Diyarbakır (Ottoman Turkish: Diyâr-ı Bekr; Kurdish: Amed; Ancient Greek: Amida; Syriac: Amid; Armenian: Tigranakert) is one of the largest cities in southeastern Turkey. Situated on the banks of the River Tigris, it is the administrative capital of the Diyarbakır Province and with a population of about 843,460 it is the second largest city in Turkey’s South-eastern Anatolia region, after Gaziantep.
The area around Diyarbakır has been inhabited by humans from the stone age with tools from that period having been discovered in the nearby Hilar cave complex. The pre-pottery neolothic B settlement of Çayönü dates to over 10,000 years ago and its excavated remains are on display at the Diyarbakır Museum. Another important site is Girikihaciyan Tumulus in Egil.
The first major civilization to establish themselves in what is now Diyarbakır were the Hurrian kingdom of the Mitanni who made it their military and trade capital. The city was then ruled by a succession of nearly every polity that controlled Upper Mesopotamia such as the Assyrians, Urartu, Medes, Seleucids and Parthians.
The name of the city is inscribed as Amid on the sheath of a sword from the Assyrian period, and the same name was used in other contemporary Syriac and Arabic works. The Romans and Byzantines called the city Amida.
Amida was an ancient city located where modern Diyarbakır, Turkey now stands. The Roman writers Ammianus Marcellinus and Procopius consider it a city of Mesopotamia, but it may be more properly viewed as belonging to Armenia Major.
The city was located on the right bank of the Tigris. The walls are lofty and substantial, and constructed of the ruins of ancient edifices. As the place is well adapted for a commercial city, it is probable that Amida was a town of considerable antiquity.
Amid(a) was the capital of the Aramean kingdom Bet-Zamani from the 13th century BC onwards. The city was called Amida when the region was under the rule of the Roman Empire (from 66 BC).
It was enlarged and strengthened by Constantius II, in whose reign it was besieged and taken after seventy-three days by the Sassanid king Shapur II (359). The Roman soldiers and a large part of the population of the town were massacred by the Persians. The historian Ammianus Marcellinus, who took part in the defence of the town, has given a minute account of the siege. In 363 Amida was re-taken by Roman Emperor Julian.
Amida was besieged by the Sassanid king Kavadh I during the Anastasian War through the autumn and winter (502-503). The siege of the city proved to be a far more difficult enterprise than Kavadh expected; the defenders, although unsupported by troops, repelled the Sassanid assaults for three months before they were finally beaten. During that same war, the Romans attempted an ultimately unsuccessful siege of the Persian-held Amida, led by generals Patricius and Hypatius. In 504, however, the Romans reconquered the city, and Justinian I repaired its walls and fortifications.
Tigranocerta (Tigranakert) was the capital of the Armenian Kingdom. It bore the name of Tigranes the Great, who founded the city in the first century BC. The city possibly located near present-day Silvan or nearby Arzan (Arzn, in the Armenian province of Arzanene or Aghdznik), east of Diyarbakır, Turkey. It was one of four cities in historic Armenia named Tigranakert. The others were located in Nakhichevan, Artsakh and Utik.
To create this city, Tigranes forced many people out of their homes to make up the population. Armenia at this time had expanded east to the Caspian Sea, west to central Cappadocia, and south towards Judea, advancing as far as the regions surrounding what is now the Krak des Chevaliers. A Roman force under Lucius Lucullus defeated Tigranes at the Battle of Tigranocerta nearby in 69 BC, and afterwards sacked the city, sending many of the people back to their original homes.
During Pompey the Great’s ‘conquests of the east’, Tigranocerta was retaken briefly by Rome, but was lost when Tigranes the Great was given parts of his kingdom back after his initial surrender to Pompey for the cost of 6,000 talents (an indemnity paid to Rome over an uncertain period). It was again taken by the Romans when Corbulo, a Roman legate (head of a legion), defeated Tiridates during the Armenian rebellion of 64 AD.
The city’s markets were filled with traders and merchants doing business from all over the ancient world. Tigranocerta quickly became a very important commercial, as well as cultural center of the Near East.
