltic blocks are being levelled, foundations being uprooted, the intricate medieval street plan being erased. What is being perpetrated here is nothing less than the demolition of a living culture and a demographic structure which has endured for ages, and which has put Sur on the World Heritage List.

We call upon civil society organisations active in the field of heritage, human settlements and human rights from all over Europe, including Turkey, to call upon the present Turkish government to immediately lift all blockades and repeal the eviction and demolition orders in the neighbourhoods of Alipasa and Lalebey, and to abide by the internationally established norms regarding the rebuilding and rehabilitation of areas affected by disaster or armed conflict, in consultation with local residents, civil societal organizations and professional associations.

With our deep regards,

Co-spokespersons for the Peace Bloc,

Zelal Ekinci and Bahadır Altan
Further references:

N. Soyukaya, Updated Sur Report 1.8.2017,
N. Soyukaya, Presentation on Devastation in Sur, 22.7.2017,
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights South-East Turkey Report – 10 March 2017
Amnesty International report, Evictions and expropriation in Sur; Sur residents’right of return, EUR 44/5213/2016,