When we talk about entertainment in Diyarbakır, we have to treat daytime and nighttime entertainment separately. The combination of a condensed city plan and climate necessitated a solution that lies in the geographical setting of the area: Recreation areas and picnic spots outside the city were always social meeting places beyond religion or social class. Kenan Özhal has written about the “çixarî” culture that blossomed here, and also about the fairs, and the velime and harifane nights.
The kıraathane [coffeehouses, or literally, the ‘reading houses’] were quite different from what they are today in both the physical and functional sense, and journalist Mehmet Mercan tells their story. Mercan also provides a broad perspective of the night life adventure of the city, with its meyhane [taverns], bars and pavyon [nightclubs].
Diyarbekir is a fortress-city, it retained this quality until the second half of the 20th century, and the people of the city felt protected within the city walls. Although the settlement area remained the same over the years, the population increased. A few gardens and fields within the city walls were zoned for housing in the early 1900s, the courtyards of large houses and mansions were divided with blank walls to create living spaces for more than one family. This condensed life-style, labyrinthine streets and small gardens in the courtyards did not meet certain requirements and so the people, in spring and summer months, made a habit of going to different picnic areas, and this was known as çixarî.
Wealthy families would go to their summer kiosks and cottages in the vineyards, those who had gardens and orchards on the shores of the Tigris river would go to these cooler places, and ordinary citizens who did not have such means would go to gardens and picnic areas outside Sur, the city walls, for a day. For this, they would prefer days known as “sümbül hava” –literally, hyacinth weather- or days when the clouds resembled bunches of hyacinths. This type of cloudy weather, when there was no chance of rain and clouds frequently provided shadow from the sun were ideal for çixarî.
The beginning of çixarî for Diyarbakır was the first Monday of February, known as Kop Cemrosi or Bekir Ağa Day. On this important day for the city, schools would have a day off and state offices would only work half-day. This is also the first day of abstinence of Eastern Orthodox Christians before they begin the Fast of Nineveh. If there was no rain, everyone, both Muslims and Christians, would cook a variety of dishes including braised liver and meat and kadayıf in trays, and gather at the site known as Şemsiler, outside Mardin Gate. The entertainment would continue until the evening.
Kenan Özhal, Educator, Researcher
Let’s take a trip through the sites of this highly significant culture in terms of urban life, following the traces of the experiences of a few generations, and various sources.
In the past, Açıksu was one of the favoured sites for picnics outside Sur, and it was located in the area between the city walls and Ali Pınar village. This site was also used for fairs and open air markets. Araplar Kastalı, also known as Arabın Bahçesi [‘The Arab’s Garden’], is today the area opposite the main entrance of the regional directorate of DSİ [Directorate General for State Hydraulic Works]. Besides, in the past, on what is now the Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality Congress Centre, there used to be the çixarî site known as Kanlı Gül [‘Blood Rose’].
On the road that bends to the left out of Urfa Gate, the left-side of the path that entered the brook gardens was the Göksü Güzel çixarî site, while the right-side was the Hıyarlık çixarî site. The area to the south of Urfa Gate where, quite probably, mulberry trees were grown for silkworms was known as Harir (Silk) Square, after all, it’s other name is “böceklik” [literally, worm site].
Referred to in Ali Emiri’s lines which proclaim, “Mani olmaz yar ile zevke rakibi derbeder / Ğem Götürmez bir mekân buldum cihana müjdeler” [“The rogue rival cannot prevent me from enjoying life with my lover / I have found a place called Ğem Götürmez let the world know the good news”], Ğem Götürmez was also outside Urfa Gate, in the Ben û Sen Valley.
The Evli (Ulu) Beden and Yedi Kardeş bastions are also known as the Ben û Sen bastions. For the same reason, the garden area that covers a part of the brook gardens to the south of the city outside of the city walls is also known as Ben û Sen. Today, this entire area is covered with gecekondu buildings, or irregular shanty settlements.