The magnificent theater that was established by the Emperor, of which he was an avid devotee, conducted dramas and comedies mostly played by Greek as well as Armenian actors. Plutarch wrote that Tigranocerta was «a rich and beautiful city where every common man and every man of rank studied to adorn it.»
The Hellenistic culture during the Artaxiad Dynasty had a strong influence and the Greek language was in fact the official language of the court. Tigranes had divided Greater Armenia – the nucleus of the Empire – into four major strategic regions or viceroyalties.
The Battle of Tigranocerta was fought on October 6, 69 BC between the forces of the Roman Republic and the army of the Kingdom of Armenia led by King Tigranes the Great. The Roman force was led by Consul Lucius Licinius Lucullus, and Tigranes was defeated. His capital city of Tigranocerta was lost to Rome as a result. The Roman Republic gained control of the city in 66 BC by when it was renamed «Amida».
After the plunder, which included the destruction of statues and temples, the city was set ablaze. An abundant quantity of gold and silver was carried off to Rome as war booty. Lucullus took most of the gold and silver from the melted-down statues, pots, cups and other valuable metals and precious stones. During the pillage most of the city’s inhabitants simply fled to the countryside. The newly established theater building was also destroyed in the fire. The great city would never recover from this devastating destruction.
During the Ottoman period, Armenians referred to the city of Diyarbekir as Dikranagerd (Western Armenian pronunciation of Tigranakert).
In 359, Shapur II of Sassanid Persia captured Amida after a siege of 73 days, which is vividly described by the Roman army officer Ammianus Marcellinus, an historian of Greek origin from Antioch, in his work (Res Gestae).
The Sassanids captured the city for a third time in 602 and held it for more than twenty years. In 628 the Roman emperor Heraclius recovered Amida.
Finally, in 639 the city was captured by the Arabic Ummayad armies, which introduced the religion of Islam. The Arab Bakr tribe occupied this region, which became known as the Diyar Bakr («landholdings of the Bakr tribe», in Persian: Diyar-ı Bekir).
The city remained in Arab hands until the Kurdish dynasty of Marwanid ruled the area during the 10th and 11th centuries.
After the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the city came under the rule of the Mardin branch of Oghuz Turks and then the Anatolian beylik of Artuqids . The whole area was then disputed between the Ilkhanate and Ayyubid dynasties for a century, after which it was taken over by the competing Turkic federations of the Kara Koyunlu (the Black Sheep) first and then the Ak Koyunlu (the White Sheep). It was also ruled by Sultanate of Rûm between 1241 and 1259.
In 1085, Seljuq Turks captured the region from Marwanids, and they settled many Turcomans in the region. However, Ayyubids received the city from Seljuqs in 1201, and the city ruled by them until Mogolian dynasty of Ilkhanate captured the city in 1259. Later the Turkmen dynasty of Artukids received the city from Ayyubids and ruled the region till 1409.
Among the Artukid, a Turkmen dynasty that ruled in Eastern Anatolia, Northern Syria and Northern Iraq in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and Akkoyunlu, a Sunni Oghuz Turkic tribal federation that ruled parts of present-day Eastern Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, northern Iraq, and Iran from 1378 to 1501, it was known as «Black Amid» (Kara Amid) for the dark color of its walls, while in the Zafername, or eulogies in praise of military victories, it is called «Black Fortress» (Kara Kale). In the Book of Dede Korkut and some other Turkish works it appears as Kara Hamid.
The city was conquered from the Safavids and brought under the Ottoman Empire by the campaigns of Bıyıklı Mehmet Paşa under the rule of the Ottoman Emperor, Sultan Selim I, in 1515.
The Ottoman eyalet of Diyarbakır corresponded to Turkey’s southeastern provinces today, a rectangular area between the Lake Urmia to Palu and from the southern shores of Lake Van to Cizre and the beginnings of the Syrian desert, although its borders saw some changes over time.
