Kavar as a development model
“Here, from June through September, women go to the mountains and highlands to milk the cows. We set off on foot at 10 am and reach the cattle in about an hour. We milk them for half an hour and then walk back home with 10 to 25 liters of milk on our backs. We reach home at 12.30. There is more work at home, such as cooking, caring for the children and boiling the milk, all of which occupies us until 5 pm. Even more work awaits us, as we spend two and a half hours milking the sheep and goats.1 In total we need five hours for milking the animals… Rural development, you say—what is that? We women would be very pleased if the road we take to get to the animals for milking could be improved. It’s full of rocks which cut our feet. If the road were fixed, the work would be much less tiresome… I wish we had a tractor to take us to the animals.”2
These are the words of a woman from the Düzcealan (Çorsin in Kurdish) village located in the Tatvan-Kavar basin. Kavar is a basin by the Van Lake, and included six villages and five hamlets. In the 1990s, state security forces forcefully evacuated three of these villages, burnt one down (Çorsin), and obliged the remaining two to accept the village guard (koruculuk) system. The total population is composed of approximately 1800 individuals, 88% of whom have a primary school education or less, and 30% of whom are illiterate. 79% of the illiterate population is women. In 2008 figures, the monthly income per capita in the basin is 109 TL and the median income is 82 TL. As such, the income level is below the Turkish starvation limit.3 6% of the total population suffers from physical and/or mental handicap. 60% of the basin’s population is younger than 25 years of age. Accordingly, the basin is Turkey’s most impoverished area in terms of all development criteria.
In 1993, many inhabitants of Kavar had to migrate to big cities such as İstanbul, İzmir, Manisa and Mersin when their villages were forcefully evacuated by the state. In the early 2000s, they started to return to their villages through their own means. I got acquainted with them during this period of return in September 2008.
In 2008, the Hüsnü Özyeğin Foundation decided to implement a rural development program designed to improve the quality of life in impoverished rural areas, and recruited me as the director of the program. In the first six months while trying to outline our modus operandi, I visited poor rural areas of Turkey. I conducted research on the efforts of rural development in Turkey and abroad, and sought an answer to the question “What rural development?” “What kind of rural development should there be? Who is to do the ‘developing’? Why are we to ‘develop’ them? Who says that eating at a table is better than eating on the ground? Doesn’t development risk destroying the diversity of life? Who is to define poverty? Who is poor according to whom? Are all these highways constructed in the name of development? How are we to give a human face to development? Can there be development without justice and equality? Can there be a development which is blind to identity, language and culture? What is the place of the right to a decent life in development schemes? What purpose does development serve if it ignores inequality…”4
Our main reference point was the relation between development and human rights. We believed that development was a human right (the right to development). Towards late 2008, we had outlined the main principles of the Rural Development Program (as an integrated, participated and flexible program advocating human rights, centered on the individual, upholding gender equality and defending the sustainability of natural resources) and decided on Kavar as our first basin.
Kavar Rural Development Project
From October 2008 through January 2009, we held meetings with diverse groups such as women, girls and kids, and determined the content of the program and activities together with the habitants of Kavar. Sometimes we would discuss the same issue for days on end. These meetings lasted about three to four months. During this process we gained the trust of the Kavar population who at first were a bit skeptical towards the foundation:
“We first though that this was all a plan by the state, which sent you to us. I was cautious and said ‘They are strangers, we shouldn’t welcome them.’… We didn’t know what was going on. We had no trust in you. But now things are different.”5
In December 2008, we established a monitoring and assessment system which would allow us to evaluate the consequences of the program in the coming years,6 and in January 2009 we launched the activities of the Kavar Rural Development Program. The activities roughly fall under eight categories: social welfare, enhancing economic capacity, infrastructure, empowering women, organization and sustainability, natural resources, cooperation and partnerships, and influencing rural policy.
To enhance economic capacity in the basin, not only tens of thousands of walnut trees were planted, but also the habitants of Kavar were trained in arboriculture since they had forgotten even the most basic skills after spending many years in big cities. On the one hand, the stalls in the basin were fixed, and women received seminars on animal and dairy hygiene. More and more maize was planted for silage purposes. Furthermore, a cultural center (Yeniden Yaşam Merkezi: Back to Life Center) was established with the support of the Japanese Embassy to enrich social life and organize cultural events. Intermediaries were contacted to help women market the honey they produce. To ensure children’s access to education, repair work was started in the schools which had been abandoned since the 1990s, kindergartens were set up, and a school providing eight years of education was constructed for those Kavar children (6 to 7 years old) who previously had been obliged to attend distant boarding primary schools.7 Numerous artistic and cultural activities were organized including children’s libraries, film screenings, children’s choirs and drama clubs. The annual Kavar festival was launched, and village halls were set up in every village to house training seminars and other social activities. All these efforts were crowned in 2011 with the establishment of Kavar Co-op Society for Rural Development. A milk collection center was set up under the umbrella of the co-op society to bring the milk to the market. The co-op also started to package and sell the grain grown in Kavar as well as the honey produced by local women. There were additional efforts to improve the meadows, plant seeds in the meadows, carry out forestation and generate solar energy so as to ensure the sustainable and enhanced utilization of natural resources.
