Cablegate: The View From Sirnak Province:

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) Summary: In southeastern Turkey's Sirnak
province, one of two bordering Iraq, the
preoccupation of government officials, NGOs, and
businessmen is less about war than about war's
aftermath. The populace is desperate to revive
border trade and commerce. Kurdish interlocutors
worry that the GOT might continue to wall off
northern Iraq in the interest of political-strategic
considerations, at the expense of the economic well
being of the region. GOT officials and Kurdish
representatives do not seem to gauge some human-
rights demands - such as language rights and village
return - with the same scale. End summary.

2. (U) On January 13-14, Adana Political-Economic
Officer and FSN Political Assistant paid calls on
government official, NGOs, and businessmen in Sirnak
province. The province has a population of
approximately 250,000, probably 99 percent Kurdish.
As a result of the armed struggle with the PKK, the
province has seen a huge migration of villagers into
the cities. Of the twelve southeastern provinces
placed under a State of Emergency in 1987, Sirnak
province was one of the last two (the other being
Diyarbakir province) to have the regime lifted -- on
November 30, 2002.


3. (U) Cizre, located on the banks of the Tigris,
is the largest city in the province, with a
population of approximately 110,000. Its economy
has become hostage to the vicissitudes of cross-
border trade between Turkey and northern Iraq.
Almost certainly the most common profession in Cizre
is that of trucker. Rigs of various dimensions are
everywhere. At the moment, most are either idle or
else rusting away in truck mass-graveyards sprinkled
throughout the surrounding countryside. As for the
queue of trucks lined up on the Turkish side waiting
to cross the nearby Habur gate into northern Iraq,
we counted no fewer than 150.

4. (SBU) Adnan Elci, president of the Cizre
Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the economic
situation has been bad ever since the Gulf War more
than a decade ago, and is getting worse. Prior to
the events of 9/11, many Cizre-area residents were
able to make money by hauling goods to northern Iraq
and bringing back diesel fuel for sale in Turkey -
technically in contravention of the UN embargo but
winked at by both Turkish and U.S. authorities. In
this diesel trade, truckers could expect to make one
or two trips per month into northern Iraq. On that
basis, a Cizre-based trucker could make a living.
At its peak, some 40-50,000 trucks were involved in
the diesel trade. The closing down of this trade
after 9/11 brought the local economy to a
standstill. Elci himself had recently spent a month
in northern Iraq. Daily life for residents of
northern Iraq, according to him, was now better than
it was for people on the Turkish side of the border
- an opinion we heard from other interlocutors in
Sirnak province. When asked whether he thought the
new AKP government would do anything from Ankara to
improve life along the border, he flatly replied no,
adding that he did not believe that the new
government had the courage of its convictions. As
for the prospect that eventual EU membership for
Turkey might improve life in Cizre, Elci flatly
stated that EU membership would never happen.


5. (U) The Mayor of Silopi, Neset Oktem (formerly
DYP, now independent), has been in office for two
terms. His city now has perhaps 80,000 residents, a
very large percentage of whom came as migrants from
the countryside. As with Cizre, the economy is a
border-city economy, and cross-border trade is its
only "industry," or, as we heard it described, its
"chimney-less factory." Silopi is the closest city
to the Habur gate between Turkey and northern Iraq.

6. (U) Oktem wants change. Like many other
interlocutors in Sirnak Province, he offered his
hope that war with Iraq could be averted and then
followed up with a pregnant "but." Even though
Silopi has no jobs, people keep coming, in the
expectation that the border trade sooner or later
has to revive. (Note: It is not only rural job-
seekers who have been coming to Silopi of late.
Journalists, both foreign and domestic, have been
thick on the ground lately, we were told. Unable to
get permission to go on into northern Iraq, thus
stranded in Silopi, they have been interviewing
residents willy-nilly, going so far as to interview
Silopi primary schoolers about the looming war.)

7. (U) Oktem saw the re-establishment of border
trade as the overwhelming priority for the province.
By comparison, an issue such as Kurdish-language
rights "gets me no votes," he said. On this
particular topic, in fact, the Mayor (who speaks
Kurdish) showed a flash of indignation. "Why," he
asked, "should I be insisting on my children going
to school in Kurdish? Why shouldn't I be insisting
that they learn English or French?" The Mayor, who
incidentally visited four U.S. cities in 1986 on a
(non-USG sponsored) Turkish mayors tour, went on to
make other points that seem more likely to come from
the mouths of Turkish officials than Kurdish
activists. For example, he maintained that it was
now safe for villagers to return to the villages
they were forced to abandon during the GOT/PKK
conflict. He was passionate in his denouncement of
jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, to whom he
ascribed responsibility for the more than 1,000
deaths in his constituency, and vitriolic when
discussing EU member states that sought to shelter
Ocalan and his supporters.

