The attempts of the Turkish government to invest in the region, without any real participation of the local population, are having little or no effect. The armed conflict that has decreased in intensity the last years has had very negative consequences on the economical situation in the east of Turkey. Also international, neo-liberal reforms did not do any good for the durable development of the region.

Underdevelopment in a (post) conflict area
The- mainly- Kurdish provinces of the East and Southeast are the least developed ones throughout
Turkey. The differences with the West of the country are so significant that Turkey occupies the
second place in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation) when it
comes to income inequality. According to a report from 2001 of the World Bank , the development
decreases from West to East in a way “ that the West is almost equal to a West-European
developing country while the East is in many aspects similar to a developing country”. Sixty percent
of its population lives beneath the poverty line.
There are several reasons for the underdevelopment of Kurdish areas, but one of the most
important reasons is the armed conflict which exists between the Turkish state and the Kurdish
PKK rebels since the ‘80s. The conflict had a devastating effect on the agriculture which is the
region’s most important source of income. The Turkish army destroyed about 3500 villages in its
battle against the PKK; the villagers lost their land, their cattle, their possessions, their homes, in
short: their livelihood. They fled to the cities where currently an increasingly growing group of
uneducated farmers and their families is trying to survive in an urban environment. The
compensation laws and return programs are insufficient and because of several reasons a lot of
Kurdish fugitives are reluctant to return to their villages. An important obstacle is the presence of
the village guards who are being paid and armed by the state to fight the PKK and their
International developments also contributed to the impoverishment of the Kurdish regions.
After the oil crisis in the ‘70s, Turkey carried out a neoliberal reform in exchange for the support of
the World Bank, IMF (International Monetary Fund) and OECD. This is how the state machinery got
cut back and the regional support from the state treasury strongly decreased.
The Turkish answer to the Kurds poverty and underdevelopment was a range of five years plans
from the State Planning Organisation, safely located in Ankara. Because of the violent
environment, local incompetency and centralized planning, the SPO could not do much good for
the Southeast. “For a long time, investing in this region meant taking sides”, according to a
government official who wishes to stay anonymous. “Turkish people were seen as ‘siding with the
terrorists’ when they invested in the south east. On the other hand, local people investing in the
region were treated as collaborators.”
According to Erdal Balsak, member of the coordination group of Mezopotamya Social Forum,
representing a range of social initiatives, unions, civil society organizations, local governments, and
individuals in the region, the armed conflict is nowadays functioning as a facilitator for colonialist
practices and multinational takeover of the Kurdish regions in Turkey, disguised as development.
“After the villagers fled to the cities, the village guards had free play to steal and seize the
abandoned lands. These lands are now sold to big companies or the government. In the last years,
we witnessed the coming of several multinationals to the region. But the original landowners, now
living in the cities, are also voluntarily selling their land to the first bidder. The war has broken the
psychological and emotional relationship between the people and their land. Another problem
that we observe is that the new development agencies favor big landowners as partners in their
development projects. These people often own big lands because their ancestors were once tribal
chiefs (‘ticaret’) and have never resisted state pressures because of economical interests. Although
the region, with its fertile lands and relative stability now offers a lot of development
opportunities, what is called development is actually colonialism. It is established in a way that will
never stimulate self determination and development of human rights.”
Kurds in the political arena
As the ‘hot war’ between the PKK and the Turkish military peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, pro-
Kurdish activists established the country’s first-ever legal pro-Kurdish political parties, won seats in
parliament, and gained control of local office in the mostly Kurdish southeastern provinces.
Nurcan Baysal is a development expert in Diyarbakir and notices how the development potential of
the municipalities is not fully put to use. “The municipalities in the east dispose of less income as
those in the west as a result of widespread poverty amongst their population and a lack of private
investments. We see a vicious circle of underinvestment and underdevelopment. But I can not say
that the current AKP government is not making any effort to fight poverty. Thanks to them, all
Turkish villages now have water and roads, including those in the Kurdish regions. The Green Card
system, which provides free health care for people living under a certain poverty level, has been
enlarged. But if we look at the government poverty support more closely, we see that it is not
completely neutral. Material benefits such as coal can easily be rejected because of having a family
member in the mountains.”
