An Analysis of Socioeconomic Situation in South-eastern Anatolia

An Analysis of Socioeconomic Situation in South-eastern Anatolia
* Nurcan Baysal, European Parliament Speech, June 2008

Any single-dimension analysis would be insufficient to explore the present socioeconomic situation in South-eastern Anatolia. There are various circles approaching the present situation in the context of differing terms including ‘the Kurdish question”, “democratization problem” or “underdevelopment”. The situation that we are facing now, however, is a multi-dimensional one and it should be taken with its historical, political, economical and geographical aspects. Nevertheless, in spite of this need for multi-dimensional approach, the dimension “Kurdish question” should never be pushed back to a secondary place.
With respect to the level of socioeconomic development in the region, firstly I would like to bring clarity to three points. Firstly, the fact that the region presently encompasses the least developed provinces of Turkeyshould be addressed from a historical perspective. Under the influence of international dynamics including the actions of big powers in the Middle East, armed conflicts, changing importance of trade and oil all historically shaped and changed the economic position of the region. In other words, the changing geopolitical role of the region has also influenced its economic position. Another point which bears importance in historical terms is the fact that the “economic development” model adopted with the Republic has been centrally oriented. As a result of this centralistic model, the periphery has lagged behind and lost its development momentum. To summarize shortly, Diyarbakır was the economic, cultural and scientific centre of importance during the Ottoman times. According to the Population Census of 1927, the first following the Republic, Diyarbakır ranked third after İstanbul and Bursa in terms of total industrial employment. According to 1972 data provided by the State Planning organization, Diyarbakırranked 27th in this respect and further regressed to 54thamong 81 provinces of the country in 2000. There is some pointing out to the Kurdish problem as the sole factor explaining this regression (in my opinion it is truly one of the fundamental factors brining about the present situation). Still, there is one additional point which should not be missed out: Perhaps not to the same extent with Diyarbakır, there are many other provinces in Anatolia which suffered the same regression following the Republic.
With its historical origins, the Kurdish question constitutes the second important point in addressing the underdevelopment of the region. As a result of this problem, resources of the region have long been destroyed or depleted while external resources are denied. Forests, pastures and settlements in the region have been burned out for “security” reasons and all “economic packages” opened so far failed to allocate resources sufficient to redress these losses let aside triggering development in the region. Another point which should be addressed around the axis of the Kurdish question in investigating the causes of underdevelopment is the unrest and forced migration which reign in the region for the last 20 years. The process of armed conflict has indeed shaken the economy of the region in serious dimensions. Persons displaced as a result of forced migration flowed to urban centres yielding a population concentration too high for the given infrastructure and service capacity of these centres. Once more, inequalities in the region have been further exacerbated by the state.
The last point I want to make in regard to the underdevelopment of the region is this: Starting from the 1980s, neo-liberal economic policies adopted by Turkey have been rapidly transforming crop farming and stock-breeding in particular. This transformation takes place, though in varying degrees, in all parts of Turkey. However, since the economy of the region is heavily dependent on crop farming and stock-breeding the negative implications of this transformation are most profoundly felt here. For those sections of population negatively affected by this transformation, support schemes are either totally non-existent or remain far from protecting small farmers and framing enterprises. In short, unequal development generated by capitalism is another factor which has affected and is still affecting the region.
Including the Kurdish problem in the first place, problems deriving from the international location of the region and Turkey’s involvement in the process of globalisation further aggravate existing problems as well as the situation in the region both with their own dynamics and interaction in-between.
All add up to the present situation where the provinces of the region remain among the least developed 20 provinces in Turkey. Figures suggest that this regression has continued throughout the Republican period and gained pace particularly after 1980. In spite of the GAP Project each passing year has worked against the region. According to the socioeconomic development index developed by the DPT, Diyarbakır, once (in 1996) ranking 57th fell down to 63rd in 2003. Another south-eastern province, Şanlıurfa which had been expected to leap forward with the GAP lost 9 ranks to remain as 68th. Van lost 8 steps within seven years. Others followed: Batman from 65th to 70th; Mardin from 66th to 72nd; Siirt from 68th to 73rd; Şırnak from 75th to 78th; Hakkari from 70th to 77th; Bitlis from 71st to 79th and Muş from 76thto 81st[1].
Decline in crop farming and stock-breeding in the rural parts of the region is dramatic. Once used to work on their plots and breed animals, small farmers are now getting more and more dependent on seasonal commercial agriculture. The study conducted by the Development Centre in the villages of Diyarbakır-Karacadağ suggest the following: Majority of rural families can no more subsist on traditional rural activities and send their children to urban centres for construction works or other engagements such as scavenging. There is also the emerging tendency to move to Northern Iraq for employment opportunities.
Again in the rural sector, unbalanced land and consequent income distribution is a serious problem. Although 70 percent of population in the region makes their living in agricultural sector, distribution of land is extremely distorted. This situation in rural areas gives rise to dependency and patronage in both subsistence and decision making processes. Land distribution is a serious issue and, unfortunately, neither political parties, including those representing the Kurdish people, nor any NGO discuss this issue satisfactorily.
