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Round the clock control in Diyarbakir

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.

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