Several initiatives but no progress
Nationally as well as internationally, some initiatives are being taken to boost development but
figures indicate that there is not being made much progress.
The most important Turkish initiative up to now is ‘The Plan for Southeast Anatolia’ (GAP) which
was launched in the ‘80s. Initially, the GAP aimed to irrigate the land and to generate electricity by
building 22 dams and hydraulic power stations. In time, investments in agriculture, transport,
education, healthcare and social projects were also put on the agenda. The local population was
not consulted about this in any way, except some organizations of business people in the region.
Up to now, 15 % of the planned amount of land has been irrigated and 75 % of the investments in
energy generation have been realized. The fact that the generation of electricity gets more priority
is , according to critics, the proof that GAP was not put up in the interest of the local population
but in that of the rest of the country. After all, the consumption of electricity is much higher in the
industrialized West – the consumption of electricity in the Southeast is estimated on 38% of the
national average. Besides, the energy sector creates only a few jobs and the planned dams- once
again – drive the locals away from their villages.
Furthermore, the GAP-plan completely passes over the historical and political context of the region
– which is an eyesore for many Kurds. The word ‘Kurds’ is not even used and the consequences of
the armed conflict such as forced migration, village guards and the much-needed reforms
concerning political and cultural rights are totally being ignored.
A good example of how a centralistic government and a barely hidden aversion for everything that
is pro-Kurdish results in missed changes are the Sodes projects. Sodes is a part of the GAPprogram
and is focused on supporting the social projects. The grant money is distributed by the
governor of the respective GAP-province. In Turkey, governors are not elected but appointed by
the central government in Ankara. Consequently, the vast majority of the grants are awarded to
government administrations and only a few of them go to the locally elected pro Kurdish
The contents of the projects leaves many with a frown, especially the pro-Kurdish NGOs, who in
the meantime continue to work without project grants and get their money mainly out of private
gifts and fund-raisings of the Kurdish diaspora in Europe. Although some of the Sodes-projects
clearly come up to the needs of the local population such as literacy projects for women or
projects for the disabled, it are especially the projects for youngsters and children that are meant
to distract the attention from the dominating pro-Kurdish climate in the region. No less than 6 of
those projects ( with titles like ‘Discover your country!’ or ‘ I love my country so I travel through my
country.’) are set up to let children and youngsters get acquainted with the non-Kurdish regions.
Another project , ‘ Climb to the future’, gives more than 75.000 Euros to the police, who regularly
show violent behavior against minor demonstrators, to wall climb with young persons.
Regional development agencies
One way to close the gap between central and local governments and work on development
issues is the creation of several regional development agencies (RDA’s). The RDA’s are also cited as
an example of the influence of the European Union, who, as part of the accession process,
demands a bigger role for local authorities and decentralization from Turkey. With their
decentralized, local implementation and Administrative Board made up of local mayors, Chambers
of Commerce and NGO’s, the DA’s set a precedent in Turkey. Although, according to Ilhan
Karakoyun, Secretary-General of the Karacadag Development Agency, founded in 2008 and
covering the provinces of Diyarbakir and Sanliurfa in the southeast, EU-enlargement is not the
reason for the decentralization of the governments development policies. “Some people believe
that everything good comes from Europe, but this is not the case.” Karakoyun firmly believes in the
economic potential of the region. “We posses of a big young population, fertile grounds and
thanks to the current (AKP) government, we have good relations with the neighboring countries
(Iran, Iraq and Syria). This results in a dynamic with great economical potential.” When asked if
their agency employs a different strategic in order to bring about development in a post conflict
area, he denies that such a conflict existed. “We didn’t have an armed conflict in this region. The
migration you see here is the result of a natural process that can also be witnessed in the rest of
the country. It is very difficult to keep people in their villages. But it is true that we have had some
problems with terrorist attacks that hinder development and these attacks should be stopped.”
Karakoyun’s version of reality lies miles apart from the one propagated by the local authorities,
which still have more than the majority of the Kurdish’ votes.
One may ask in which way development can be established in a place where even the nature of
development problems are politicized. Without any doubt, the national elections on the twelfth of
June will show which way the Kurdish regions will be heading.
May 2011