8. (U) Kemal Palta is a Silopi-based oil-trader who
owns a fleet of 10 trucks and also recently opened
up a flourmill. (Note: Palta's office features
framed certificates from USAID's Office of Foreign
Disaster Assistance for his role in Operations Quick
Transit I and II in 1996.) Mr. Palta's assessment
of the current situation on the border was that, as
war draws nearer, fewer truckers and traders are
keen on crossing into Iraq. On the question of
Kurdish-language rights, Palta opined that recent
GOT reforms were not uppermost in the minds of
people in the border region. Not only was their
primary concern economic survival, their appetite
for Kurdish-language media can now largely be met by
technology. Short-wave radios and satellite TV
dishes are commonplace, and some people have access
to Kurdish websites.

9. (SBU) Silopi has resident representatives of
both the International Organization for Migration
(IOM) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR). Erdogan Kalkan (UNHCR) and his lawyer
brother Ihsan Kalkan (IOM Silopi and UNHCR Van) are
natives of the region who returned after university
education elsewhere. In sharing their thoughts
about the current refugee situation and the possible
consequences of war, they noted that at the moment
northern Iraqi Kurds were flowing in both
directions. That is, a significant number was now
returning from Europe in order to resettle in
northern Iraq. Erdogan Kalkan cited several
reasons: they were fed up with their status (or
"non-status") in various European countries; the
economic and security situation in northern Iraq had
improved; families were reuniting; and "Barzani and
Talabani were calling back their people." Ihsan
Kalkan, when asked about UNHCR preparations for
possible war in Iraq, commented that he believed
everyone involved in refugee preparations and
operations was better prepared than they had been in
1991. UNHCR had acquired experience, and lessons
had been learned - not just here but also in other
hot spots around the world over the past decade.
UNHCR was also doing preparatory work in northern
Iraq, specifically in Dohuk and Suleimaniye. He
emphasized there still remain too many hypotheticals
in the mix to be able to predict with certainty how
many refugees might be generated because of war,
where they would come from, or where they would be


10. (U) Unlike Cizre or Silopi, the city of
Sirnak, the capital of the province, is up in the
hills. It is also smaller; its current population
is probably about 40,000. This figure is very much
an estimate. It has suffered even more than Cizre
or Silopi from an influx of people from the
surrounding countryside, and the strain shows.
Inspectors recently discovered e. coli bacteria
contamination in the city's drinking water,
apparently due to a lack of money to pay for
chlorification. In the side streets of Sirnak cows
wander freely and can be seen grazing out of garbage

11. (SBU) As the provincial capital, Sirnak houses
the governor, Huseyin Baskaya, who has ten years
experience in the province, having previously served
as deputy governor. The Governor prioritizes the
problems facing the province as follows: 1.
Commerce, economy, jobs. 2. Access for livestock
to high pasturage. 3. Health and medical services.
4. Infrastructure. 5. Education in general. As
for human rights issues - such as torture and
Kurdish-language rights and village returns - they
didn't make the cut, and he downplayed their
importance. He stated that there was no prohibition
against use of Kurdish in public places, and said
that Kurdish was freely spoken in his own building.
There was no longer any restriction against Kurdish
cassettes or videos, he said.

12. (SBU) As for village returns, Baskaya provided
the figure of 33 villages in the province to which
return has been approved. Of these, eight have seen
actual return. Why was the figure not higher? His
explanation was that there was only limited demand -
a theme that other interlocutors in Sirnak province,
some of them Kurds, echoed. Those who want to go
back to their villages were, he said, almost
exclusively the elderly. Younger people do not want
to go back. Going further, he outlined what he, as
a representative of the Turkish government, had
offered to potential returnees. The government can
provide roads, sewage, electricity, some basic
building materials, and leveling of the ground to
allow for new construction. His tone implied this
was a reasonable and generous offer by the state,
and that it was up to villagers to do the rest. He
expressed the belief that many displaced villagers
had unrealistic expectations that the state could,
would or should do more. This belief had perhaps
been inadvertently encouraged, he noted, by the fact
that the Sirnak authorities had in fact built a
couple of "model villages" from scratch not far
outside of town. He also expressed suspicion that
some displaced villagers were not in fact interested
in village return per se, but rather in acquiring a
second or "country" house. He cited an example of a
villager who sought to have the government pay him
wages for time spent rebuilding his own house in his
village. We raised the question of what kind of
paperwork, if any, displaced people must submit
before being able to return to their village. The
Governor justified this requirement as being normal
and sensible. The State had an obligation to know
where people were so that it could better protect
them, he said, whether it be from land mines or the
depredations of terrorists.

