Mardin - a town fighting for peace
One of the cradles of civilisation, with a centuries-old reputation for tolerance and multi-ethnicity, the Turkish town of Mardin is situated in an area that once belonged to Mesopotamia. Now the Kurdish conflict and the Syrian civil war just across the border are putting its tradition of openness to the test.
Multi-ethnic border town: Mardin nestles at the foot of Tur Abdin, "Mountain of Slaves" – in the southeast corner of Turkey and just a stone′s throw from the Syrian border. For centuries the town has been a melting pot of different cultures and religions. Muslims and Christians live peacefully side by side. In addition to Turkish, the townsfolk speak Arabic, Aramaic and Kurdish. This diversity has made Mardin a famous name – and not just in Turkey
Finely wrought: Bayram is a silversmith. He produces filigree bangles and earrings. This art form is known as "Telkari" and is unique to the region around Mardin. "Business is bad. With the recent spate of fighting, the tourists are simply staying away", says the 30-year-old Kurd. Since the summer, there have been clashes between the militant Kurdish PKK and the Turkish army in the area around Mardin
Scapegoating the Kurds: "I want to live in peace. But I′m not prepared to give up my Kurdish identity, as the government expects me to", says Bayram. He visits his family in the next town, where there has been renewed fighting, as often as he can. The drive takes 20 minutes. "Sometimes I have to pass three police roadblocks – like a criminal – just because I am a Kurd"
Routine conflict: most of Mardin′s 90,000 residens are Kurds. Many openly support the PKK, which has been engaged in armed conflict in pursuit of Kurdish independence with the Turkish army for more than 30 years. The peace negotiations broke down yet again in June 2015. Since then, casualties have become an almost daily occurrence
Kurds, Turks and Arabs: "the Kurds need to stop causing problems", says Emre. He doesn′t support the pro-Kurdish HDP, which runs the local authority in Mardin, but the conservative Islamic AKP, the party of the Turkish president Erdogan. Emre is one of Turkey′s Arabic minority and works in a bakery. Flatbread baked in the stone oven is his speciality
Age-old fortress: the thousand-year-old "Eyrie" towers over Mardin. Numerous kings and sultans ruled here: Babylonians, Persians, Ottomans. The monument was meant to have been restored years ago to attract more tourists to Mardin. But construction work was put on ice. The Turkish army uses the fortress as a lookout in its war against the PKK
Pointless posturing: "no one can win this war," says Februniye Akyol. The 27-year-old Assyrian is Mardin′s mayor, the only Christian to hold the office in the whole of Turkey. She tries to keep the town′s different ethnic groups together. "The war needs to stop, before we all lose – regardless of whether we are Turks, Kurds, Assyrians or Arabs"
Church protection: …and then there′s the civil war in Syria. Many Christian Syrians have crossed the border, seeking refuge in the "Kirklar Kilisesi" – the "church of the 40 martyrs". The Syrian Orthodox community is trying to help them: providing food, accommodation and emotional support. The aid is mostly financed by other church communities and the Assyrian diaspora. But it′s not much
Aid is essential: "another 100 turned up here today; the majority were from the border town al-Hasaka," says Gabriel Akyuz, the priest of the Kirklar church. When there is enough money, he distributes food vouchers to the value of 25 Turkish lira (appox. eight euros). Every refugee gets one a month. "It′s all we can afford. The government needs to help"
View of a war zone: when the weather′s good, you can see across to Syria from the old town centre. It′s just 30 kilometres to the border. More and more people are fleeing the civil war against Assad′s dictatorship and the murderous terror militia ″Islamic State″. Many of them are seeking refuge in Turkey – and that includes Mardin. Yet again the tolerant multi-ethnic community is being put to the test