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Cablegate: Sultanbeyli: A Highway Runs Through It... And

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 and Comment: A recent visit to Sultanbeyli,
one of Istanbul's poorer Asian districts, highlights how
Turkey's uneven economic gains in recent years have widened
the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots." The modern
Istanbul-Ankara highway runs right through this conservative,
pious neighborhood, but with the nearest exit/on-ramp 15
minutes away, Sultanbeyli residents are reminded that theirs
is a less privileged district. Voters here have turned out
in large numbers to support successive Islam-oriented parties
and gave the Justice and Development (AK) Party over 53
percent of the local vote in 2002 national elections.
Although support for AK currently remains strong, success in
future elections will also depend on whether the AK
government can deliver a locally popular
property-registration amnesty and long-term economic
development and opportunities. End Summary and Comment.

2. (SBU) Less than thirty years ago, Sultanbeyli was a
sparsely populated rural area inland from the Bosphorus and
the Gulf of Izmit. Massive immigration from Erzurum, Sivas,
and the Black Sea region made this one of the fastest-growing
districts in the country. It was also widely known as one of
the most conservative and religious districts of Istanbul by
the mid-1990s. Since becoming a district (ilce) in 1989, the
mayoralty has been held by Islamic-oriented Welfare (Refah),
Fazilet (Virtue), and Saadet (Felicity) party candidates.
Local residents confirm that as recently as five years ago, a
large percentage of the women wore not just headscarves, but
the full carsaf (chador). The appointment of a dynamic
district governor and the increasingly pragmatic approach of
the mayor marked a shift that gave the district a more
moderate feel. However, in the main, Sultanbeyli residents
remain conservative. The imam at one of the town's largest
mosques claimed that the local mosques attract sizable crowds
for daily prayers and overflow with faithful on Fridays,
although it was impossible for us to have a free conversation
with him since the district mufti (representative of the
state's religious affairs directorate) showed up to monitor
the imam and dominate the conversation.

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3. (SBU) Saadet Party Mayor Yahya Karakaya told poloffs that
the population growth had exceeded the district's ability to
extend municipal services. Although immigration and growth
have tapered off, his principal challenges as mayor are to
expand the basic water, natural gas, and road infrastructure
to the full population. Additionally, up to 75 percent of
Sultanbeyli residents lack building authorization and
property deeds, leading them to complain that they have no
protection or guarantees that they won't be evicted and/or
have their property confiscated. Although there is some
local industry, Karakaya said, it does not go far in
providing local employment opportunities. Unemployment is
high and is demonstrated by the fact that some of the 30,000
unemployed line up daily along the main street hoping to find
day jobs with contractors looking for cheap labor. Most of
those lucky enough to have full-time jobs must board buses
each morning for the hour-long journey to Mediyekoy, Sisli,
and other Istanbul European districts.

4. (SBU) Local politicians from several parties told visiting
poloffs that Sultanbeyli is a Justice and Development (AK)
Party stronghold. Although the mayor is from rival Necmettin
Erbakan's Saadet Party, he, too, professed a deep admiration
for AKP Chairman Tayyip Erdogan and open support for the AK
government's policies because he sees them as reasonable, not
radical. In the November 2002 elections, 53 percent of
Sultanbeyli voters turned out to support AK, compared to only
37 percent in Istanbul as a whole. Although no specific AKP
candidate has emerged, newly-elected local AK Party Chairman
Omer Ozkartal told poloffs that he expects the party to get
as much as 60 percent or more of the vote in the spring 2004
municipal elections. Local Republican People's Party (CHP)
officials made no effort to dismiss such claims. In a sign
that he doesn't take such support for granted, however,
Ozkartal was quick to echo the mayor's call regarding the
need to push forward with a property amnesty and to note that
as long as the Istanbul-Ankara highway that bisects their
neighborhood merely passes them by, Sultanbeyli residents
will not be satisfied.

5. (SBU) Staunchly "secularist" CHP reps acknowledged that
Sultanbeyli has moderated considerably from what they
described as an oppressively Islamist atmosphere until
several years ago. More interested in a real exchange of
views with us than the more openly anti-American local CHP
organizations in other parts of the country, the reps
nevertheless displayed a strong conspiracy-theory approach in
peppering us with questions about U.S. intentions.

6. (SBU) The district chairman of Motorola deadbeat Cem
Uzan's Genc Party acknowledged that Genc would not win the
mayoral elections on its own, but might have a chance if it
combined with other parties under a unified candidate. With
a portrait of Uzan, considered by a majority of Turks as
corruption personified, on the wall behind him, he went on to
criticize the widespread nature of corruption in Turkey.

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