14 Days in Diyarbakir - 14 Photos of Amed - 14 Pieces on Tigranakert.
"Repair's" special correspondant MJM, a french-armenian journalist, has recently spent two weeks in the current capital of the South Eastearn Anatolia to meet with the past, present and future of the thousands of Armenians who used to live in this city before the 1915 genocide. During his travels, MJM shares with us his many encounters with places, women and men whose story is undeniably related to the Armenians.
This photo essay was done in May 2013, some situations described in these articles have evolved since then.
Day 14: Why not?
Here is a more positive example of what a Diyarbakir house that has belonged to an Armenian family can become. This one, built in 1919, is located in the Ali Pasa neighbourhood - mostly made of old houses and gecekondu* - used to belong to a couple without children who had struck a sort of deal with some Kurds : the latter were looking after them until their death and, once they passed away, the house of the Armenian couple would go to the Kurds. We unfortunately know nothing of this couple, and their memory disappeared with the happy Kurdish landlords who finally sold the house again and left town.
Today, it belongs to the community group Suluku Han. This group of twenty or so intellectual friends projects to renovate the place and turn it into a sort of Youth Centre, a unique place in Diyarbakir which will host sixty or so young people from the neighbourhood. “At first, we intended for instance to give philosophy classes to young people, this kind of thing. But they are youngsters who sell drugs or use them, who hold knives in their hands,” explains Gülder, a 24-year-old French-speaking woman architect who works on the projects. “You can’t break their habits at once, but maybe we can transform that knife into some other instrument. Turn it into a sculpting tool for instance,” says the young woman, who dreams of seeing their organization help children turn their lives around.
“In Turkey, people say of Armenians that they have the art of the hand. I think it is in their genes: they have chiselled real jewels, practiced their art on stone, on basalt, When you see all these ornamental details in the house, you think of them,” stresses Gülder, who conducts renovation work on the house. She deplores all the hasty restoring done in Diyarbakir, using heaps of reinforced concrete without any respect for traditional building standards, a far cry from her work, thought out by architects concerned with the history of the building. A few workers are busy here and there on the site. The roof is almost finished and a huge hole for the foundations of a new building has been dug on the street side. The end of works is scheduled for September but, in the meantime, the group works every day including Sundays to be ready on time. “Last winter, we had made a fire and were digging through the night,” says Gülder. She already has her own idea for the name she would like to give to this unusual place. “We haven’t decided on a name yet, but I thought of calling it ‘Why not?’ Because we never think of these youngsters as being able to be productive and benefit from an education… Although, why not?”
* Turkish for slums, meaning litterally "it landed last night."
The 30-year-old freelancer and photographer, MJM, has worked for various newspapers and magazines. His recent work with the Yerkir NGO has permitted him to further develop his views and understanding through photos and documentaries in Armenia and Turkey. An overview of his work is available on his website www.mjm-wordsandpics.com.