Rumblings Of Two Wars In Turkey's 'Kurdish Capital' Of Diyarbakir

Diyarbakir, the "Kurdish capital" of Turkey, is living in fear of the ISIS jihadists who have gained ground across the Syrian border in Kobani. But there is also the old enemy: Ankara.

Signs of war this week in Diyarbakir
Signs of war this week in Diyarbakir
Louis Imbert

DIYARBAKIR Jet fighters were heard this week roaring in the sky above this city, considered the "Kurdish capital" of Turkey. It was early Tuesday morning, and then again in the afternoon.

The day before that, Turkish F-16s and F-4s had taken off from an important military airfield near the town, and from the Malatya airbase, to bomb a location of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the Hakkâri Province, near the Iraqi border, according to the Turkish daily Hurriyet.

These airstrikes were the first since the ongoing peace talks between the PKK and the Turkish government began in March 2013, after 30 years of an insurgent war that has killed some 40,000 people. It would have been hard to imagine a more flagrant breach of the ceasefire.

It was also about the worst moment for such action as, everywhere in Diyarbakir, the Turkish army is being accused of facilitating the ISIS attempt to overrun the Syrian town of Kobani, by closing the border to the Kurdish fighters who hope to defend it from the Islamist radical forces.

After the strikes were announced, the political branch of the PKK (the DBP, Democratic Regions Party) had no other choice than to summon a protest in the afternoon. Unauthorized, it seemed to have been organized reluctantly, while the government in Ankara announced severe anti-riot measures for the east of the country and Diyarbakir.

In the morning, police officers in plainclothes were seen going around the offices of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). They were warning those who planned on marching towards the town center that they would do better to keep it small and calm. In the end, they barely took up a sidewalk.

Gathered outside the headquarters of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), a political advisory council, several hundred protestors dispersed as soon as the last speaker laid down his microphone. "Here, you see, we’re still at peace," says Saleh Coskum, an architect employed by the city. "But Kobani is also our home, they are our brothers and over there, it’s already war. How could we still negotiate?"

Freedom in the air

These days, the whole city seems to be watching the spectre of civil war take shape, hour after hour. Television screens broadcast news of the latest ISIS attacks against their Kurdish brothers in Syria, on the other side of the border. It is there when one learns that a Kurdish newspaper seller, Kadri Bagdu, 46, was killed by two men on a motorcycle, who shot him five times Monday in the Seyhan district.

Last week, at least 10 people died in Diyarbakir and more than 30 in Kurdish territory during riots sparked by the Kobani tragedy. Ibrahim, a 30-year-old teacher, went up to the border to see the battle on Oct. 6, fearing the city would finally fall. He came back the following morning to find the center of Diyarbakir completely deserted.

"The streets were empty. The police were scared of us. We could feel an air of freedom. That’s something you can’t forget," he said. "Today, we’re following the HDP’s calls for calm. But one day, the people from my generation and the younger ones, we won’t listen anymore."

In his office, with the windows shut, the president of the Kurdish DTK council, Hatip Dicle, is being evasive. And what about the fighters who had assaulted the Kurdish guerrillas in the east of the country? The actual meaning of the bombardments is not yet clear, he says.

The PKK announced it was already repatriating fighters from Iraq to Turkey. To justify the airstrikes, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu asserted that the Kurdish fighters were "harassing" a Turkish military post with their fire. Dicle says he knows nothing about that.

Dicle had been released in June after five years in prison for having advocated for a terrorist organization (the PKK), after a previous ten years behind bars from 1994 to 2004.

He smiles when he talks about the many shops that opened in the meantime in his town, the cafés, the streets that are alive thanks to peace even if Diyarbakir looks like a set of military barracks and remains poor compared to other cities in Turkey.

So when he talks about the broken ceasefire, Hatip Dicle weighs his words. "We don’t want to revive the war. I don’t want to believe we could go back to the 1990s," he says. "I dedicated 30 years of my life to this fight. If Turkey doesn't leave any other choice than war, it will be war."

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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