The field outside Dağkapı and right opposite of Lise [High School] Street, named after the high school that was first called Diyarbakır and then Ziya Gökalp, was known as Cinobaşı. This field used to be a cemetery, and later a Vocational School for Boys was built on the site. This was, back then, in spring months, the sports field of children and youth. Games that used to be played included “çır”, “üç adım/three steps”, “taş atma/stonethrowing” and later, football.
The çixarî site known as Çuxurlar takes its name from the çukur, or pits, left behind by the now defunct stone quarries. This site was known as an airy and cool recreation area of the city, because of its position regarding the wind. It was a place where most generally men came together to cook kebap and eat kadayıf and kahki. Again in the Seyrantepe area, the grounds of the derelict mansion once built for Sultan Murad IV was a popular recreation site because of its coolness in summer.
The Hevsel Gardens, which are among the sites that give the city its identity, contained tens of çixarî sites within their bounds. Ali Bali, Cin Ali, Xızna Odası, Savox Pınar, Bülbül Gözü, Keşiş Tarlası, Molla Farak, Poxli Havuz, Kabakulax and Çolo Murdo are just a few of them.
At the end of the 19th century, before the Diyarbakır High School building and the Numune Hospital (previously Gureba Hospital) were built on this site, there was a derelict building here known as Behram Paşa or Recep Paşa Mansion. This area was known as the Çır Çır (Şır Şır) Brook and Garden. When he was mayor, Pirinççizade Arif Efendi had a tower built and flowers planted here, and gave it the name “Millet Bahçesi” [Garden of the Nation]. Çır Çır Garden was a place much favoured especially on Sundays by Muslims, non-Muslims, the elderly and the young. The Piranlı Garden, which had a cold water spring below it was also a garden visited to cook kebap and to drink and have fun, accompanied by music. Ebubekir Feyzi, in the 18th century, writes that women gathered in the close-by site known as Eğri Kaya or Kayalı Bahçe, eat roasted watermelon, honeydew melon, courgette and cucumber seeds, and organize events known as “çiti yok”.
The Peyas Brook and Hendek River flowed in the upon before the Tekel Beverage Factory was built, and the water would magnificently cascade off the cave known as Yunus Peygamber Makamı [The Seat of the Prophet Jonah] at Fiskaya. Its beautiful observation terrace would attract many a visitor seeking to enjoy the view.
Kör Tiken, İğdeler, Kantaralar, Şah Budak, Şakkul Acuz, Bursa Yastığı, Barı Kız, Gel Beni Gör Seküsü, Zincir Kıran Bahçesi, Öksürük Tepesi, Deve Sindiren Bahçesi, Kara Ağaç and Seyran Tepe were among the other çixarî sites that can be recalled.
“…Diyarbekir’s basil gardens and regularly laid out vegetable plots on the bank of the Tigris have no equal in Rum or the Arab lands or Iran. When, in the spring season, the flood period of the Tigris has passed and its limpid waters begin to flow [again] in a stable current, all Diyarbekir’s inhabitants, rich and poor alike, move with their entire families to the bank of the Tigris. They settle down under tents and pavilions along this wide water, on the plots that they have inherited from their fathers and ancestors, and they sow and cultivate in their gardens melons, water melons, various vegetables and flowers. They cultivate here a special type of basil, which everyone plants along the borders of his plot. In a month’s time it becomes [dense] like a forest and as high as spear’s length so that it is impossible to look through the basil and see what is inside. (…) The ponds and fountains in each pavilion all receive their water from the river Tigris. Between all these gardens and vegetable plots run numerous canals and watercourses which people have diverted from their regularly laid-out vegetable gardens. For a full seven months a merry tumult, with music and friendly talk, is so going on night and day here on the bank of the river Tigris, as in each pavilion people are passing their time with their beloved and close friends, in jollity and drinking, enjoying concert sessions [like those] of Huseyn Bayqara’s court.
