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WikiLeaks: 2006-06-14: 06ANKARA3505: Ambassador's Visit to Southeast Turkey

by WikiLeaks. 06ANKARA3505: June 14, 2006.

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2012 at 04:34 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06ANKARA3505 2006-06-14 11:48 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Ankara
This record is a partial extract of the original cable.
The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A 
1.(SBU) Ambassador visited Diyarbakir, Mardin and 
Sanliurfa May 26-29, meeting with governors, mayors, 
party officials, NGO representatives, journalists and 
academics.  The regional press followed the visit 
closely, and accurately reported his characterization 
of the PKK and support for it as "dead ends."  The 
Ambassador stressed at every stop US determination to 
continue support for Turkey in its efforts against the 
PKK and for Turkey's democratization process. 
Interlocutors in Diyarbakir focused extensively on the 
rioting there in late March, and the political, 
economic, and social problems in the southeast caused 
by PKK terrorism, the state's response, the migration 
of hundreds of thousands from villages to the region's 
towns and cities, and the unresolved question of 
Kurdish ethnic identity.  Such problems loom less 
large in Mardin and Sanliurfa, more ethnically mixed 
cities that have benefitted to some extent from a 
nascent tourism industry and irrigation from the 
Southeast Anatolia (GAP) project.  At a May 29 
conference at Harran University in Sanliurfa co- 
sponsored by the State University of New York (SUNY), 
the Ambassador joined former President Suleyman 
Demirel in highlighting the need to develop human as 
well as infrastructure resources in the GAP region in 
order to meet the challenges of globalization.  End 
2.(SBU)  In two days of meetings in Diyarbakir, the 
Ambassador met with provincial Governor Efkan Ala, 
mayor Osman Baydemir (pro-Kurdish Democratic Society 
Party - DTP), human rights lawyers, and business 
leaders.  Baydemir described Diyarbakir as a 
"troubled" city suffering under the weight of a 
migration that has tripled the city's population over 
the past 20 years and pushed the local unemployment 
rate to around 60 percent (though business leaders put 
the figure at closer to 40 percent).  He said people 
in Diyarbakir are concerned about increasing violence 
and a "regression" in Turkey's path toward 
democratization.  Baydemir added that recent tensions 
had dashed hopes that the Kurdish issue, which he 
called the root cause of the region's problems, might 
be addressed by the AKP Government.  Baydemir and 
human rights activists in Diyarbakir said the 
Government needs to find a way to implement some form 
of amnesty for a significant number of PKK militants 
if it hopes to bring an end to the current clashes and 
split the PKK foot-soldiers from the organization's 
radical leadership. 
3. (SBU) Both Baydemir and state-appointed Governor 
Ala said that most of the demonstrators during the 
Diyarbakir riots in late March were children who had 
grown up in poverty and an atmosphere of violence. 
Baydemir also claimed that Turkish security forces 
went "out of control" on the third day of violence, 
thereby prolonging the riots and increasing the number 
of casualties.  This view was supported by human 
rights lawyers, who also claimed that many of the 
children arrested following the disturbances had been 
abused by police.  All interlocutors praised the 
Governor and the Mayor for their efforts to restore 
calm. Ala blamed the violence squarely on the PKK, 
which he said had "entered the cities because it had 
been unsuccessful in the mountains."  Baydemir argued 
that both the PKK and elements of the state opposed to 
Turkey's democratization had a hand in provoking the 
demonstrators.  Diyarbakir AK party chairman 
Abdurrahman Kurt supported Baydemir's claim, and 
accused these same groups of using threats of violence 
in an unsuccessful effort to sabotage Prime Minister 
Erdogan's recent visit to the city.  Governor Ala 
identified Diyarbakir's top problem as unemployment 
exacerbated by years of PKK terrorism.  He added that 
the continuation of Turkey's democratic reform process 
is the most effective weapon against terrorism, and 
noted recent advances in Kurdish language broadcasts. 
Ala said the US could help Turkey address the region's 
problems through strong support for Turkey's 
democratization process and continued cooperation with 
Turkey against terrorism. 
4. (SBU) All interlocutors in Diyarbakir agreed that 
there is little popular support in the region for a 
return to violence, and said that most people strongly 
support democratic reforms and Turkey's EU process.  A 
human rights lawyer from the nearby city of Batman put 
it this way: "People would like to live as Kurds, but 
together with the Turks.  They want to develop 
economically and benefit from all the opportunities of 