The city was an important military base for controlling this region and at the same time a thriving city noted for its craftsmen, producing glass and metalwork. For example the doors of Mevlana’s tomb in Konya were made in Diyarbakır, as were the gold and silver decorated doors of the tomb of Imam-i Azam in Baghdad.
In 1895, Armenians and Assyrians were subject to massacres in Diyarbakır. The city had been also a site for ethnic cleansing of Armenians, nearly 150,000 were deported from the city.
In 1937, Atatürk visited Diyarbekir and, after expressing uncertainty on the true etymology of the city, ordered that it be renamed «Diyarbakır,» which means land of copper in Turkish.
In the reorganization of the provinces, Diyarbakır was made administrative capital of Diyarbakır Province. During the 1980s and 1990s at the peak of the PKK insurgency, the population of the city grew dramatically as villagers from remote areas where fighting was serious left or were forced to leave for the relative security of the city.
After the cessation of hostilities between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish army, a large degree of normality returned to the city, with the Turkish government declaring an end to the 15-year period of emergency rule on 30 November 2002. Diyarbakır grew from 30,000 in the 1930s to 65,000 by 1956, to 140,000 by 1970, to 400,000 by 1990, and eventually swelled to about 1.5 million by 1997.
The 41-year-old American-Turkish Pirinçlik Air Force Base near Diyarbakır, known as NATO’s frontier post for monitoring the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, closed on 30 September 1997. This closure was the result of the general drawdown of US bases in Europe and the improvement in space surveillance technology. The base housed sensitive electronic intelligence-gathering systems that monitored the Middle East, the Caucasus and Russia.
According to a November 2006 survey by the Sur Municipality, one of Diyarbakır’s metropolitan municipalities, 72% of the inhabitants of the municipality use Kurdish most often in their daily speech, followed by Turkish, and 69% are illiterate in their most widely used vernacular.
In March 2013, over a million Kurds gathered in the city to hear the words of Abdullah Öcalan being read that signaled a new, peaceful direction in PKK-Turkish relations.
Massacres of Diyarbakir
The Hamidian massacres in Diyarbekir
The Hamidian massacres, also referred to as the Armenian Massacres of 1894–1896 and Great Massacres, refer to massacres of Armenians of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1890s, with estimates of the dead ranging between 80,000 to 300,000, and at least 50,000 children made orphans as a result.
The massacres are named after Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who, in his efforts to reinforce the territorial integrity of the embattled Ottoman Empire, reasserted Pan-Islamism as a state ideology. Although the massacres were aimed mainly at the Armenians, they turned into indiscriminate anti-Christian pogroms in some cases, such as in Diyarbekir where some 25,000 Assyrians were killed (see also Assyrian Genocide).
The massacres began with incidents in the Ottoman interior in 1894, gained full force in the years 1894–96, and tapered off in 1897, as international condemnation brought pressure to bear on Abdul Hamid.
Despite the fact that Ottomans had previously suppressed other revolts, the harshest measures were directed against the Armenian community. They observed no distinction between age or gender, and massacred them with brutal force. This occurred at a time when the telegraph could spread news around the world and the massacres were extensively covered in the media in Western Europe and the United States.
Massacres of Diyarbakir were massacres that took place in the Diyarbekir Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire between the years of 1894-1896. The events were part of the Hamidian massacres which targeted the region’s Christian population: Armenians and Assyrians.
The massacres initially targeted the Armenians instigated by Ottoman politicians and clerics under the pretext of their desire to dismantle the state, but they soon changed to a general anti-Christians pogroms as they moved to the Diyarbekir Vilayet and surrounding areas of Tur Abdin, which was inhabited by Assyrian/Syriac Christians. Contemporary accounts put the total number of Assyrians killed between 1894-1896 at around 25,000.
Kurdish raids on villages in the Diyarbekir Vilayet intensified in the years following a famine that ravaged the region. This was followed by fierce battles between Kurds and Shammar Arabs. In August 1888, Kurdish Aghas led attacks on Assyrian villages in Tur Abdin killing 18. Requests for an investigation by Patriarch Ignatius Peter IV went unanswered by the Porte.
