As I mentioned in a previous post, I reached Diyarbakir after a 20-hour bus ride. I left at 2:30pm from Suli, reached the Iraq-Turkey border around 11pm, then waited at the border until 6:30am.
We were waiting at the border for so long because the Turkish border guards checked everyone’s passport and luggage extensively. Turkey heavily taxes tea and cigarettes, and thus a lot of tea and cigarettes are smuggled into Turkey from Iraq. Tea, cigarettes, and other drugs (particularly hash and pot) are smuggled into Iraq from Iran. There are restrictions on how much tea and tobacco is allowed per person over the Iraq-Turkey border. I heard that there’s a 3-carton limit on cigarettes, but I’m sure I saw a man with 2 grocery bags full of Marlboros going through the x-ray machine at the border.
As the sun was coming up, our bus finally made it to the passport-stamping booth. It was freezing, and dark, and there were 50 of us on the bus. And there was one man checking everyone’s passports. No wonder it took so long to get across the border. He had on a thick coat, a fur hat, and fingerless gloves, and looked thoroughly pissed that he had to work the night shift.
I got to the booth, and he looked at my passport and told me I needed a visa. Huh? He didn’t sell visas at the booth?
No, he said, pointing to a small building half a kilometer away. Go there, buy visa.
So I sprinted across the lot, forked out $20 for a Turkish visa, then sprinted back. Since I was the only woman on any of the buses at the border, and a white one at that, the Kurdish-Turkish men let me cut to the front of the line to get my stamp. Then I sprinted back to the bus where all 50 men were waiting for me, and we drove into Turkey.
We stopped at a restaurant to get some food. I sat down – in the “family section,” of course. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this before, but the family section is where the women sit. It’s usually in the back of the restaurant or on the second floor, and there are always dividers or curtains shielding those sitting in the family section from view. The family section is always considerably smaller than the men’s section.
I was the only woman so I was surprised to see a table of men sitting in the family section. I had only seen women, children, and occasionally a man accompanying his family sitting there. But then I realized that the men at the next table were my bus driver, the man coordinating the drive (he’s the one who took our passports at each checkpoint, gave us tea and water, etc), and a few other bus drivers who were also stopped at the restaurant.
So apparently the family section is for women and the help. I’m trying not to be cynical, but occasionally it’s difficult. It seems to me that the family section is designated for those whom the “normal men” don’t want to see.
In any case, the breakfast was lovely – cheese, nan, tea, honey, olives, and a hard-boiled egg. Turkish tea is served in larger tea glasses, and with less sugar. I was surprised that I could actually taste bitter black tea sweetened with sugar. In Iraqi Kurdistan it seems like the added sugar is meant to cover up the taste of the black tea.
I was also surprised that I could communicate adequately with the waiters. I expected Kurmanji Kurdish (the dialect spoken in Easter Turkey) to greatly differ from Sorani Kurdish (the dialect spoken in Slemania). But we could understand each other just fine, for the most part.
After a few hours, we arrived in Diyarbakir. It was surprisingly Turkish, and surprisingly non-Kurdish. My friend Nil, with whom I was staying, told me that most Kurds living in Diyarbakir do not speak Kurdish. They consider themselves Turkish. Further north live the more militant Kurds, the members of the PKK, whose often-violent struggle for Kurdish autonomy have drawn international attention.
Diyarbakir, though, seemed old and somewhat sleepy. Nil warned me a few times not to draw attention to myself – keep my camera hidden when I was not using it, don’t talk to loudly, don’t point to things or run too fast on the street. I got the sense that Diyarbakir has a rough side which I would have seen had I stayed there longer.
I know that the Turkish Kurds are often ignored or mistreated by the Turkish government. The struggle with the PKK has led many Turks to consider Kurds terrorists. Even the US considers the PKK a terrorist organization. I’m not arguing this fact, but there’s certainly a sense that Turkish Kurdistan has been neglected due to the actions of a few PKK members. And Kurds in Diyarbakir seemed very Turkish and often quite apathetic to PKK activity. Although there was a lot of PKK graffiti on the city walls, there’s always extremist graffiti in any city. But it didn’t seem to me that Kurdish patriotism was as strong in Diyarbakir as in Iraqi Kurdistan.