It seemed quite impossible to wander alone around Diyarbakir or any other town in Turkey and not meet interesting people eager for conversation with a foreigner. I met Muhammed in front of the nearly one-thousand-year-old Ulu Camii, the “Great Mosque”. I had often found mosques called “Ulu Camii” to be a surprisingly good place to meet people. A great mosque was a busy mosque, and a busy mosque was always likely to have at least one person willing to talk if you made eye contact and tossed out a friendly “merhaba” or two in the direction of likely looking souls. Muhammed offered to show me around the mosque, which was constructed of the somber black basalt of which almost all the public buildings in this city seemed to be made. He pointed out that there are two kinds of basalt used in the building, which he said were called male and female in Turkish. The male was the dense, solid variety, and the female was the more porous, pumice-like rock, which he said was a better insulator. The terminology seemed apt.
We left the mosque and soon found ourselves in his shop, which sold assorted carpets, items of clothing, and other knick-knacks mainly targeting the tourist trade. His first words to me when we entered the shop were: “This is not the job I want to be doing.” Truly, his heart did not seem to be in it, and he made not the slightest effort to sell me anything, though he did order in tea for the pair of us. In an alcove somewhere in the shop, his partner snored during a mid-afternoon nap.
We talked about family. He was from a family of 10: six sons, and four daughters. He found this fact ridiculous and old-fashioned, and said that he and his wife would have no more than one or two children, but as yet had none. “If you have 10 children, they become slaves. But if you have only one or two, they can really become something in life.”
He was a man who believed in his religion but did not believe in nations or in borders. “If you read the prophets, do they talk about countries? What good has ever come from borders?” One of his younger brothers, only 18 years old, ran off earlier that year to the mountains to join the PKK. He and his brothers tracked him down and dragged him back home. “We said to him that this was foolishness. It is 2012. Do you think you can survive against helicopters and tanks and cannons and spy-planes? Come home. Your mother is sick and she needs you. If you want, make your words like bullets, but the time for being a soldier in the mountains is past”.
Yet, he also told me that if you asked 10 families in Diyarbakir if they had a son in the PKK, five of them would say yes.