Another Kurdish raid in October 1889 targeted several Assyrian/Syriac villages during which 40 villagers including women and children were killed. These events were the first signs of the massacres that would characterise the Diyarbekir Vilayet for the following decade.
The Hamidian massacres came when some 4,000 Armenians in the Sasun district of Bitlis Vilayet in 1894 rebelled against Kurdish nomadic tribes, who demanded traditional taxes from them. Local authorities reported this to the Sultan as a major revolt. The Sultan responded by sending the Ottoman army supported by the Hamidiye cavalry and local Kurdish tribes.
After clashing with the Armenian rebels, the Kurds descended upon Armenian villages in the regions of Sasun (Sassoun) and Talori, between Muş and Silvan, massacring its inhabitants and burning several Christian villages. More than 7,500 Armenians died as a result, and an intervention by European powers lead to the dismissal of the Governor of Bitlis, Bahri Paşa, in January 1895.
Three European Powers – Britain, France and Russia – thinking that reform of the Ottoman local government would help to prevent violence as occurred in Sasun, proposed to Sultan Abdul Hamid II a reform plan, planning control of the Kurds and the employment of Christian assistant-governors. The Sultan was unwilling to yield to the desires of the Powers. During the Spring and Summer of 1895 months of unfruitful negotiations passed.
After a demonstration in Constantinople on September 30, 1895, organised by the Armenian Hunchakian Party to ask for speedy enactment of the reforms, Christian neighbourhoods in the city were attacked by angry Muslim mobs and the city descended into chaos.
The massacre in Constantinople was followed by more Muslim-Armenian conflict in other areas, usually costing the lives of much more Christians than Muslims. Western pressure on the Sultan increased, and he eventually gave up to their demands a Firman of the reforms was issued in October 1895.
In retrospect, the announcement of the reforms only further exited the already heated atmosphere in the Ottoman Empire. As news of clashes and massacres spread throughout the empire Diyarbekir as well took its share, with Muslim-Christian distrust reaching unprecedented levels. Generally Muslims had a distorted view of what the European inspired reforms would mean. Muslims, also in Diyarbekir, thought that an Armenian Kingdom was about to be created under protection of European Powers and the end of Islamic rule was imminent.
Muslim civilians bought large amounts of weapons and ammunition. The influential Kurdish Sheikh of Zilan, who played an important role in the massacres of Armenians in Sasun and Mush in the previous year, was present in the city inciting the Muslims against Christians. It was rumoured that Kurdish tribal leaders outside the town had promised to send 10,000 Kurdish fighters to avenge themselves. Muslim notables in Diyarbekir, who had lost their trust in the Sultan, telegraphed him that: Armenia was conquered with blood, it will only be yielded with blood.
The massacres began in the city of Diyarbekir itself after unidentified individuals fired shots outside the Grand Mosque («Ulu Cami») in the city centre during the midday Muslim Prayer of Nov., 1, 1895. Muslims attacked Armenians in the surroundings, soon the violence turned against Christians without exception and spread over whole of the city.
They then started the looting, which was joined by common civilians and government officials alike. The entire market was set on fire. The financial losses of this day were estimated at about two million Turkish Pounds.
Attack on Christian neighbourhoods began the next morning in a systematic manner: houses were looted and burned, men, women and children killed and girls were kidnapped and converted to Islam.
The French vice-consul writes that the authorities had to close the gates of the city «fearing the coming of Kurdish tribes on the outskirts of the city, which do not differentiate between Muslims and Christians in their raids».
Some Christians were able to protect themselves with the few weapons that they had owned in narrow street which were defendable. More than 3,000 Christian of all denominations gathered at the monastery of the Capuchin Fathers in the city, and about 1,500 were protected by the French Consulate.
Diyarbakir massacres ended after three days, likely at order from the governor. The number of deaths within the city exceeded 1,000, most of whom Armenians, in addition to 1,000 missing. A similar number of deaths occurred in the surrounding villages.
Many Christians survived the killings by converting to Islam at gunpoint, according to some accounts, some 25,000 Armenians only turned to Islam during the massacres. Many of them returned to Christianity after the end of the period of persecution and returned to their villages once again.
