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Cablegate: Ambassador's Visit to Southeast

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) Ambassador visited Diyarbakir, Mardin and
Sanliurfa May 26-29, meeting with governors, mayors,
party officials, NGO representatives, journalists and
academics. The regional press followed the visit
closely, and accurately reported his characterization
of the PKK and support for it as "dead ends." The
Ambassador stressed at every stop US determination to
continue support for Turkey in its efforts against the
PKK and for Turkey's democratization process.
Interlocutors in Diyarbakir focused extensively on the
rioting there in late March, and the political,
economic, and social problems in the southeast caused
by PKK terrorism, the state's response, the migration
of hundreds of thousands from villages to the region's
towns and cities, and the unresolved question of
Kurdish ethnic identity. Such problems loom less
large in Mardin and Sanliurfa, more ethnically mixed
cities that have benefitted to some extent from a
nascent tourism industry and irrigation from the
Southeast Anatolia (GAP) project. At a May 29
conference at Harran University in Sanliurfa co-
sponsored by the State University of New York (SUNY),
the Ambassador joined former President Suleyman
Demirel in highlighting the need to develop human as
well as infrastructure resources in the GAP region in
order to meet the challenges of globalization. End

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2.(SBU) In two days of meetings in Diyarbakir, the
Ambassador met with provincial Governor Efkan Ala,
mayor Osman Baydemir (pro-Kurdish Democratic Society
Party - DTP), human rights lawyers, and business
leaders. Baydemir described Diyarbakir as a
"troubled" city suffering under the weight of a
migration that has tripled the city's population over
the past 20 years and pushed the local unemployment
rate to around 60 percent (though business leaders put
the figure at closer to 40 percent). He said people
in Diyarbakir are concerned about increasing violence
and a "regression" in Turkey's path toward
democratization. Baydemir added that recent tensions
had dashed hopes that the Kurdish issue, which he
called the root cause of the region's problems, might
be addressed by the AKP Government. Baydemir and
human rights activists in Diyarbakir said the
Government needs to find a way to implement some form
of amnesty for a significant number of PKK militants
if it hopes to bring an end to the current clashes and
split the PKK foot-soldiers from the organization's
radical leadership.

3. (SBU) Both Baydemir and state-appointed Governor
Ala said that most of the demonstrators during the
Diyarbakir riots in late March were children who had
grown up in poverty and an atmosphere of violence.
Baydemir also claimed that Turkish security forces
went "out of control" on the third day of violence,
thereby prolonging the riots and increasing the number
of casualties. This view was supported by human
rights lawyers, who also claimed that many of the
children arrested following the disturbances had been
abused by police. All interlocutors praised the
Governor and the Mayor for their efforts to restore
calm. Ala blamed the violence squarely on the PKK,
which he said had "entered the cities because it had
been unsuccessful in the mountains." Baydemir argued
that both the PKK and elements of the state opposed to
Turkey's democratization had a hand in provoking the
demonstrators. Diyarbakir AK party chairman
Abdurrahman Kurt supported Baydemir's claim, and
accused these same groups of using threats of violence
in an unsuccessful effort to sabotage Prime Minister
Erdogan's recent visit to the city. Governor Ala
identified Diyarbakir's top problem as unemployment
exacerbated by years of PKK terrorism. He added that
the continuation of Turkey's democratic reform process
is the most effective weapon against terrorism, and
noted recent advances in Kurdish language broadcasts.
Ala said the US could help Turkey address the region's
problems through strong support for Turkey's
democratization process and continued cooperation with
Turkey against terrorism.