modern life."  Several lawyers at the Diyarbakir Bar 
Association warned that the region's festering social 
and economic problems combined with the slowdown in 
democratization has produced fertile ground for 
radical Islam in the city's poor and migrant 
neighborhoods (a concern echoed the previous week by a 
former Diyarbakir MP at a lunch with the Ambassador). 
They noted that the largest demonstration in the 
Middle East against the Danish cartoons had taken 
place in Diyarbakir, and that a recent meeting 
organized by Islamist extremists there had attracted 
70,000 people. 
5. (SBU)  A group of journalists who met with the 
Ambassador over lunch painted a bleak picture of 
Diyarbakir as a city confronted by an increasingly 
alienated young generation that was easily manipulated 
toward violence and extremism.  They said PKK 
militants still enjoy widespread popular support, but 
echoed the view that people were tired of the violence 
and "wanted their children to come down from the 
mountains."  One correspondent commented that the best 
barometer of popular support for the PKK was the 
regional vote across the Southeast for the (Kurdish- 
based) Democratic Society Party (DTP), which has been 
gradually been losing ground to the AKP.  He predicted 
that the DTP will look for an excuse to pull out of 
next year's general election rather than risk further 
erosion in its vote count, an indication that the PKK 
may be operating from a position of weakness rather 
than strength. 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
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6. (U) The nearby provinces of Mardin and Sanliurfa 
have been less affected by PKK terrorism and related 
violence, in part because they are more ethnically 
diverse.  The population of Mardin, for example, is 
roughly a 50-50 split between Kurds and Arabs, with a 
small Syriac Christian minority.  Sanliurfa also has a 
large Arab population.  Governors and mayors in both 
places highlighted their efforts to lure tourists to 
the region, a proposition that would have seemed far- 
fetched even a decade ago.  By all appearances, these 
efforts are having some success, though officials in 
Mardin acknowledged that reservations and the number 
of visitors had dropped significantly following the 
violence in late March.  More than 400,000 tourists, 
including 40,000 foreigners, visited Mardin last year, 
drawn by the distinctive stone-carving and domestic 
architecture of the old city, a plethora of ancient 
ruins, and nearby Syriac monasteries that are 
increasingly catering to visitors.  The Ambassador 
toured many of these sights as part of his visit, 
often trailed by a pack of camera-toting reporters and 
locals who appreciated his interest in the region's 
cultural and historic heritage. 
7. (U) Prospects in Sanliurfa are brighter still, 
according to the governor and mayor, due to an upsurge 
in "faith tourism" and agricultural gains from the 
irrigation provided by the GAP project.  The Sanliurfa 
mayor proudly told the Ambassador that although most 
of Sanliurfa's tourists are Turks, "if we can explain 
to Europeans and Americans that Abraham was born here, 
Moses lived here, and Jesus regarded this as a holy 
place, there is no telling how many would come."  He 
displayed a scale model projection of the city's 
development over the next decade, featuring a 
significant expansion of Sanliurfa's pleasant 
municipal park that envelops a complex of holy sites 
beneath the cliff-top remains of a Roman fortress. 
The Ambassador also visited the nearby ruins of the 
ancient city of Harran, which locals claim was home to 
the world's oldest university.  Even here, on the 
baking hot plain near the Syrian border, local 
entrepreneurs are building hotels and other tourist 
facilities for what they expect to be continued growth 
in the tourism industry. 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
8. (U) On May 29, the modern-day Harran University, 
established in the 1980s just outside of Sanliurfa, 
hosted an international conference on sustainable 
development.  The conference was co-sponsored by 
Turkey's Higher Education Board (YOK) and the State 
University of New York (SUNY), and highlighted SUNY's 
growing exchange program with Turkish universities 
that will bring more than 2,200 Turkish undergraduates 
to SUNY for the coming academic year.  Ambassador and 
former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel delivered 
remarks at the conference's opening session, stressing 
the importance of US-Turkish educational exchange and 
the need to develop human as well as infrastructure 
resources in the region in order to meet the 
challenges of globalization. SUNY Chancellor John Ryan 
and International Affairs Director, Retired Ambassador 
Robert Gosende, received a warm welcome from the many 
Turkish university rectors in attendance. 


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