William Ainger Wigram visited the region a few years later and witnessed the scenes of destruction. According to him, the Assyrians of the city of Diyarbekir suffered less than their Armenian co-religionists whom quarter was still completely demolished. He also observed high anti-Christian sentiments among the city’s Muslims.
There are few indications that Armenians had a role in «provoking» the conflict, as is claimed by some Ottoman sources, by attacking mosques. Clearly however, protests of Christians against the new Governor, Eniş Paşa in September 1895, were an important factor in further souring Muslim opinion. The massacre in Diyarbekir city was one of the most violent and bloody massacres in the period, extensively reported on by the French Consul in the city, Gustave Meyrier.
Massacres in the country side lasted for 46 days after the initial massacre of Diyarbakir. In the village of Sa’diye inhabited by 3000 Armenians and Assyrians, the Kurds first killed men, women and finally children. A group of them found shelter in a church but the Kurds managed to burn it and kill the refugees. Only three made it alive by hiding between the corpses.
In Mayafaraqin (Silvan, Farkin), a town of 3,000 of mixed Armenian, Jacobite and Protestants, only 15 survived the killings, the rest were killed in a manner similar to what happened Sa’diye.
The Assyrian village of Qarabash was destroyed and Qatarball only 4 survived of 300 families, most of the villagers died after burning the church in which they gathered. Isaac Armalet, a contemporary Syriac Catholic priest counts 10 more villages which were entirely erased from the map, accounting to a total of 4,000 victims.
Mardin, the largest city and the capital of the subprovince (sancak) of Mardin was spared of the massacres inflicted on other sancak’s in Diyarbakir. Many of its Muslim notables were anxious in protecting their own interests and wanted to maintain the tolerant image of the city. The city was also characterized by the fact that the neighbourhoods of Muslims and Christians were intermingled, making it difficult to distinguish between them, the Muslims knew that the entry of outside forces would lead to an indiscriminate massacre of its inhabitants.
The first Kurds entered the city on 9 November coming from the village of Ain Sinja which they destroyed. A local Muslim force confronted them and drove them back. The Governor then arranged the city’s defenses and distributed weapons among its Christian population as well. Two subsequent attempts from the Kurds to break into the city failed as well. It was only at the end of November that the governor of Diyarbakir issued order to protect the churches, although the atmosphere remained tense until spring 1896.
Despite the protection of the Christians of Mardin, the neighboring villages in Tur Abdin faced a different fate. The village Tell Armen was completely sacked and burned and its church partially destroyed. al-Kulye, made up of about 2,000 Jacobite individuals was also destroyed and burned down killing about 50 of its inhabitants. Banabil was also attacked and destroyed. While al-Mansurye survived after receiving support nearby villages.
The village of Qalaat Mara, The Jacobite Patriarchal seat, was abandoned after the Kurds attacked it. Its residents sought refuge at the Saffron Monastery, were they arranged their defenses and were able to hold the attacks of the Kurds for five days.
Father Armalet cites two different versions about the role of the Ottoman army: In the first one, the army aided the Kurds in attacking the monastery killing 70 Assyrians. The governor then sent 30 soldiers which accompanied the besieged to their villages and provide them with protection. In the second version, which agrees with the official story, the Kurds attacked the monastery by their own, the Mutasarrif sent a force which ordered the Kurds to withdraw, upon their rejection, the Ottomans attacked them and killed 80 men.
Historians agree that the town of Jezireh east of Tur Abdin, stayed calm and secure during the massacres, however, villages around Midyat were not spared from destruction and murder. and tells the monk Dominican monk father Gallant witnessed scenes of destruction as he passed in these areas in 1896.
The Assyrian population of the Sanjak of Mardin declined sharply after the massacres. In an estimate prior to the First World War, Christians formed roughly two-fifths of its population of 200,000. Tur Abdin ceased to be a «Christian island» as counted about 50% of the population its population of 45,000.
