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WikiLeaks: 2009-08-03: 09ANKARA1111: Southeast Anatolia's Potential Not Fully Realized

by WikiLeaks. 09ANKARA1111: August 03, 2009.

Posted: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 09:01 AM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
09ANKARA1111 2009-08-03 04:03 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Ankara

DE RUEHAK #1111/01 2150403
P 030403Z AUG 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L ANKARA 001111 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/30/2024 
REF: A. 08 ANKARA 1403 
     B. 08 ANKARA 996 
     C. 06 ANKARA 4462 
Classified By: Economic Counselor Dale Eppler for reasons 1.4(b,d) 
Consulate Adana contributed to this report. 
1. (SBU) Summary.  We visited Sanliurfa, Mardin, and 
Diyarbakir and heard opinions ranging from optimism for the 
future to disillusion over security and economic concerns. 
After 20 years of work on the Southeastern Anatolia Project 
(GAP), we learned that more than 90 percent of the GAP 
electricity projects have been completed, but only one 
million hectares of land (out of 1.8 million planned) have 
been irrigated.  The basic goal of the GAP is to bring more 
prosperity to the poorest part of Turkey via irrigation, 
infrastructure, power, and social development projects.  One 
controversial project, construction of the Ilisu dam, has not 
been done, although Prime Minister Erdogan remains committed 
to its completion, according to GAP President Sadrettin 
Karahocagil.  The GAP action plan sets an overall deadline of 
2012.  All chamber presidents we spoke with think that time 
frame is unrealistic and believe at least 2-5 years of 
additional funding and work will be needed to complete the 
project.  All our interlocutors realize the situation with 
Kurds in southeast Turkey remains a stumbling block to 
development and know a secure, stable environment is required 
to attract investors.  End summary. 
The Poorest Part of Turkey 
2. (SBU) The GAP was created to spread prosperity and 
increase economic opportunities in nine targeted southeast 
provinces.  These are Adiyaman, Batman, Diyarbakir, 
Gaziantep, Kilis, Mardin, Sanliurfa, Siirt, and Sirnak. 
Reliable statistics on the region are hard to find.  The most 
recent data available comes from 2001, during the height of 
an economic crisis in Turkey.  Per capita GDP for 2001 in the 
southeast ranged from USD 638 in Sirnak province to USD 1817 
in Kilis province.  Seven of the nine provinces had per 
capita GDP below USD 1320.  For comparison, the overall per 
capita GDP for Turkey at that time was USD 2160.  The GAP 
project aims to build infrastructure (roads, energy sources, 
dams, and irrigation) and provide rural development and 
social services including improved healthcare and education. 
Some GAP projects have been successful, but the region still 
has high unemployment and many in the southeast still move 
west for jobs in Istanbul, Izmir, or Ankara.  One GAP 
initiative, recruiting doctors, nurses and teachers to work 
in the GAP area, has had mixed results.  Despite extra 
monetary incentives, some jobs remain vacant. 
Moving GAP Headquarters 
3. (C) In March 2009, GAP President Sadrettin Karahocagil 
oversaw the effort to relocate the GAP headquarters from 
Ankara to Sanliurfa.  One hundred fifty employees were 
transferred, but only 10 percent of them moved their 
families.  The rest left their spouses and children behind in 
Ankara to finish school or work.  Even though they received a 
pay raise for the transfer, many employees are spending that 
and more on commuting back home on weekends.  Morale at the 
Sanliurfa HQ is poor, up to and including the president.  We 
met with him one year ago in his first week on the job and he 
was fired up with ideas and enthusiasm.  In Sanliurfa, he was 
a changed man.  He achieved the Prime Minister's goal of 
moving the GAP headquarters to Sanliurfa, but couldn't name 
any compelling advantage to the relocation, other than image. 
 Karahocagil said the PM was happy with the move, because it 
fulfilled a campaign promise.  Karahocagil said he can visit 
GAP sites more easily now, although that wasn't a problem 
before since much of the work is done by phone or computer. 
