Diyarbakir Aims to Become Cultural Center in Middle East

ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)–The southeastern city of Diyarbakir has established its first culture and art foundation to host a number of international festivals in the upcoming years, in the hopes that the city can become the culture capital of the Middle East.

Bejan Matur, a young poet of Kurdish origin, had an academic career in the field of law before turning to poetry and a life in which she debates issues of identity and belonging–issues that she says have deeply influenced her.

Batur reflects her depth of emotion about incidents in Turkey in her poems. In 1992, she went on a journey that was to become a "turning point" in her life. Visiting Diyarbakir for the first time, she was touched by the introverted position the city was in and made a decision to save Diyarbakir from this heart-breaking situation. She planned to turn the city into the a center of culture in the Middle East and, using the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts as a model, she opened the Diyarbakir Foundation for Culture and Arts in the 500-year-old Kervansaray-Deliller Han.

Speaking to the Hurriyet Daily Newspaper about the foundation that opened last October and her plans, Batur said problems of Kurds and of identity were always considered from the center of Turkey but they should be debated and solved on the grassroots level.

She said an organization, "The Middle East Institute," would be established in the near future and would be affiliated with the foundation. "We are planning to invite the institute academics and intellectuals who have properly interpreted the East and the Middle East and who create new ideas for solving problems," she said.

Matur said throughout its history, the Republic of Turkey always had a problematic viewpoint on the East. "It looks as though we built a thick wall in our history. Everyone behind this wall, including the Persians, Arabs, Armenia’s and Kurds, have been neglected. This creates a problematic point of view. This process cannot be overcome of its own accord. We need a common effort to solve these problems."

Matur said during the establishment of the foundation she had often been asked why she chose Diyarbakir but she had difficulty explaining herself. "I try to explain my personal interest in Diyarbak%u031r but it is impossible because minds are full of templates, prejudices and oppositions. Just like in many Turkish towns, the people of Diyarbakir need culture and art without ideological engagement too."

The first festival to be organized by the foundation will be a music festival next spring. Matur said an international film festival would also be held toward the end of the year and that festival talks with Iran, Syria, northern Iraq, Lebanon, Armenia, Russia and Japan were ongoing. She said they have a team of five people and the foundation was also engaged in projects for street children.

The Diyarbakir Foundation for Culture and Arts is preparing to host an important guest next month, Turkish-origin Cem Ozdemir, the co-chairman of German Greens Party, will visit the foundation and deliver a speech about identity and belonging. Matur said they were determined to continue despite financial problems. "There are lots of things to do. As I was born with this identity, it would be a luxurious lifestyle if I lived as a careless poet. In this geography, it would be very artificial to be an unaffected poet," she remarked.

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