Massacres of Diyarbakır (1895)
The Adana massacre
A street in the Christian quarter of Adana, photographed in June 1909
The Adana massacre occurred in Adana Province, in the Ottoman Empire, in April 1909. A massacre of Armenian Christians in the city of Adana amidst governmental upheaval resulted in a series of anti-Armenian pogroms throughout the district. Reportedly nearly 1,300 Assyrians were massacred during this event. Reports estimated that the massacres in Adana Province resulted in up to 30,000 deaths.
In 1908, the Young Turk government came to power in a bloodless revolution. Within a year, Turkey’s Armenian population, empowered by the dismissal of Abdul Hamid II, began organizing politically in support of the new government, which promised to place them on equal legal footing with their Muslim counterparts.
Having long endured so-called dhimmi status, and having suffered the brutality and oppression of Hamidian leadership since 1876, the Armenian minority in Cilicia perceived the nascent Young Turk government as a godsend. Christians now being granted the rights to arm themselves and form politically significant groups, it was not long before Abdul Hamid loyalists, themselves acculturated into the system that had perpetrated the Hamidian massacres of the 1890s, came to view the empowerment of the Christian minority as coming at their expense.
The Countercoup of March 1909 wrested control of the government out of the hands of the secularist Young Turks, and Abdul Hamid II briefly recovered his dictatorial powers. Appealing to the reactionary Muslim population with populist rhetoric calling for the re-institution of Islamic law under the banner of a pan-Islamic caliphate, the Sultan mobilized popular support against the Young Turks by identifying himself with the historically Islamic character of the state.
According to one source, when news of a mutiny in Istanbul arrived in Adana, speculation circulated among the Muslim population of an imminent Armenian insurrection. By April 14 the Armenian quarter was attacked by a mob, and many thousands of Armenians were killed in the ensuing weeks.
Other reports emphasize that a «skirmish between Armenians and Turks on April 13 set off a riot that resulted in the pillaging of the bazaars and attacks upon the Armenian quarters.» Two days later, more than 2,000 Armenians had been killed as a result. The outbreaks spread throughout the district and by the end of the month as many as 30,000 Armenians were reported killed.
Turkish and Armenian revolutionary groups had worked together to secure the restoration of constitutional rule, in 1908. On 31 March (or 13 April, by the Western calendar) a military revolt directed against the Committee of Union and Progress seized Istanbul. While the revolt lasted only ten days, it precipitated a massacre of Armenians in the province of Adana that lasted over a month.
The massacres were rooted in political, economic, and religious differences. The Armenian segment of the population of Adana was the «richest and most prosperous», and the violence included the destruction of «tractors and other kinds of mechanized equipment.»
The Christian-minority Armenians had also openly supported the coup against Sultan Abdul Hamid II, which had deprived the Islamic head of state of power. The awakening of Turkish nationalism, and the perception of the Armenians as a separatist, European-controlled entity, also contributed to the violence.
The Armenian Genocide and Diyarbekir
By 1914 the Armenians numbered around 2 million people. Most Armenians were members of the Armenian Apostolic or Gregorian church, but many were members of the Armenian Catholic, and Protestant Communities. They shared a common language and had their own communal institutions, schools, churches, and press.
The Armenian Genocide, also known as the Armenian Massacres and by Armenians as the Great Crime, was the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects from their historic homeland in the territory constituting the present-day Republic of Turkey.
The Genocide took place during and after World War I and was implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and forced labor, and the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches to the Syrian Desert.
The total number of people killed as a result has been estimated at between 1 and 1.5 million. Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians, the Greeks and other minority groups were similarly targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government, and their treatment is considered by many historians to be part of the same genocidal policy.
It is acknowledged to have been one of the first modern genocides, as scholars point to the organized manner in which the killings were carried out to eliminate the Armenians, and it is the second most-studied case of genocide after the Holocaust. The word genocide was coined in order to describe these events.
The starting date of the genocide is conventionally held to be 24 April 1915, the day when Ottoman authorities arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. Thereafter, the Ottoman military uprooted Armenians from their homes and forced them to march for hundreds of miles, depriving them of food and water, to the desert of what is now Syria. Massacres were indiscriminate of age or gender, with rape and other sexual abuse commonplace. The majority of Armenian diaspora communities were founded as a result of the Armenian genocide.
Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, denies the word genocide is an accurate description of the events. In recent years, it has faced repeated calls to accept the events as genocide. To date, 22 countries have officially recognized the events of the period as genocide, and most genocide scholars and historians accept this view.
Around 80,000 Armenians lived in Diyarbekir vilayet, which was predominantly Kurdish. There were also sizeable Assyrian and Chaldean communities in the province. Armenians lived mainly in the north of the vilayet, with a major concentration in the city of Diyarbekir. They were successful merchants, artisans and industrialists.
In 1915, practically all Armenian communities in the Ottoman Empire were targeted for destruction. The ideological context for this genocide was to Islamicise and Turkify the Empire. Armenian communities were destroyed according to a common pattern, which was particularly violent in the eastern provinces, including Diyarbekir.
The key elements of this process were to disarm and murder Armenian conscripts in the Ottoman army by working them to death in labour battalions (amele taburlari) or massacring them outright, vilify Armenian communities to isolate them in the eyes of their mainly Muslim neighbours and to justify the so-called «deportations”, even killings, arrest and murder Armenian community leaders, remove the remaining population in a so-called deportation and resettlement programme calculated to kill deportees through privations and outright massacres, and to assimilate women and children in Muslim households.
The chief architect of the Armenian Genocide in the Diarbekir provınce was the governor Dr. Mehmed Reshid, a member of the CUP, who was appointed to his office in March 1915. Reshid had local allies on his side as well as a militia under the control of his henchmen. This militia was called kassab taburlari by Armenians of the city. One of his main supports was Mektubji Bedreddin Bey, who was later appointed the mutesarrif of Mardin, and organised similar killings there.
Most Armenian community leaders in Diyarbekir were arrested in April, including the clergy. The main killings started with the despatch of a group of 635 men, who were put on keleks, supposedly to go to Mosul at the end of May 1915. These men were sent off under guard. When they reached Shefka on the Tigris, they were taken off and killed. The Armenian Prelate of Diyarbekir, Mugrdich Chlghadian, was tortured and killed in Diyarbekir prison.
The remaining Armenian population, as well as a large number of Assyrians, were sent away in convoys starting in July 1915. Some were killed in the outskirts of the city, others further away, at such locations as Ras-ul-Ain and Der Zor.
The Armenian Catholic Prelate, Bishop Andreas Chelebian , and the head of the Protestants, Rev. Hagop Andonian, were both killed in separate caravans that left the city.
Only around 1,200 Armenians remained in the city. These were mostly artisans whose skills were still needed. Some Armenians also survived by being allowed to convert to Islam, while others, mainly women and children, survived by assimilating into Muslim households.
Recognition of the Armenian Genocide
A scene from the inauguration of the monument
Reconstruction of the Diyarbakir Surp Giragos Armenian Church
Ergün Ayık, head of the Sourp Giragos Church Foundation, has told Hürriyet Daily News that a building within the church’s complex would be transformed into a museum highlighting the history of Armenians in the Diyarbekir region. He said that until four years ago, the only remaining trace of Diyarbekir’s Armenians was two ruined churches in the city, adding that Armenians had lived in the region for “thousands of years” and had built a “big kingdom.”
Commemoration in Diyarbakir
Diyarbakir is the only city in Turkey that officially and publicly recognizes the Armenian Genocide. “Both the conference hosted by the Diyarbakir Bar Association and the commemoration organized by the municipality under the leadership of Mayor Osman Baydemir were very impressive and fruitful,” said Sarafian.
The commemoration took place on the bridge over the Tigris River where the Diyarbakir Armenians were massacred. Participants threw flowers into the river in the memory of the victims. Sarafian was deeply moved not only by the sincere willingness of the municipality, first and foremost Mayor Baydemir, but also by the readiness local Kurds to accept the truth.
“We should not take for granted Osman Baydemir’s promise of wide open doors to Armenians, and should develop new ways of strengthening these ties with Diyarbakir and turn this potential into reality,” he said.