Such juicy melons as grown in these gardens have no match, except perhaps the melons of Bohtan in the province of Van. The melons of Diyarbekir are huge, most juicy and tasty, and they have a delicious aroma as of pure musk and amber, so that whoever eats of them only once will [nevertheless] surely keep the fragrance of melons in his nostrils for a full week. (…) People take them as presents to many various lands, as far as they remain fresh. Many use them to prepare a yellow-rice dish, with cinnamon and cloves and rice, as prescribed by His Highness Muawiya. Not even with honey of Athens in Rum can a yellow rice dish become so fragrant as this musk-scented yellow-rice dish with melons. The water-melons however do not deserve much praise. The basil on the other hand grows into such huge trees that in seven or eight months they can be used as tent-poles and stakes. When one burns them in a fire they smell like hyacinths of China (Khitay). In short, the people of Diyarbekir arouse the envy of the whole world because of the pleasures and enjoyments that they have on the bank of the Tigris for seven or eight months…
…Each night the banks of the Tigris are illuminated with oil lamps, lanterns, wind tapers and torches, and people arrange in thousands of artful ways oil lamps and wax candles on boards, [which they then put to float on the Tigris], so that the lights are drifting from one side to the other, and the darkest night becomes like a brilliant day. In each pavilion singers and musicians, clowns, minstrels and story-tellers perform, players of the lute, the çartar, the şeşetar, the berbut, the qanun, the çeng, the rebab, the musqar, the tanbur, the santur, the nefir, the balaban, the ney, and the dehenk, in short all sorts of musicians with string and wind instruments give performances like those at Bayqara’s court, continuing until the break of dawn, when the Muslim muezzins chant with their sorrowful voices the glories of God, as it to apologize, and all the followers of the [Sufi] path and faithful lovers [of God] begin their recitations in praise of Oneness, in the spirit of Pythagoras the Monotheist. For since the people of Diyarbekir all belong to the order of the Khwajagan and the Gülşeni order they do not miss the ecstatic joy and delight of ritual chantings. In conclusion [one may say that] while busy intercourse and buzzing conversation go on these Iram-like gardens, the people continually pray for the perpetuation of the imperial state (devlet). May God exalt their spiritual stations!”
From Evliya Çelebi’s Book of Travel
Van Bruinessen, M. and Boeschoten, H. (ed.), (1988) Evliya Çelebi in Diyarbekir, E.J. Brill, Leiden: 177-181.
The oldest known fairgrounds were between the city walls and the Ali Pınar Village, which was part of the central district. In the past, caravans from India and Iran would stop here. This was also the reason why the Diyarbakır open-air market was set up here. Since the covers along the water line from Ali Pınar to Cami-i Kebir (Ulu Cami) were removed here to cater for travellers’ needs, the area was known as Açık Su [Open Water].
The fair would be on for fifteen days, and once it is over, many families would set up tents here and build “hülle”¹ from reeds, and stay here until the end of the month of May. The fair continued until the Ottoman-Russian War of 1877-1878. The use of the fairground, on the other hand, continued until mansions were built and vineyards were grown at Ali Pınar.
Another fairground was the site opposite Dağkapı, where the Tekel Factory and Ali Gaffar Okkan High School stand. Here, tightrope walkers would perform and seesaws and merry-go-rounds would be set up. Şirinçağ Daşi, very close to this site and between the old Numune Hospital, Diyarbekir High-School (previously the idadi) and the Tekel Beverage Factory, was a çixarî site where especially women went with their children for recreational purposes in the spring and autumn months. Because of the sloping large rock a few meters high, which was especially popular with children for sliding, this area was called Şirinçağ (kaygan/slippery).
¹ Hülle: A structure made of reed and bamboo, closed on three sides and on top.
Feasts organized on the occasion of weddings were known as “velime nights”. Derived from the Arabic word “velaim” (wedding, celebration), the word became part of the Diyarbekir dialect. It is often used for tables where there is an abundance of variety.