13. (SBU) Around the corner from the Governor's
office, in the office of Osman Cihan, the acting
mayor (HADEP) of Sirnak, one hears a rather
different take on the current situation. Cihan said
the people of Sirnak do not trust the government.
In the matter of village returns, for example, he
claimed that the Governor's good intentions might be
one thing - but what about the military? It was
ultimately the military that ran the show and
reserved for itself the final say about permitting
returns. The acting mayor's figures for number of
villages opened for return, and number of villages
to which return has taken place, did not match with
those of the Governor. Kurdish-language rights were
important to the populace, averred Cihan, despite
what the government might say. People would indeed
like to be able to use Kurdish as a language-of-
instruction in school and be able to use Kurdish in
court. One area, however, where the acting mayor
and the Governor did agree, however, was that the
number one priority was jobs. Cihan cited the
example of a nearby coal mine, where some 400 jobs
had been lost when the mine was privatized. The
ripple effect of that job loss had been enormous in
an economy as bad off as Sirnak's. (Note: The
acting mayor is a former coal miner himself; now he
handles carbon in a different molecular
configuration - his other profession is jeweler.
End note.)

14. (SBU) Our final call in Sirnak was on Kamil
Ilhan, the president of the Sirnak Chamber of
Commerce and Industry. Ilhan had only recently
returned from Iraq, in fact, from Baghdad, where he
had been a member of Trade Minister Suzmen's
delegation. Evidently, the Ministry had not thought
to include any representatives from southeastern
Turkey; Ilhan had raised a stink about it and gotten
himself included. Rather than fly with the
delegation, he chose to drive all the way to Baghdad
and back.

15. (SBU) On his drive back to Turkey, Ilhan
stopped at various places in northern Iraq. He said
northern Iraq was running a surplus in a number of
agricultural items. In this vein, he showed us a
list he had prepared of agricultural products from
northern Iraq that he planned to submit to Ankara
for import approval. It was his hope that these
imported products could be processed in Sirnak. He
expressed doubt any such list would be approved by
Ankara. Even in a post-Saddam era, he declared, it
was not clear whether Ankara would welcome bustling
trade and economic development in the Kurdish region
of southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. When
asked what his chamber's wish list would look like,
he named four things. First, free trade across the
border. This would bring a huge multiplier effect.
Truck traffic would spawn all kinds of ancillary
economic activity, all the way from hotels and
restaurants through automotive facilities all the
way to little boys selling ice by the roadside.
Second, the resumption of the diesel trade - even if
Iraqis and not just Turks got into the business.
Third, special concessions to businesses in Sirnak
province for processing agricultural imports from
northern Iraq. These concessions would be
necessary, he believed, to enable small Sirnak firms
to stand up to the competition of large Turkish
firms. Fourth, permission for cross-border joint
ventures. There were so many family and cultural
links across the Turkey-Iraq border that it would
make economic sense. As an example, he mentioned a
chicken-processing plant he himself had opened in
Sirnak province a while back, only to have it go
into the red and fail. If he could, he would open
that same business in northern Iraq tomorrow. That,
however, he continued, may be precisely what the
Turkish state feared.

16. (SBU) Comment: While the debate about Iraq in
Turkey and indeed throughout the world often seems
to turn on questions of morality and international
law, the view from Sirnak Province is pragmatic and
it is focused over the horizon. For one, Saddam
Hussein is truly hated. For another, almost
anything would be better than the ongoing economic
paralysis. Turkish officialdom and Kurdish
activists may not see eye to eye on the importance
of language rights and village return, but they
agree that the populace hungers for jobs and
economic development. The question being asked by
people in Sirnak is whether their ties with Kurds
across the border in Iraq will count as a positive
or a negative in a post-Saddam era. End comment.

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