The state investments relating to education are also far from being satisfactory in the region. According to 2007 data provided by Diyarbakır Provincial Directorate of Education the rate of illiteracy in the province is 30%; 16 % of males and 44% of females are illiterate. In Diyarbakır again, of every 4 students starting school only one completes it.
As a result, poverty and unemployment in the region have assumed abject dimensions. We observe that unemployment and poverty have both turned to be widespread and sustained especially after 1980. Poverty experienced in this region is much more profound that poverty which can be observed in the other regions of the country. From most optimistic perspective it can be said that 60% of people in the region remains under poverty line.  There are 617,000 green card holders in Diyarbakır only and this figure corresponds to 41% of the population of the province.
One underlying reason explaining this poverty and unemployment is armed conflict and forced migration. The former reigns in the region for the last 20 years.  First starting in 1984, armed conflict in the region reached a turning point in 1987 with the introduction of “State of Emergency Regional Governorate” (OHAL) and for 15 years the OHAL regime became notorious for anonymous murders, summary executions, mass detentions and grave violations of human rights. Considering that 70% of the population of the region are at young ages, it is clear that the majority of this population was born to an environment of armed conflict and have been affected by this environment throughout their life until the present.
Forced migration which primarily marked the period 1990-95 further exacerbated the conditions of this environment of strife. Population affected by forced migration is 953,680 according to official figures while it climbs up to 1.5-3 million according to non-governmental organizations. Without any public support in their new destinations, victims of forced migration have faced grave difficulties and been excluded from the rest of the community in their new urban poor environments. Their sense of belonging has weakened and the state-citizen relationship which was already weak has come to a paint of definite rupture. Despite 15 years elapsing from the heyday of forced migration, there is no serious government programme either in the centres of the region or other places where victims of forced migration moved in order to ameliorate their difficult circumstances. About 14 years after forced migration, in March 2004, the “Law on Redress for Losses and Damages Suffered as a Result of Terror and Struggle against Terror.” Serious problems emerged during the enforcement of this law too. For example, as of May 2008, only 20,540 of 50,935 court appeals in this context could be finalized in Diyarbakır. Another initiative is the “Village Return and Rehabilitation Project” launched in 1999. Under this project, given that there is no security wise obstacle, those citizens who want to return back to their original villages are entitled to receive free construction materials to rebuild their houses as well as in kind assistance for subsistence such as beehives or small head animals. However, since the State permits return only to those villages which are considered “secure” the actual number of returnees is quite low. All these suggest that the programme introduced by the state is not much beyond business as usual and adopted to respond to some international pressures.
     During a field survey conducted in 2006 by the Development Centre covering forced migration victims, a victim said “The State behaved as if we were absent.”  Today, after 17 years, this behaviour is mostly prevalent.
To conclude with, victims of forced migration are doomed to ignorance and unemployment; they can neither return to their villages nor are supported to make a living in their new urban environments.
This environment of strife accompanied by forced migration destroyed means of subsistence in rural parts, pastures and settlements were burnt down and productive activities in the rural sector almost came to a halt. Many rural people moved to urban centres only to face unemployment and even deeper poverty. Those who are lucky enough to find jobs are forced to inhumane working conditions in temporary jobs without any social security.
All these made the people of the region utterly pessimistic about future. According to a survey carried out by Diyarbakır Local Agenda 21 50.8% of respondents to a question about future expectations said “nothing will change” while those who expect an even worse future make up 25%.
This clearly shows that the people of the region are HOPELESS ABOUT THEIR FUTURE.
Taking a look at steps taken to improve the situation in the region and mitigate the effects of underdevelopment, we observe that no comprehensive drive for development could be launched in spite of such interventions as “Development Priority Areas”, “Regional Development Plans” or South-eastern Anatolia Project (GAP) which have all been in agenda since the 70s. Up till now the most important State initiative for development and elimination of inter-regional disparities is the GAP. However, the present rates of realization under the project incite suspicions about the sincerity of the State regarding the potential contribution of the GAP to the economy of the region. Figures point out that while the rate of realization in energy investments is 95%, the rate in irrigation investments remain around a low 15%. In other words, priority has been given to the energy sector of a nationwide use while investments for irrigated farming whose benefits specifically pertain to the region have been pushed back to the second place. Moreover, the region itself cannot sufficiently benefit even from energy investments due to the lack of necessary infrastructure.
The latest 9th Five Year Development Plan covering the period 2007-2013 assigns no priority to the region in terms of development and indicates no specific effort to eliminate regional development disparities.
