By Amberin Zaman
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Al-Monitor) — The peal of church bells mingles with children’s laughter. The Muslim call to prayer floats through the air. In the cobbled courtyard of the Surp Giragos Armenian Orthodox Church, young lovers sip wine and plan their weddings and lives. It’s a typical day in Sur, the ancient heart of the Kurds’ unofficial capital, Diyarbakir.
So it was until armed teenagers with the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), the urban youth branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), declared “self rule” over large swathes of Sur, erecting barricades and digging trenches to keep state authorities out. The pattern is being repeated in towns and cities across the Kurdish-majority southeast, part of the escalating war between the Turkish armed forces and the PKK that was reignited following the collapse of a two-year cease-fire in July. Over 150 civilians, including dozens of children, have been killed, most of them by the security forces, claim rights advocates.
In Sur, Turkish special forces teams backed by tanks, helicopter gunships and armored personnel carriers have laid virtual siege to the district, which now lies in ruins.
The youths remain dug in, but over half of Sur’s residents have fled. And while their suffering has been well-documented, little has been said about the clutch of Christians who have been quietly toiling to resurrect Sur’s once vibrant multi-faith community. It was brutally destroyed in 1915, when Ottoman forces and their Kurdish collaborators slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Christians (most of them Armenians) and other non-Muslims in what many respected scholars call genocide.
“Now we are caught between two fires, between the PKK and the state,” said Gaffur Turkay, who has helped to run Surp Giragos, the largest Armenian church in the Middle East, since it reopened its doors in 2012.