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A District Left in Despair: Diyarbakır Suriçi

Curfews declared in Sur district of Diyarbakır in November, 2015, forced many residents to leave their houses.  After the period of continuous armed conflict, 40 percent of the Sur population left their homes; describing what happened as ‘Syrianization’ of Sur.

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Following armed clashes in Sur and appointment of a trustee to the municipality, access to basic public services has been restricted. Inhabitants of Sur were left alone after the crackdown on NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) playing critical role for the people living in the city on fundamental rights such as housing, health and education.

NGOs CLOSED, SUR RESIDENTS LEFT HELPLESS

Among the closed NGOs were the Mesopotamia Lawyers Association, which represented the people affected by the curfews in the city, and Sarmaşık Association, which used to provide food aid and education to 32,000 people, including those who were forced to flee from their hometown.

Tigris Social Research Center (DİTAM), one of the few non-governmental organizations operating in the region, conducted interviews with 500 families in their new neighborhoods for sampling for the ‘Project: Access to Fundamental Rights and Public Services of Displaced Families in Sur District of Diyarbakır’. The field research carried out between 1 August 2017-1 March 2018 with on-site interviews by two sociologists aiming to determine the needs of the displaced families and help them get access to basic rights and services.

According to the results of the on-site interviews done by Dilan Kaya, the Project Coordinator, 40 percent of the 500 families displaced by conflicts and interviewed for the project have now returned to Sur and have been living in rented houses in unblockaded neighborhoods of the district. The new situation reveals that families have no connection with the old city of Sur and cannot afford to live due to higher costs of housing bills and expenses in the apartment buildings in other districts compared to Sur.

Among the 500 families interviewed for the report, 40% have come back to Sur, 26% reside in the neighboring Yenişehir district, mainly in Şehitlik quarter, 30% in Bağlar and 4% in the Huzurevleri vicinity of Kayapınar.

After the clashes ended, on March 25, 2016, the Cabinet of Ministers issued a decree for ‘Immediate Expropriation’ and sent a notice to the families residing in Ali Paşa and Lale Bey neighborhoods of which total population was more than 5.000, which was not directly affected by the clashes and no trenches dug in, in addition to the six neighborhoods.

Even though it has been almost 3 years now since the end of the operations, there is still no news on the houses. 279 out of 500 families stated that they used to live in their own houses before the armed clashes. Only 34 of these families agreed with the government as of the date of interview. Other families who have not come to terms yet, stated that they have been receiving 1.000 TL financial assistance given by Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundation. Families stated that they used the money to pay for educational costs of family members and as a source of income to maintain the minimum subsistence level along with the rent payment. At this point, only 74 families live in their own house after the clashes. The state of conflict has left one of every four families interviewed homeless. Another problem exists in terms of title deeds and housing bonds for the homes in conflict areas. While no information was given about the status of bond houses, three options were offered to deed owners; material compensation for their homes, a new residence by Social Housing Development Administration of Turkey, known as TOKI, and a house in Sur for their demolished house. However, the situation remains unclear, as families have not yet received comprehensive information on these three conditions.

HOMELESS SUR INHABITANTS OFFERED OPTIONS IN NOWHERE

The first one, material compensation for their homes was found to be quite low, the offering of a discount on apartments in state-subsidized housing -TOKI- was not acceptable for the families as it’d put them in a huge debt they couldn’t afford. For the third option offering a new house in Sur, families said the lack of transparency in the process made them think it would be more expensive than TOKIs that they would not pay the debt off, since no information given on the completion date, the building type and price.   Most of the families interviewed for the report emphasized that they would like to live in Sur and their homes should be rebuilt for a reasonable payment.

According to the report, the funding for rent has been cut off when they find a job with insurance benefits, even though provided by ISKUR, Turkish Employment Organization, or when they changed their residence to places outside of Sur, got paid for the houses destroyed in the armed clashes, a family member received financial aid within the scope of social and economic support or financial assistance for persons with disabilities; and they stated cutting off funding on such conditions were unfair.

Some of the families interviewed stated that their homes were not demolished when they returned to their neighborhood with the damage determination committee in order to assess the situation of their houses in the blockaded area after the clashes ended, but that their homes were completely destroyed during debris removal following the end of the clashes. Sur residents stated that the full demolition of houses significantly damaged during the conflicts was understandable, but the demolition of houses with minor damages which could have been repaired, went beyond reason, and that those kind of destructions have aroused a sense that the return of Sur dwellers were deliberately hindered. The concern is also fueled up with no certain information given by the authorities on what will happen to their demolished houses.