4. (SBU) All interlocutors in Diyarbakir agreed that
there is little popular support in the region for a
return to violence, and said that most people strongly
support democratic reforms and Turkey's EU process. A
human rights lawyer from the nearby city of Batman put
it this way: "People would like to live as Kurds, but
together with the Turks. They want to develop
economically and benefit from all the opportunities of
modern life." Several lawyers at the Diyarbakir Bar
Association warned that the region's festering social
and economic problems combined with the slowdown in
democratization has produced fertile ground for
radical Islam in the city's poor and migrant
neighborhoods (a concern echoed the previous week by a
former Diyarbakir MP at a lunch with the Ambassador).
They noted that the largest demonstration in the
Middle East against the Danish cartoons had taken
place in Diyarbakir, and that a recent meeting
organized by Islamist extremists there had attracted
70,000 people.

5. (SBU) A group of journalists who met with the
Ambassador over lunch painted a bleak picture of
Diyarbakir as a city confronted by an increasingly
alienated young generation that was easily manipulated
toward violence and extremism. They said PKK
militants still enjoy widespread popular support, but
echoed the view that people were tired of the violence
and "wanted their children to come down from the
mountains." One correspondent commented that the best
barometer of popular support for the PKK was the
regional vote across the Southeast for the (Kurdish-
based) Democratic Society Party (DTP), which has been
gradually been losing ground to the AKP. He predicted
that the DTP will look for an excuse to pull out of
next year's general election rather than risk further
erosion in its vote count, an indication that the PKK
may be operating from a position of weakness rather
than strength.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
--------------------------------------------- ---------

6. (U) The nearby provinces of Mardin and Sanliurfa
have been less affected by PKK terrorism and related
violence, in part because they are more ethnically
diverse. The population of Mardin, for example, is
roughly a 50-50 split between Kurds and Arabs, with a
small Syriac Christian minority. Sanliurfa also has a
large Arab population. Governors and mayors in both
places highlighted their efforts to lure tourists to
the region, a proposition that would have seemed far-
fetched even a decade ago. By all appearances, these
efforts are having some success, though officials in
Mardin acknowledged that reservations and the number
of visitors had dropped significantly following the
violence in late March. More than 400,000 tourists,
including 40,000 foreigners, visited Mardin last year,
drawn by the distinctive stone-carving and domestic
architecture of the old city, a plethora of ancient
ruins, and nearby Syriac monasteries that are
increasingly catering to visitors. The Ambassador
toured many of these sights as part of his visit,
often trailed by a pack of camera-toting reporters and
locals who appreciated his interest in the region's
cultural and historic heritage.

7. (U) Prospects in Sanliurfa are brighter still,
according to the governor and mayor, due to an upsurge
in "faith tourism" and agricultural gains from the
irrigation provided by the GAP project. The Sanliurfa
mayor proudly told the Ambassador that although most
of Sanliurfa's tourists are Turks, "if we can explain
to Europeans and Americans that Abraham was born here,
Moses lived here, and Jesus regarded this as a holy
place, there is no telling how many would come." He
displayed a scale model projection of the city's
development over the next decade, featuring a
significant expansion of Sanliurfa's pleasant
municipal park that envelops a complex of holy sites
beneath the cliff-top remains of a Roman fortress.
The Ambassador also visited the nearby ruins of the
ancient city of Harran, which locals claim was home to
the world's oldest university. Even here, on the
baking hot plain near the Syrian border, local
entrepreneurs are building hotels and other tourist
facilities for what they expect to be continued growth
in the tourism industry.
--------------------------------------------- ----
--------------------------------------------- ----
8. (U) On May 29, the modern-day Harran University,
established in the 1980s just outside of Sanliurfa,
hosted an international conference on sustainable
development. The conference was co-sponsored by
Turkey's Higher Education Board (YOK) and the State
University of New York (SUNY), and highlighted SUNY's
growing exchange program with Turkish universities
that will bring more than 2,200 Turkish undergraduates
to SUNY for the coming academic year. Ambassador and
former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel delivered
remarks at the conference's opening session, stressing
the importance of US-Turkish educational exchange and
the need to develop human as well as infrastructure
resources in the region in order to meet the
challenges of globalization. SUNY Chancellor John Ryan
and International Affairs Director, Retired Ambassador
Robert Gosende, received a warm welcome from the many
Turkish university rectors in attendance.


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