The GAP started in 1989 and its most recent action plan 
targets 2012 as the end of the project.  Karahocagil said 90 
percent of the GAP's electricity projects have been 
completed, but only one million hectares (out of 1.8 million 
planned) have been irrigated.  He told us that development 
agencies have been created in Diyarbakir, Gaziantep, and 
Mardin, and they could take over the GAP work if all tasks 
are not completed by the 2012 deadline.  Karahocagil said the 
recent cabinet reshuffle put State Minister Cevdet Yilmaz in 
charge of the GAP, and he pays it more time and attention 
than did his predecessor, former Deputy Prime Minister Nazim 
Ekren, who was distracted by his broader economic policy 
Ilisu Dam 
4. (C) We asked Karahocagil about GOT plans for construction 
in Batman of the Ilisu dam now that a European consortium has 
pulled out over concerns about insufficient environmental 
impact analysis.  He said PM Erdogan is committed to the 
project, despite opposition by environmentalists, historians, 
archeologists, local government officials, and the residents 
who would be displaced. (Ref C recounts an almost identical 
discussion of Erdogan's pledge to build Ilisu in 2006.)  The 
dam, when finished, would be able to meet just three percent 
of the energy needs of the GAP region.  Many opponents argue 
that minor adjustments to the design would protect bird and 
animal habitats and obviate the need to move residents from 
historic Hasankeyf.  The Diyarbakir Chamber of Commerce 
president said he is generally supportive of the GAP, but he 
opposes the Ilisu dam because he believes it is really meant 
to carve up the Kurdish southeast to make it easier to 
control and to break up PKK transit and communication lines. 
He doesn't think the small energy gains from Ilisu would be 
worth all the disruption and relocation dam construction 
would require.  With sustained high temperatures, year-round 
sunshine, and fierce winds, the southeast region seems an 
ideal location for solar and wind energy projects.  While 
many of the people with whom we spoke supported these ideas, 
no one gave us details of specific plans or commitments to 
harness this renewable energy.  Karahocagil said it's a good 
idea but not formally part of the GAP. 
Antiquated Farm Techniques 
5. (SBU) Most of the irrigation resulting from another GAP 
project, the Ataturk dam, is funneled through open channels 
and evaporation is a problem.  Drip irrigation would be more 
efficient, but it is expensive and not widely used by 
southeast farmers.  While the area is fertile and the same 
field can sustain up to three different crops each year, 
farmers typically burn the fields between crops.  This 
process is old fashioned and robs the soil of nutrients.  It 
creates a cycle of grow, harvest, burn, fertilize, and start 
all over again.  The burning causes pollution, destroys 
animal fodder, and risks spreading fires.  Despite reports of 
fatal accidents and destruction of property, the practice 
continues.  When Embassy Foreign Agricultural Service 
officials took a team of experts to the southeast, farmers 
were enthusiastic to hear their ideas but not willing to give 
up tradition.  They listened carefully to alternate methods 
of crop turnover, but kept asking "yes, yes, that's a great 
idea, but at what point do you burn the field?"  The Mardin 
Chamber of Commerce President said these old techniques are 
due to ignorance and lack of education.  He added that the 
farmers will have to see alternate methods being used 
successfully before they'll make many changes. 
Sanliurfa - 7500 Years Old and Counting 
6. (SBU) Immediately upon arrival you see a banner welcoming 
you to "the oldest city in the world".  Sanliurfa has 
benefited from irrigation provided by construction of the 
Ataturk dam, which boosted the province's agricultural 
capacity and increased the variety of crops that could be 
grown.  Mayor Ahmet Esref Fakibaba says his city needs a 
light rail system to improve transit and promote tourism.  He 
didn't have a firm price estimate, but guessed the cost could 
be over USD 50 million.  Fakibaba said the public health 
situation is good in Sanliurfa--nickname: Urfa.  Fakibaba 
said education remains a problem, with the average family 
having eight children and some having twice that many.  Some 
schools are running classes in a couple of daily shifts and 
some families pull their children out of school to help in 
the fields.  Fakibaba said unemployment is around 17-20 
percent, with youth numbers much higher.  He noted that 
residential real estate in Urfa is quite expensive and the 
city is suffering the problems of urbanization with increased 
sprawl and burden on all city services.  (Bio notes: 
Fakibaba trained and worked as a heart surgeon before he 
entered politics.  He let his license lapse and does not plan 
to return to medicine.  In his first term as mayor, he was 
elected from the Justice and Development Party (AKP).  AKP 
wanted to nominate another candidate for the 2009 elections, 
so Fakibaba left the AKP and joined the Felicity Party 
(Saadet).  He was easily reelected over the AKP candidate. 