The stats on the educational status of the families involved in the research are remarkable. Of the 414 women interviewed, 62 percent were illiterate, 15 percent were illiterate, 17 percent were primary school graduate, 4 percent were secondary school graduate, 2 percent were high school while one person was undergraduate. Of the 85 men interviewed, 35 percent were illiterate, 10 percent were literate, 35 percent were primary school graduates, 15 percent were secondary school graduates, 3 percent were high school graduates and 2 percent had associate degree. Since women were interviewed for the most part, the low female literacy rate draws notice. But the overall average revealed that 58 percent of the interviewees were to be illiterate.

499 of the 500 families responded to the question about ‘social securities’, 63 percent said they had Green Card while 17 families found not to receive any social security benefits. In addition to that, the rate of families receiving any social security benefits found to be around 33 percent.

EMPLOYMENT RATE YET TO REACH EVEN 9 PERCENT

According to the representatives of 499 families of the 500 families interviewed face-to-face, the rate for those already working in a job was not even 9 percent. Adding 13 retirees to this rate only made it 11 percent. It revealed that approximately 89 percent of the interviewed family representatives did not have any job. Female unemployment rate was over 96 percent while the number for men was a notable 48 percent. Although this unemployment rate among men is a significant effect of poverty, however, the fact that significantly lower employment participation rate of women living in Sur requires a broader consideration. The total rate of workers, pensioners and tradesmen was not even 10% among the 499 families who responded the question about their profession. 10 interviewees out of this group stated that they were irregular employees working as peddler, seasonal worker and day laborer on occasions. In the majority of cases, women found to mostly do the housework, as it’s defined as ‘unpaid family worker’ and considered unemployed. It is also worth considering that none of the 500 family representatives randomly selected from Sur were civil servants.

62 OF 500 FAMILIES HAVE NO REGULAR INCOME

The results of the interview with family members revealed that a total of 280 people had a job. It was seen that 44 percent of the family members were insured under SSI or the Social Security Organization for Artisans and the Self-Employed, namely Bağ-Kur, but notably greater 56 percent found to work without receiving any social security benefit. The fact that only one member was employed in most families revealed that informal employment deprives many people of social security. 62 families interviewed within the scope of the project did not have a regular income, and only the 20% earned 2,000 TL or more per month. Approximately half of the families interviewed stated that their monthly income was between 1,000-2,000 TL. The amount of financial assistance given by the governor/district governor for rent was the main reason behind that majority. The interviewees stated that they used the allowance not only for rent but also as a source of income for sustainable livelihood.  70 percent of the interviewees were born and raised in Sur. 84 percent reported to have been living in Sur for more than 24 years. Considering the fact that most of the inhabitants of the old city have been living in Suriçi for at least two generations and have acquired their socio-economic and socio-cultural backgrounds in the city, so the psychological effect of the trauma caused by the clashes concluded in immediate displacement of the families appears to be significant. DITAM REPORT LAID BARE WHAT HAS HAPPENED Among the most victimized were children due to ongoing violation of rights in accessing education and psychological support. DİTAM report also emphasized the lack of a child psychologist in the city and the lack of NGO activists working on child therapy. It’s reported that continuous armed conflicts prevented children from keeping on going schools as schools were shut down due to conflicts in addition to residential problems in places where they were forced to move; and that others who changed their schools experienced school adjustment problems since some said that they did not want to continue education due to fear of going out. In addition, according to the interviews with families; the fact that the new schools they registered in were away from home gave rise to the need for shuttles for transportation, causing families to experience more economic difficulties during the displacement process. This caused the children to skip their schools as some children left their schools completely. The report also told that the grades of many children attending school got worse in the same period and the children didn’t want to go to school.

Eğitim-Sen, a left-wing teachers’ union, Diyarbakir branch stated that 15 schools and 7,450 students affected by the conflicts under curfew. As some children skipped the school during the conflict period, they lost their chance to continue peer learning, and this situation led to increase in adjustment problems.

The families stated that their daughters were helping them do the housework and did not continue their education while boys were working to support their family after the school, if not, full time.

The information received from 498 of the 500 interviews revealed 43 children, 20 girls and 23 boys quitted the school after the conflict period. 26 of those were used to be secondary school students while 14 were in high school and 3 were in primary school. Mother of five and the wife of Savaş neighborhood head –muhtar- Ahmet Şen, Leyla Şen said:

 

Translation: Erhan Sevim