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Cablegate: Duzce: Blessed by Nature, Cursed by Nature

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

191414Z Nov 03



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (sbu) Summary: On November 12-13, the fourth anniversary
of a major earthquake, Poloff visited Duzce, a small Black
Sea province halfway between Istanbul and Ankara.
Impoverished by natural disasters and cruel circumstances,
Duzce is Turkey's newest province and has placed its trust in
the Justice and Development (AK) Party, hopeful that Prime
Minister Erdogan and his government can deliver it from
misfortune. Judging by the concurrent visits by AKP
ministers and their reception in Duzce, the government
appears to be attentive to local concerns, even if there may
ultimately be limits on how responsive they can be. End

2. (sbu) Poloff visited Duzce on the fourth anniversary of
the 1999 earthquake that killed 782 people, devastated the
city center, destroying or damaging most of the buildings in
the area. The Duzce quake came just three months after the
nearby, more-destructive Izmit/Adapazari earthquake that also
caused significant local damage in Duzce. As a result of the
earthquakes and the devastation, a political decision was
made to elevate the Duzce district to become Turkey's 81st
province. A governor and staff were appointed to oversee
provincial reconstruction and management. Asked whether the
new status had brought tangible benefits to Duzce, Mayor Ruhi
Kurnaz told poloff that it had brought additional burdens,
including the costs of building offices for the governor and
all of the provincial bureaucrats. Local citizens largely

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3. (sbu) Locals claim that following the earthquakes and
other developments (see below) Duzce went from being modestly
affluent to impoverished and needy. Although the Ecevit
government, with international assistance, built entire new
neighborhoods of modern apartment blocks for the earthquake
victims, the construction process was tainted by corruption
and has left many disappointed. The 7,500 new apartments
were designated only for land-owners who lost property.
Those who lost multiple properties still received only one
unit per person. Those who rented apartments that were
damaged or destroyed received nothing. The ultimate cost to
the new apartment owners is still unclear and none has been
given formal deeds to new property.

Political Outlook
4. (sbu) With a predominantly conservative and traditional
population of about 300,000, Duzce has tended to vote for
center-right and right-wing political parties. Home to a
number of different Caucasian peoples, Duzce has one of
Turkey's largest Cherkez populations (estimated at 50,000 by
the local Cherkez Foundation), in addition to large numbers
of Adagians, Abkhazians, and Laz. Duzce residents are oddly
proud of the national stereotype that portrays them as
gun-toting "tough guys" (Note: Muhammed Tokcan, a
Turkish-Chechen from Duzce, is famous (and sometimes admired)
for his hijacking of a Black Sea ferry and hostage-taking in
the Istanbul Swissotel to protest Russia's military actions
against Chechnya).

5. (sbu) Pointing proudly to the fact that in the 2002
general elections Duzce gave AK 53 percent of the vote (one
of its best provinces nationwide), AK Party provincial
chairman Saim Tut told poloff he is confident that the party
continues to make inroads with the public. A former Duzce
AKP founding member (now a village muhtar, or elected leader)
begrudgingly admitted that he and other older members (who
had signed on when nobody was interested in AKP) had been
voted off the board this year in favor of "new, young blood."
The CHP provincial and district chairmen, meanwhile,
displayed to poloff a stunning lack of vision and energy
(declaring themselves pleased with "doubling" their votes to
8 percent in 2002), a total disconnect on political issues
with the local populace, and a fundamentally flawed
understanding of Turkey's IMF program and economic crisis.
Mayor Kurnaz (a member of Saadet Party and a passionate
support of party chairman Erbakan) confided to poloff that he
does not intend to run in the upcoming March 28 local
elections (Note: A number of local contacts indicated that
Kurnaz would be unlikely to win reelection against a strong
AKP candidate).

