But now much of Sur is not only destroyed but also sealed off. Some 2,000 buildings are estimated to have been destroyed or damaged in the fighting and 20,000 residents displaced.
The provincial governor, Huseyin Aksoy, says the area will be rebuilt according to its original character, along the lines of a renovation plan agreed to in 2012 by the mayor, who was pro-Kurdish.
“When’s it’s finished,” Mr. Aksoy said in an interview, “the old atmosphere of Sur will return again.”
Some locals scoff at this.
“They want to Turkify and Islamify the area,” said Abdullah Demirbas, a former mayor of Sur.
Some caution, nevertheless, that the state is not the only obstacle to Kurdish cultural expression. After Abdullah Keskin — the head of Avesta, Turkey’s largest Kurdish-language publisher — criticized Kurdish insurgents for starting a fight in residential districts like Sur, a depot housing his books mysteriously burned down a few days later.
Life was also worse in the past for the Kurdish community, Mr. Keskin says. When he was a child, even Kurdish music was banned. When his family — who lived just north of the Syrian border — held a wedding, they had to enlist Syrian Kurds to perform Kurdish music from the southern side of the border.
Things have not yet reached that level today, Mr. Keskin says. So far this year, his company alone has published more Kurdish books than the entire Kurdish community managed to during the first 60 years of the Turkish republic. But he allows that the government’s actions in the last two years still constitute “a kind of coup against Kurdish language and culture.”
Here and there, however, artists and activists are trying to make the most of a tough situation. Mr. Tantekin, the actor, has left the trade. But several of his former colleagues have set up their own private theater in the basement of a mall.
Their former theater fit 1,700. This tiny basement seats just 80. But…