Fakibaba said he believes in term limits ("two is enough") 
and said he will leave after this term.) 
7. (SBU) Sabri Ertekin, President of the Sanliurfa Chamber of 
Commerce and Industry, said Urfa needs both technical 
expertise and investment.  The Chamber is seeking investment 
in solar energy, agriculture, and food processing.  They 
would like to send a delegation to an agriculture fair or 
agriculture cooperative in California for some technical 
capacity building in the future.  Urfa had just over 1,000 
U.S. tourists in 2008, and city leaders would like to boost 
that number significantly.  Chamber board members present at 
the meeting own businesses ranging from water pump and pipe 
manufacturing, animal vaccine production, yarn production, 
pistachio and olive farms, to flour production.  They would 
like to expand into beef cattle production in the future. 
8. (U) Urfa has one organized industrial zone and is working 
on the setup of a second zone that would house high-tech 
firms.  The first OIZ has mostly textile firms.  The second 
zone received 25 percent of its funding from the municipality 
and 75 percent (50.6 million Euros) base funding from the EU, 
along with 2.6 million Euros of technical assistance funding 
from UNDP.  The EU and UNDP want the zone to become self 
sustaining or fully GOT-financed within 18 months.  UN staff 
told us the UN has been active in Sanliurfa for 10 years, and 
the EU for six or seven years. 
Mardin - Highlighting History to Build the Future 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
9. (C) Mehmet Besir Ayanoglu, Mayor of Mardin, is focusing on 
infrastructure, sustainable development, and tourism 
promotion (primarily religious tourism) to boost the city's 
fortunes.  Mardin is working on a drinking water facility, a 
garbage collection and separation facility, and the 
restoration of traditional city mansions as boutique hotels 
or historical sites.  Ayanoglu believes Mardin should become 
a UNESCO World Heritage site.  He talked about the importance 
of involving his Syrian and Iraqi counterparts in discussions 
and work on regional development.  He would also like to see 
the Syriac Patriarch relocate back from Damascus to Mardin, 
adding that his presence would attract religious pilgrims. 
He sees China and India as a trade threat, and said Turkey 
could work with its Middle Eastern and western neighbors to 
combat that threat.  On his wish list are an open border with 
Armenia, a normal and stable Iraq, more energy pipelines such 
as Nabucco, peace in the Middle East, proper use of GAP 
funds, a new constitution to recognize the rights of all 
citizens, and Turkey's continued work towards EU accession. 
(Bio note: From 1995-98 Ayanoglu worked as a GAP 
Administrator.  He worked as an independent lawyer from 1999 
until his March 2009 election on the AKP ticket.  He is of 
Arab descent, although he said he has Kurdish relatives.) 
10. (C) Five years ago there were no western-style hotels in 
Mardin and no hotels of a size large enough to accommodate 
groups.  Now there are two large hotels, many small boutique 
hotels, and a few renovated karavansaray that have been 
turned into small luxury hotels.  Mehmet Ali Tutasi, 
President of the Mardin Chamber of Commerce has a 15-foot 
wide photo of the 1960s Mardin skyline in his office.  He 
said the city's five-year goal is to return the old city as 
closely as possible to its original skyline.  Cheap concrete 
buildings that were built quickly and without careful 
planning will be leveled and their businesses relocated, so 
that nearby historical buildings can be clearly seen and 
appreciated.  Tutasi said Mardin now has 1500 hotel beds, and 
their goal is to reach 10,000 by 2023.  Tutasi said Mardin 
exports food products and cement to Iraq and pipes to Syria. 
Trade with Iraq is based on trust.  With no functioning 
banking system in Iraq, trade is done on a cash basis.  "We 
send them the goods and they send us the money" he added. 
Tutasi expressed frustration with the AKP and what he sees as 
its Islamist agenda.  He's not a DTP fan or pro-PKK.  He said 
Turkey must find a credible, honest, dynamic alternative to 
its current leadership and he mentioned Rifat Hisarciklioglu, 
President of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity 
Exchanges, as one possibility.  He added that Hisarciklioglu 
does not have universal support, but Tutasi has been pleased 
with Hisarciklioglu's actions as TOBB president.  Tutasi has 
been impressed by the creation of TOBB University in Ankara 
and Hisarciklioglu's work to beef up and improve border 
crossings in the southeast.  Tutasi and his Secretary 
General, Cetin Sasa, both long-term smokers, pledged to "try" 
to stop smoking once the country-wide public smoking ban goes 
into place. 