On the other hand “harifane nights”¹ were dinner meetings of friends, without alcoholic beverages, where literary and historical topics and current issues were debated. Sometimes music would also accompany such gatherings.
The meaning of the word “harif” is shopkeeper. So “harifane nights” were dinner nights mostly attended by urban middle-class men whose social and economic standing were similar. Everyone would head to the house hosting the meeting with a special dish or desert of Diyarbekir cuisine, and guests would sit down at the table after evening prayers. The host would serve the guests, and would bring out the tea and coffee after the dinner in person. Any food that was left over would be distributed to the impoverished of the neighbourhood.
¹ According to researcher, journalist and writer Abdüssettar Hayati Avşar, it was only harifane nights, and not velime nights, that belonged to Diyarbakır culture.
Although today they are perceived more as places where the unemployed and the idle frequent, once there were kıraathane [coffeehouses, literally reading houses], çayhane [teahouses] attended by the reputable individuals of the city, and a culture unique to such places.
In some teahouses and coffeehouses, especially after night prayers, novels, tales and legends would be read out. These would mostly include the Battles of Ali, novels about legendary heroes like Zaloğlu Rüstem, Battal Ghazi, Shah Ismail, Köroğlu and Shahmaran, famous love stories and legends like Kerem and Aslı, Yusuf and Zulaikha, Arzu and Qamber, Farhad and Shirin, Mem and Zin, Zambil Frosh and Sîpanê Xelatê [Mount Süphan]. The reader would pause at an exciting point of the adventure, so he could sustain the tension until the next night. Sometimes dengbêj would visit, and would recite renowned legends in a poignant voice, accompanied by arbane.
In Ramadan, these places would become even more crowded. Men who visited mosques for Tarawih prayers after breaking fast, would move on to the teahouses after prayers, and would take part in religious conversation and pass their time until suhur. In some teahouses and coffeehouses Ramadan entertainment would be organized. Revenue from raffles held and that continued generally until suhur would be donated to an association, and most often to the Red Crescent.
Mehmet Mercan, Journalist, Writer
There were famous teahouses and coffeehouses in various neighbourhoods of the city. The elderly of the neighbourhood would chat and puff on their hookahs. In some of these places there would be conversation corners, ping-pong and billiards tables and many of them also had a stage. Fasıl (classical ensemble music) and theatre groups, some quite famous, would perform on these stages when they visited the city.
Renowned performers such as Muammer Karaca, Avni Dilligil, Kemal Dirim and İsmail Dümbüllü and famous illusionists like Zati Sungur and Abrakadabra (Lütfi Demirtok) who frequently visited the city during those years would be met with great interest. Kemal Dirim specialized in making jokes about the famous types of the city on stage, and he always received great applause. Other than theatre troupes, kanto singers, meddah [storytellers] and singers would also come to the city. While some performed at the Yeni Şehir Moviehouse at Dağkapı, others would take the stage at the larger coffeehouses.
Şafak Kıraathanesi, on the street of the market police station, close to it, Dicle Kıraathanesi, which had a stage, Terakki Kıraathanesi close to the Balıkçılarbaşı neighbourhood, Cumhuriyet Kıraathanesi at Dağkapı, which also had a stage and Yalova Kıraathanesi were among the most renowned of the coffeehouses. Again close to the Balıkçılarbaşı neighbourhood, Havuzlu Kahve [‘coffeehouse with a pool’] at the clothes market had both a summer section with a garden, and a closed winter section. Its elderly owner, who wore a salwar but also a fedora, would constantly wander inside the coffeehouse, keeping an eye on everything.