Land of Plenty...
6. (sbu) Duzce has some of the most productive agricultural
land in Turkey. Blessed with abundant water supplies and
rich soil, locals boast that they can grow "anything," and
many non-farmers supplement their income by cultivating small
plots on their property. The local economy is dominated by
agriculture, which, in turn, is dominated by hazelnuts,
accounting for anywhere between 10 and 30 percent of Turkey's
total production. The President of the Agricultural Chamber
estimated that at least 40,000 people work in the
agricultural sector. In addition to hazelnuts, Duzce
produces significant amounts of tobacco, corn, and cattle.
Until the mid-1990s, Duzce was also home to over 600 firms
specializing in wood products, including parquet and paneling.

But What the Lord Giveth, He can Taketh Away...
--------------------------------------------- --
7. (sbu) Years before the two major earthquakes in 1999,
Duzce was struck by the decimation of its wood industry. A
combination of dwindling forests and increasing labor costs
left the local industry unable to stand up to Bulgarian
competition. Over the period of a few years, all but a dozen
or so of the 600 firms have gone bankrupt or moved their
production facilities to Bulgaria and other countries. Hasan
Demir, the owner of one such company, Aslan Forest Products,
explained to poloff that he had no choice but to move to
Bulgaria, where his brother now manages the profitable firm
which exports the bulk of their products back to Turkey.
Thousands of workers who lost jobs in this sector have yet to
be picked up by new firms.

8. (sbu) Ironically, one of the main obstacles to new
investment, according to almost everyone we spoke to, is the
excellent local water supplies. In the early 1990s, faced
with severe water shortages, then-Istanbul Mayor Tayyip
Erdogan launched a billion dollar project to build a pipeline
to bring drinking water from the Greater Melek River in Duzce
to Istanbul. With the project now well under way, in order
to protect the future Istanbul water supply, national
authorities now insist that companies building new facilities
in Duzce meet strict and costly environmental standards.
Duzce locals are convinced that the new standards are driving
away potential investors. Bulent Samli, the General Manager
of an Ingersoll-Rand (IR) lock production facility in Duzce,
confided to poloff that if IR had not purchased an existing
plant (from ITO, Turkey's second-largest lock producer) the
strict environmental standards would have prompted them to
look elsewhere.

9. (sbu) Finally, even Duzce's economic mainstay, hazelnut
production, is now in danger. Ozturk told poloff that this
year's harvest will be 60 to 65 percent below previous years.
Although the decrease is part of a normal, albeit
unpredictable, cycle in hazelnut production, hard-hit local
farmers are desperate to diversify their products to protect
themselves from future shocks. Here too, though, farmers
lament the fact that Duzce has very few food processing
plants to soak up local production and seems unable to
attract new investment.

Pinning Hopes on AKP
10. (sbu) Despite the bleak situation, however, locals
believe that the current AKP government is more understanding
of their problems than previous governments. Visiting Duzce
the same day as poloff, the Agriculture Minister announced a
new project to give 100 milk cows to 50 farmers in Duzce
(Note: Ozturk criticized the implementation of the program
but credited the government with "good intentions").
Medium-size business owners told poloff that despite the
continuing need to apply for government "incentives" (i.e.,
tax exemptions), this government has taken a number of
business-friendly measures. Hikmet Keskin, President of the
23,000-strong Esnaflar (small businessmen) Association (and a
possible AKP local candidate himself), told poloff that his
members have continuing concerns, but that this government
has been responsive (e.g., on low-interest credit,
restrictions on opening large supermarkets). Finally, Duzce
also hopes to benefit from proposed government incentives for
provinces with an average annual income below USD 1500.

11. (sbu) The message we heard from this Anatolian province
echoes much of what we have heard in the teeming Istanbul
suburbs: "It's the economy, stupid." Deliberations on Iraq,
back-and-forth over education or public administration
reform, Turkey's on-again off-again EU membership
aspirations, even the occasional furor over headscarves are
minor concerns for local residents who continue to struggle
in the face of economic adversity. AKP's success here in
Duzce is more attributable to the party's ability to reach
out to the people, listen to their concerns, and make
good-faith efforts to address them, than to any ideological
agenda. Duzce residents may not be infinitely patient, but
for now they have nowhere else to turn.

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