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Diyarbekir

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Diyarbakir is the largest city in southeastern Turkey. Situated on the banks of the River Tigris, it is the administrative capital of the Diyarbakir Province and with a population of about 843,460 it is the second largest city in Turkey's South-eastern Anatolia region, after Gaziantep. Within Turkey, Diyarbakir is famed for its culture, folklore, and watermelons. The population of Diyarbakir is made up predominantly of Kurdish people.

Amid was the capital of the Aramean kingdom Bet-Zamani from the 13th century B.C. onwards, and later part of the Neo Assyrian Empire. Amid is the name used in the Syriac sources, which also testifies to the fact that it once was the seat of the Church of the East Patriarch and thus an original Assyrian/Syriac stronghold that produced many famous Assyrian theologians and Patriarchs. Some of them found their final resting place in St. Mary Church. There are many relics in the Church, such as the bones of the apostle Thomas and St. Jacob of Sarug.

The city was called Amida when the region was under the rule of the Roman (from 66 BC) and the succeeding Byzantine Empires. From 189 BC to 384 AD, the area to the east and south of present-day Diyarbakir, was ruled by a kingdom known as Corduene. In 359, Shapur II of Persia captured Amida after a siege of 73 days. The Roman soldiers and a large part of the population of the town were massacred by the Persians. The siege is vividly described by the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus who was an eyewitness of the event and survived the massacre by escaping from the town.

Armenian historians at one time hypothesized that Diyarbakir was the site of the ancient Armenian city of Tigranakert, (pronounced Dikranagerd in the Western Armenian dialect) and by the 19th century the Armenian inhabitants were referring to the city as Dikranagerd. Scholarly research has shown that while the ancient Armenian city was close by, it was not in the same place. The real location of Dikranagerd remains the subject of debate, but Armenians who trace their ancestry to Diyarbakir continue to refer to themselves as "Dikranagerdtsi" (native of Dikranagerd.) The "Dikranagerdtsis" or Armenians of Diyarbakir were noted for having one of the most unusual dialects of Armenian, one difficult for a speaker of standard Armenian to understand.

In 639 the city was captured by the Arab armies of Islam and it remained in Arab hands until the Kurdish dynasty of Marwanid ruled the area during the 10th and 11th centuries. After the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the city came under the rule of the Mardin branch of Oghuz Turks and then the Anatolian beylik of Artuklu (circa 1100-1250 in effective terms, although almost a century longer nominally). The whole area was then disputed between the Ilkhanate and Ayyubid dynasties for a century, after which it was taken over by the rising Turkmen states of Kara Koyunlu (the Black Sheep) first and Ak Koyunlu (the White Sheep). It was also ruled by Sultanate of Rum between 1241-1259.

The city became part of the Ottoman Empire during Sultan Suleyman I's campaign of Irakeyn (the two Iraqs, e.g. Arabian and Persian) in 1534. The Ottoman eyalet of Diyarbakir corresponded to Turkey's southeastern provinces today, a rectangular area between the Lake Urmia to Palu and from the southern shores of Lake Van to Cizre and the beginnings of the Syrian desert, although its borders saw some changes over time. The city was an important military base for controlling this region and at the same time a thriving city noted for its craftsmen, producing glass and metalwork. For example the doors of Mevlana's tomb in Konya were made in Diyarbakir, as were the gold and silver decorated doors of the tomb of Imam-i Azam in Baghdad.

In the 19th century, Diyarbakir prison gained infamy throughout the Ottoman Empire as a site where political prisoners from the enslaved Balkan ethnic groups were sent to serve harsh sentences for speaking or fighting for national freedom.

The 20th century was turbulent for Diyarbakir. Armenians killed there exceeded the city's Armenian population because it was a centre of deportation for all parts of the province. The massacre of Armenians in Diyarbakir was witnessed by Rafael De Nogales, who served as an officer in the Ottoman Army. At one time, Diyarbakir had a substantial Armenian and Assyrian population, who comprised almost a third of the city's population. However, almost all were killed. Few Assyrians and Armenians remain today. The holder of the Chaldean Catholic Archeparchy of Diyarbakir is currently living in Istanbul.

In the three decades following the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Diyarbakir became the object of Turkish-nationalist policies against Kurds, as a result of which Kurdish elites were destroyed and many Kurds deported to western Turkey. The 41-year-old American-Turkish Pirinchlik Air Force Base near Diyarbakir, known as NATO's frontier post for monitoring the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, closed on 30 September 1997. This closure was the result of the general drawdown of US bases in Europe and the improvement in space surveillance technology. The base housed sensitive electronic intelligence-gathering systems that monitored the Middle East, the Caucasus and Russia.

Leon Edgar Books