Other than these, Çınarlı Abbas’ın Parkı at Mardinkapı, the coffeehouse of Mehmet Aliye Keje, again at Mardinkapı and frequented mostly by cenan (gardeners) working at the Hevsel Gardens, Acemoğlu Kahvesi close to the Balıkçılarbaşı neighbourhood, the hookah coffeehouse with a garden on Melikahmet Street, Ali Çavuş’s teahouse at the cobblers’ market, Sofi Galib’s teahouse at the old yoghurt market, Kemal’s hookah coffeehouse, Eski Borsa Hanı Kahvesi, Nuri Usta’s teahouse and Fethi Acet’s teahouse opposite Ulu Cami were among the prominent coffeehouses and teahouses.
It could be said that the opening of bars and nightclubs in the city, the increase in number of taverns and even the popularization of gambling owed a lot to the subsidies distributed to farmers by the Democrat Party government after 1953-54, whether they possessed arable land or not. It was during those years that Ziraat Bankası [the Bank of Agriculture] and Toprak Mahsulleri Ofisi [Board of Agricultural Products] had begun to distribute credit and seeds to everyone who fulfilled simple formalities in order to foster development in farming. Those who could pull the necessary strings would receive plenty of this blessing. However, neither the credits nor the seeds were used for the appropriate purposes. To be frank, it was not agriculture or trade, but the entertainment industry that came alive during those years.
The first nightclubs and bars in Diyarbakır opened as part of the Dilan Moviehouse. In the basement of the moviehouse, which was originally a shelter and a car park, the first Dicle Bar opened its doors. A woman named Nedret, who was known by her alias Altınmakas [literally ‘golden scissors’] in the entertainment industry, ran Dicle Bar. Ms. Nedret was known to have been an attractive and beautiful woman in her youth and she was on good terms with people from all walks of life including bureaucrats.
It was around the same time that at the mezzanine above the entrance of the same building, Rico Pavyon opened. Rico Pavyon was perceived as more refined, and they even booked artists from Italy. Its private boxes were made of reeds like the huts seen in Western films to add an exotic atmosphere to the nightclub. Rico Pavyon was run by an agricultural engineer and it brought a more upmarket air to Diyarbakır’s nightlife. Clients wearing a salwar or a flat cap were not allowed in, and overly inebriated customers were quietly removed, handed over to trustworthy horse carriage drivers and sent home.
During the same years, the third nightclub in the city opened. Londra Bar was in the basement of the summer courtyard of Turistik Palas.
The automaton that decides who will drink at a party
“The instrument is built as a five-storey tower. In the lowest compartment there sits a cariye, a lady-in-waiting with a cup in front of her. In the compartment above there are four cariye musicians, in the iwan above there is a dancer, and in the top compartment there is a door with two wings. Atop the tower there is a dome, and on the top of the dome, a horse and a rider. The automaton is brought into a gathering and placed in the centre. A while later, the cariye musicians begin to play the musical instruments, the dancer to dance, the rider to revolve and the cariye to fill the cup in front of her with wine from a bottle. The rider then stops; a cupbearer presents the cup to the person to which the rider points towards with his spear. When the person drinks the wine, he or she places the cup back in front of the cariye. This ceremony is repeated twenty times with twenty-minute intervals, then the doors of the top compartment opens and the figure that appears signals, with the right hand, to indicate ‘There is no more wine’, while the left hand indicates ‘There are still two more cups of wine’.”
Unat, Y. (2002) “El-Cezerî’nin Makine Yapımında Yararlı Bilgiler ve Uygulamalar Adlı Eseri [Al-Jazari’s Work Titled Useful Information and Implementations in the Construction of Machines]”, Türkler [Turks], Vol. 7, (ed.) Hasan Celâl Güzel, Kemal Çiçek and Salim Koca, Yeni Türkiye Yayınları, Ankara: 569-575.
From the mid-1950s on, when bars and nightclubs opened, the number of taverns and restaurants that served alcoholic beverages also began to increase. During those years, the clientele of both taverns and bars and nightclubs included farmers who had received grants or long term credit from the state, village aghas and the adult children of wealthy families. This period witnessed extravagant amounts of money being spent in such places. Farmers who had received unlawful credit using fabricated names and addresses and who believed that the state would never be able to claim the money it handed out, preferred the city centre to spend their money.