Turkey’s Kurds are taking responsibility
The Sur Municipality of Diyarbakir held the official inauguration of the Monument of Common Conscience on Sept. 12, 2013, with mayor Abdullah Demirbaş apologizing in the name of Kurds for the Armenian and Assyrian “massacre and deportations.”
“We Kurds, in the name of our ancestors, apologize for the massacres and deportations of the Armenians and Assyrians in 1915,” Demirbaş declared in his opening speech. “We will continue our struggle to secure atonement and compensation for them.”
The mayor called upon the Turkish authorities to issue an apology and do whatever needed to atone for the genocide. “We invite them to take steps in this direction,” he said.
The inscription on the monument at the Anzele Park, near a recently restored historic fountain, reads, in six languages including Armenian: We share the pain so that it is not repeated.
“This memorial is dedicated to all peoples and religious groups who were subjected to massacres in these lands,” Demirbaş said. “The Monument of Common Conscience was erected to remember and demand accountability for all the massacres that took place since 1915.”
Demirbaş noted that the monument remembers all the Armenians, Assyrians, Jews, Yezidis, Alevis who were subjected to massacres, as well as all the Sunni who “stood against the system.”
Representatives of the Armenian, Assyrian, Alevi, and Sunni communities also spoke at the opening event. Diyarbakir Armenian writer Mgrditch Margosyan welcomed the opening of the memorial, noting that he awaits the steps that would follow.
Zahit Çiftkuran, head of the Diyarbakir association of the clergy, recounted the story of a man who, while walking by a restaurant, notices the following sign: “You eat, your grandchildren pay the bill.” Enthused by the promise of free lunch, the man goes in and orders food. Soon, they bring him an expensive bill. “But I was not supposed to pay! Where did this bill come from?” the man asks. The owner of the restaurant responds: “This is not your bill. It is your grandfather’s!”
Çiftkuran concluded, “Today, we have to pay for what our grandparents have done.”
The consecration the largest Armenian church in the Middle East
Armenians from around the world flocked to Surp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir on Oct. 22, 2013, to attend both the consecration of the largest Armenian church in the Middle East and the Badarak held the following day. They were greeted with welcome signs written in Armenian, and with Armenian music playing on the streets, cafes, and hotels in the city.
Renovated by the Surp Giragos Armenian Foundation, with the support of the local Kurdish-controlled municipality, the church, which had witnessed a century of destruction, neglect, and denial, now stood as defiant as ever to the forces suppressing freedom in Turkey. And as the faithful of different religions prayed in unison, the political message wasn’t lost on anyone.
Diyarbakir Mayor Osman Baydemir underlined the importance of confronting the past and seeking justice as part of the process of reconciliation and democratization. In an interview with the Weekly, the Kurdish politician said many view the renovation as an act asking for forgiveness. “You are not our guests. We are your guests,” stressed Baydemir, who heads the Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality.
“It’s a bittersweet return for the Armenian nation,” Raffi Hovannisian, the chairman of Armenia’s Heritage Party, told the Weekly. “Here, in this courtyard, you see the great potential and the depth of the loss we as a nation have registered.”
Scott Avedisian, the mayor of Warwick, R.I., who was invited by the Diyarbakir Municipality to attend the opening, concurred. “The faces of people who once worshipped here, were forced out, survived, and have now returned to their church, attest to the fact that they never lost hope and never lost faith,” he said. The renovation constitutes a “powerful message,” he added, as the church is finally “being used for the very purpose it was originally intended.”
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Diyarbakir, a dusty frontier post encircled by powerful Roman ramparts on the banks of the Tigris River, has changed unbelievably over the past few years. Ungainly, hastily built cement apartment blocks and administrative buildings have sprawled out of control beyond the city walls. Along every street and vacant lot, children and men are trying to eke out a livelihood selling anything from pencils and chewing gum to shoe soles. Turkey’s government admits that Diyarbakir’s population has swollen since 1990 from 200,000 to about a million today. (Human rights sources put this unnatural population explosion at 1.7 million).
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