“This is the first time we had civilian visitors in Kavar”
The Kavar Rural Development Program ran from 2009 through 2013, and 2014 was planned as a year of transition to end the program. One key element which differentiated the Kavar basin experience was the strong trust between the project team and target audience, which allowed villagers to discover their potential and build social and institutional capacity as envisaged by the program. This discovery allowed the villages in the basin to get organized under the umbrella of a co-op society and act together. Public agencies, civil society, academic institutions and the private sector participated in the program.
Another factor which sets apart the Kavar basin experience is the joint progress of social and economic empowerment efforts, and the focus on environmental and natural issues during the development process. The development experience in Kavar is based not on production for production’s sake, but rather the well-being of individuals. Aside from production and income issues, the program has a comprehensive perspective on women’s social status, children, the elderly and disabled, sustainable use of natural resources, protection of biodiversity, efficient usage of water resources, protection of local architecture, as well as organization and solidarity.
At the end of the five-year period on December 2013, the final evaluation of the Kavar Rural Development Program was carried out. Although the final report has yet to be published, the first findings point to numerous favorable developments in the villages participating in the project versus villages in the control group:8 a rise in employment rates, increasing per capita income, rising numbers of cattle and sheep, improved school attendance rates for both girls and boys.
Development and peace
Another key characteristic of the Kavar Rural Development Program is its being the first ever comprehensive development program in Turkey conducted in a region of conflict, as some Kavar villages were evacuated in the 1990s and the village guard system was imposed on others. The program had an important impact on the reestablishment of relations between villages, the reinforcement of the ties between the villages and public agencies, the repair of the disintegrated social fabric—in short, on the strengthening social harmony. A Kavar villager expressed this in the following terms:
“Up until now all of our visitors were soldiers. This is the first time we have had civilian visitors (foundation personnel) in the village.”9
Another individual from a village once evacuated by the army said,
“Thanks to this project, we now have better relations with the other villages (where the village guard system is established). Now we milk our cows together and no longer perceive each other as enemies.”10
Every summer, three or four interns from universities in Western Turkey joined the program. One such intern active during the summer of 2011 said,
“It was only after my two-month internship in Kavar that I understood what the people in the East have to suffer. Hundreds of people came here and went back as part of the project, and they were all affected by what they saw. I believe that the project has an effect on peace-building efforts.”11
Today, when the peace process ranks high on the public agenda, the Kavar Rural Development experience is more valuable than ever. As the peace process makes progress, many ex-villagers from the region will leave the big cities’ slums to go back to rural areas. Refugee camps like Mahmur will be disbanded and the fighters in the mountains will return. In total, millions of people will go back home. However, since they have been far away from the countryside, fields and agriculture for 20 years, most of them will not even know how to trim a tree. Comprehensive and integrated socio-economic schemes like that in Kavar which focus on the individual and her/his rights will make a positive contribution to the durability of peace.12
2 A 28-year-old married woman from Düzcealan village, with two children. Özyeğin Foundation, Field Study Report, Ayşe Gündüz-Hoşgör, Kavar, Bitlis, August 2008.
3 In 2009, the starvation limit for a family of four was estimated at 287 TL, and the poverty limit at 825 TL. Source: TÜİK Haber Bülteni: 2009 Yılı Yoksulluk Çalışması Sonuçları, http://www.tuik.gov.tr/PreHaberBultenleri.do?id=10952.
4 Nurcan Baysal, O GÜN, İletişim Yayınları, 2014, İstanbul, p.14.
5 Nurcan Baysal, O GÜN, İletişim Yayınları, 2014, İstanbul, p.29.
6 In the Kavar monitoring-assessment scheme, the impact analysis method was used. In order to scientifically measure the difference created by the program and to ensure that the same impact can be reproduced in other sites, a system was developed under the leadership of Oxford University’s Meltem Aran to deploy the differences-in-differences methodology which compares the control group villages with the project villages over time.
7 These schools are called YİBO (short for Yatılı Bölge Okulları) in Turkish
8 The assessment work by Meltem Aran of Development Anlaytics is not yet complete; only the preliminary findings are presented here.
9 Man from Dibekli, June 2013, interview by N. Baysal.
10 Man from Yassıca, December 2013, Özyeğin Vakfı toplantısı.
11 Young woman, July 2012, interview by N.Baysal.
12 Nurcan Baysal, “ Çözüm Sürecinde Kalkınma”, BİANET, http://www.bianet.org/bianet/siyaset/151743-cozum-surecinde-kalkinma
Born in 1975 in Diyarbakır, Nurcan Baysal graduated from Ankara University, Faculty of Political Science. She received her master’s degree from Bilkent University. From 1997 until 2007, she carried out projects on development and poverty in Diyarbakır as part of UNDP schemes. From 2008 until 2013, she took office as rural development program director at Hüsnü Özyeğin Foundation. She provides services as Middle East consultant to various international fund providers and foundations. Her first book “O Gün” [That Day] (2014) was published by İletişim Yayınları.
***Published in Henrich Boell Stiftung Perspectives Magazine
***Published in Henrich Boell Stiftung Perspectives Magazine