Special programs that lasted until the morning would be organized at bars and nightclubs for clients coming from surrounding towns and districts, mostly from Midyat, Savur, Kızıltepe, Viranşehir, Çınar, Bismil and Ergani. The same crowd had also begun to frequent venues in the city that had officially been opened as associations or clubs but organized gambling parties. At times, the news would spread that certain village aghas or tradespeople had lost money that led to their bankruptcy. There would also be gossip about the relationships between clients and women they had met here, and how their family life had thus been ruined.
The place of meyhane, or taverns, in Diyarbakır’s entertainment life was restricted. There were quite few places that served alcoholic beverages in the 1940s. The oldest and most famous meyhane of the city was Bahçeli Lokanta, run by Akif Bey, on Gazi Street and close to the market police station. This was, originally, an old Diyarbakır house with a spacious backyard. The other two restaurants that served alcoholic beverages were in Dağkapı. Antepli Memik’in meyhanesi [‘the tavern of Memik of Antep’] was adjacent to the Dicle Garage, and Sino’s meyhane was opposite it, between Dağkapı and the Suakar Public Bath. The clientele of the three establishments were different. The renowned shopkeepers, tradespeople and bureaucrats frequented Bahçeli Lokanta, while Sino’s and Memik Usta’s taverns were the place to go for the lower classes and the hoodlums of the city.
In the 1940s, city administrators, bureaucrats and renowned tradespeople would mostly gather at homes and entertain themselves among friends. Younger people who couldn’t go to taverns and poor drunkards would hang out in front of müskirat (off-licenses) and would drink wine by the cup as much as they could afford. Since it was considered a sin for Muslims to sell alcoholic beverages, both off-licenses in the city were run by Armenians. The shop of our neighbour in the Fatihpaşa neighbourhood, Meyhaneci Bro [tavern-keeper Bro], was at Eski Yoğurt Pazarı [the old yoghurt market] while the one run by Jirayır brothers was on the corner of the entrance of Melikahmet Street. Some would by their drinks here and go to the bottom of the city walls, to Çift Havuzlar in Yenikapı, to Cinobaşı on Lise Street, to Kışla Yolu or to the rocks beneath Keçi Burcu [“Goat Bastion”] at Mardinkapı. The public called these off-licenses “meyhaneçi”.
Like the moviehouses, there was rapid change in these establishments, too, after the 1950s. First the number of bars and nightclubs with music increased, and then the beerhouses, also known as “tek-tekçiler”. Hayik’in Damla Meyhanesi, Bekir’in Yeri, Bozo’nun Yeri and Necat’ın Agora’sı were the most famous among them. It was also during these years that the client profile changed, and virtually everyone began to go everywhere.
It was during these years that the lokal, or clubhouses of certain clubs and associations and even some official institutions opened. The lokal of Öğretmenler Derneği (TÖB-DER) [The Teachers’ Association], Güneydoğu Gazeteciler Cemiyeti [The Southeastern Region Journalists’ Association], Ticaret Odası [The Chamber of Commerce], Aydınlar Kulübü [The Intellectuals Club], Karayolları [General Directorate of Highways], DSİ [General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works], DDY [General Directorate of State Railways] and Şayak Factory, and the salons of Turistik Palas and Demir Hotel were among the most popular. Their clientele was different from existing meyhane. The lokal of official institutions was frequented mostly by the bureaucrat class while the salons of Tüccarlar Kulübü [Tradespeople Club] and luxury hotels was attended by the reputable business- and tradespeople of the city. Doctors, lawyers, teachers and journalists on the other hand frequented the lokal of their own professional organizations.
It could be said that an explosion in the numbers of establishments serving alcohol took place after the 1970s. Many restaurants and kebap houses also began to serve alcoholic beverages to their customers.
Text: Kenan Özhal, Mehmet Mercan
Translation: Nazım Dikbaş