“Cleaning out the Ghettos” - Urban Governance and the Remaking of Kurdistan
Over the last couple of weeks, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the ruling AKP government have started to lay out the details of the government’s master plan for urban renewal in Turkey’s conflict-ridden Kurdish region in Southeast Anatolia. Though the government announced on 9 March that military operations in Sur had been completed, many of the aspects of the plans remain ambiguous. Nonetheless, it is evident that the government’s aim is to achieve a dramatic spatial and socio-economic reconfiguration of the region. For example, Davutoğlu announced a ten-point “master plan” for Kurdish cities in Turkey that ties notions of terrorism to economic underdevelopment and the languishing nature of urban life in the region. In the announcement, he rebuked HDP municipal leaders in the region for “supporting terrorism instead of making investments,” promising to “fortify” the region’s economy by deferring debts for tradesmen, artists, and farmers, and by offering new loans. And he promised to rebuild Diyarbakır’s historical Sur district “so well that humanity will come back to life” (“Sur’u öyle bir inşa edeceğiz ki insanlık ihya olacak”). In early March, similarly, Davutoğlu announced a “great reconstruction...through which the state will demonstrate its constructive capacity” (“Devlet inşa kudretini de gösterecektir”) to begin in Silopi—a district in the Southeastern city of Şırnak that was set under curfew for over a month until mid-January.
In this article, we discuss how these ideas of revitalization and urban transformation fit into the larger war that the Turkish government has been waging in Kurdistan for the past several months. We examine how the discourses of public housing and ghettoization intersect in order to understand the connections between the capitalization and governmentalization of urban space in Kurdistan. In Turkey, public housing has long been a tool for reorganizing urban spaces and the people who inhabit them. The urban transformation and gentrification of Istanbul, for example, has been the subject of countless academic articles as well as of the acclaimed documentary Ekümenopolis. Conversely, the notion of Kurdish city centers as “ghettos” constitutes a unique discursive turn worth exploring. By forcibly displacing whatever “innocent” civilians may have inhabited these urban spaces and consequently pathologizing these spaces as blighted by terrorism, the Turkish government has legitimized the wholesale liquidation of anyone who did not (or could not) flee from the military occupation. And it has set the stage for long-term forms of structural and economic violence aimed at stamping out oppositional Kurdish lifeworlds.