Diyarbakir - A Big City Down on its Luck 
11. (C) In Diyarbakir, we saw a sophisticated city where the 
mayor's office is in a constant struggle with the provincial 
governor for funding.  In the 2009 elections, PM Erdogan 
committed to retaking the city for the AKP.  Despite 
Erdogan's bold claims (or perhaps because of them), the 
Kurdish nationalist Democratic Society Party (DTP) mayor won 
reelection with more than 60 percent of the vote.  The AKP 
appointed the purported non-partisan governor to Diyarbakir. 
Some Diyarbakir projects that require joint funding from the 
mayor and the governor are being shortchanged due to friction 
between the two men.  One example is a modern youth, women, 
and handicapped training center that was funded by the EU and 
UNDP.  Construction is finished now but the governor's office 
won't allocate funds for its continuing operations and it 
looks like a state-of-the-art wasteland.  Its few permanent 
employees are fighting on and seeking alternate funding from 
"every possible source". 
12. (C) We met with M. Galip Ensarioglu, President of the 
Diyarbakir Chamber of Commerce and several members of his 
board.  Ensarioglu noted in 1923 when the Turkish Republic 
was founded, Diyarbakir had the third largest economy of any 
city in the country.  Now, the Istanbul economy is fifteen 
times larger than that of Diyarbakir.  More than 100,000 are 
unemployed and over 50% of youth are out of work.  Since its 
inception, Ensarioglu said USD 20 billion has been invested 
in the GAP, which has so far realized USD 22 billion in 
profit.  He lamented that most of the region's revenue goes 
to Ankara tax coffers and not enough flows back.  He supports 
a new deal with the IMF to enforce fiscal discipline and 
believes that ensuring peace in the region is the only way to 
boost trade and enhance tourism.  Ensarioglu supports 
Turkey's accession to the EU and believes Turkey has 
permanently chosen alliance with the west over the east.  He 
said Turkey's efforts towards the EU accession process are as 
important as the end result.  Ensarioglu said the Turks and 
Kurds are like spouses in a marriage.  Both sides must be 
happy to live together with equal rights.  If they were to 
"divorce" it would be very painful--he said it would be worse 
than the separation of Pakistan from India. 
The Kurds are Not the PKK 
13. (C) We heard that some observers mistakenly believe that 
all Kurdish people in Turkey support the PKK.  Most of our 
interlocutors denied this charge and said Kurds want to live 
peacefully, equally, and with prosperity in Turkey.  We heard 
different views from PKK supporters, including a request to 
release Abdullah Ocalan from prison, an idea to shut down the 
Turkish military as "unnecessary", and a plan to amend the 
constitution to give Kurds equal rights in all things.  The 
DTP party chairman in Mardin was more measured, saying the 
"AKP is the party in power and we must find creative ways to 
work with them".  The general consensus of a Kurdish wishlist 
included: a desire for education in Kurdish, easing of 
restrictions on Kurdish broadcasting, restoration of Kurdish 
place names, Kurdology departments at universities, and a 
more inclusive definition of citizenship.  No one thought the 
Kurds wanted full autonomy. Nearly all thought a general 
amnesty was needed to end PKK terrorism and give PKK members 
an incentive to lay down their weapons. 
14. (C) In the southeast politics drives economics, not the 
other way around.  The region's leaders and executives are 
optimistic realists.  They are realistic about obstacles to 
attracting new investment and all believe the Kurdish issue 
must be resolved and the PKK defanged before they will see 
any surge in activity.  Everyone we spoke with supports 
Turkey's accession to the EU, although all said the process 
to reach accession is just as important as the end result. 
Some think accession is possible, but most think it unlikely 
or far in the future.  All scoffed at French and German 
offers of a privileged partnership or anything less than full 
membership.  It is said in Turkey that all projects backed by 
Prime Minister Erdogan ultimately will happen, but the Ilisu 
dam's construction remains elusive.  We have been reporting 
since 2006 (Ref C) about his strong commitment to the 
project.  The current global financial crisis, the pullout of 
international supporters, and Turkey's budget shortfalls will 
make funding the project difficult.  As we say in Turkish 
bakalim--let's wait and see. 
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