We observe that a series of economic packages have been launched for the region starting from 1985. 2 of these packages seem to be more comprehensive:[2]The one launched by Erbakan in 1997 and the one launched by Ecevit in 2000. In all these packages, however, we see that the energy sector gets the lion’s share in investments. As far as special investment and employment incentives are concerned, there is no data to find out to what extent these incentives actually brought along investments. Still, there are some statistics pertaining to the number of incentives granted on the basis of regions and provinces and some projected investments. According to these statistics, the number of incentives granted to enterprises in the Marmara Region in the period 2004-2007 was 2,543 while it is only 526 in South-eastern Anatolia and even lower, 361, in Eastern Anatolia. In terms of both the number of incentives granted and the value of fixed investment foreseen, Eastern Anatolia is at the bottom of the list after South-eastern Anatolia. This unbalanced pattern in the distribution of incentives further deepens existing disparities.
So far no political party or Government has developed a serious policy to solve the socioeconomic problems of the region. As to political parties representing Kurds, they have mainly focused on political demands, largely omitting this aspect of the issue.
As preceding Governments, the present AKP Government too is now engaged in the classical discourse concerning the “economic development of the eastern region.” During the AKP Government, the situation in eastern and south-eastern Anatoliahas worsened in terms of the rates of poverty, unemployment and education-training[3]. Figures testify that unemployment has swelled in all provinces of the region during this period. According to official figures, for example, the rate of unemployment in Diyarbakır(in 2005) is well above the country average (10.6%) with 14.6%. According to non-official statistics, however, the rate of unemployment in Diyarbakır is as high as 60%. The situation is not much different in other provinces of the region. Rates of unemployment are also high in Şanlıurfa (14%), Van (15%) and in Malatya, Elazığ, Bingöl and Tunceli (27%)[4].
In terms of social policies, we observe 4 different schemes have been introduced for the poor in recent years: Promotion of green cards; schooling campaigns; assistance by Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundations and World Bank supported conditional cash transfer scheme. All these schemes, by their very nature, are far from targeting social development; the objective is merely the management of social risk. Furthermore, since these schemes are based on a ‘charity’ mentality rather than ‘citizenship rights’, they are both degrading in many respect and also perpetuate the absence of social protection which the State should normally provide.
In short, the overall situation during the rule of the latest government is no different from preceding ones: “Economic packages” that follow one another; the classical discourse on “bringing investment to the GAP region”; “leaps” that are announced but never translated into practice; food channelled to the region as “assistance” upon the directives of leading political figures…Balance: Deepening unemployment and poverty. People torn apart from their rural settings as a result of “security” measures and neo-liberal policies are now finding it even harder to subsist by working elsewhere collecting cotton, hazel nut, etc. Children from the region are being sent to big urban centres in the west to make some money by scavenging. Villages are vacated; there is no school, if there is, there is no teacher; no roads. Those who have rushed to urban centres as a result of displacement are still crowding the streets… 
It appears that authorities do not want to see this picture or think that they can solve the problem with green cards free coal or aids like these. The region cannot step into a sound process of socioeconomic development unless the Kurdish problem is solved. From the other side, it is certain that holistic, well programmed and concerted socioeconomic development policies will contribute to the process of brining in a political solution.
The following can be considered as an overall framework of steps to be taken for the socioeconomic development of the region:
Firstly, the central government should have the determinedness and will to raise the socio economic development level of the region. Besides, it should cooperate with regional actors (i.e. industrialists, rural people, local governments, etc.). Without a profound analysis of circumstances in the region, top-to-down and centralistic approaches are doomed to failure.
Secondly, ever worsening economic situation in the region cannot be checked and reversed through some minor changes. For instance, it would be simply unrealistic to count solely on some privileged incentives to attract industrial investments to the region. Indeed, parallel transformations are needed including putting an end to armed conflict, solution of infrastructure problems, transportation, modernization of customs gates and development of agriculture and animal husbandry.
The third point is to mobilize some presently idle resources to provide means of subsistence to people in the region. At present many people from the region move to other provinces for seasonal employment. This cannot go on like this. Conditions should be provided to tie these people to land again. The region is well endowed with such resources as land, water, mines, etc. which need to be mobilized for development and employment.
Infrastructure makes the fourth important point. Without sufficient infrastructure, one can expect no investment. Electricity, water supply, roads, etc. are all critically important. Yet, at present, many parts of the region lack adequate infrastructure.
The last but not least, human capital is critical. There are high rates of unemployment on the one hand and a large gap in qualified labour on the other. This points out to the importance of vocational training. The point is to provide vocational training that responds to the needs of the industry.
To conclude with, the problem of socioeconomic development in eastern and south-eastern Anatoliashould be addressed through a multi-dimensional and holistic approach. It is simply impossible to create a momentum for development through piecemeal measures and interventions. Even when the region is accorded most favourable terms and incentives, no sustained and meaningful outcome can be achieved unless a full-fledged transformation is triggered. This, in turn, requires firm and concerted policy by the Government and cooperation with the region itself. 


[2] Aydın Bolkan, ‘Ekonomik Paketler Çözüm Olmadı’, (Economic Packages Bring no Solution) 12.04.2006,
[3] “Impoverishment in Eastern and South-eastern Anatolia and Solution” by Mustafa Sönmez.
[4] Mustafa Sönmez; İşsizliğin Coğrafyası (Geography of Unemployment) 2005,