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Cablegate: Economic Insecurity in Turkish Black Sea

VZCZCXRO8224
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAK #1860/01 2011246
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 201246Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3066
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/425ABS IZMIR TU//CC//
RHMFIUU/39ABG CP INCIRLIK AB TU
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC//J-3/J-5//
RUEUITH/ODC ANKARA TU//TCH//
RUEHAK/USDAO ANKARA TU
RHMFIUU/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ANKARA 001860

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM ECON ETRD EIND SOCI TU
SUBJECT: ECONOMIC INSECURITY IN TURKISH BLACK SEA
PROVINCIAL CAPITAL

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Despite its reputation as a nationalist
hotbed, Trabzon is a lively, cosmopolitan city, influenced by
growing trade and tourist relations with the former Soviet
Union. The charm and prosperity of its downtown mask
significant underemployment and a growing concern about the
region's relative economic decline. Most citizens are proud
of Trabzon's rich and diverse cultural heritage, and regret
the notoriety gained following the Hrant Dink murder, but are
otherwise individualistic and inherently inward looking.
These traits impede the collaborative spirit found in
Turkey's more successful, entrepreneurial cities from taking
root. Perhaps because of their strong regional
identification, Trabzonites are less fractured along
political party-lines than other Turks, and distrustful of
outside influences. No single party dominates here, and the
region has a history of voting contrary to national trends.
In an election season as unpredictable as this one,
forecasting how Trabzonites will vote on July 22 is almost
impossible. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) The DCM visited Trabzon on July 9 and met with
local government leaders, as well as with academic, business
and community representatives. Poloff held separate meetings
on July 10. The city is a provincial capital of 215,000, set
on the Black Sea in northeastern Turkey. This was the first
visit by a U.S. official to Trabzon since the Hrant Dink
murder in January 2007 by a local youth, which followed the
February 2006 murder of the local Catholic priest and the
2004 bombing of a McDonald's restaurant. We did not find a
city tense and on edge. Trabzon is cosmopolitan and lively,
and most people we met welcomed us and spoke freely about the
challenges facing the region.

WEAK JOBS PICTURE
-----------------

3. (SBU) The lack of jobs, and Trabzon's uncertain economic
future, are the most important issues currently facing
residents. Driven by the low price of hazelnuts, the
region's real unemployment rate is close to twenty percent,
with many residents forced to take on part-time and seasonal
work. According to the Vice Rector at the city's Black Sea
Technical University, nearly fifty percent of graduates do
not find jobs in their chosen fields. Even tourism
management graduates, he said, are more likely to seek
opportunities in Antalya and other parts of Turkey -- a major
obstacle to the development of the city's tourism potential.

4. (SBU) Despite a bustling downtown, Trabzon is not an
Anatolian tiger. The entrepreneurial zeal that is the engine
of Turkey's economic growth in places like Konya and
Eskisehir is not evident. Traditional industries, such as
shipping and agriculture, dominate, while members of the
local small business and artisans association are more likely
to complain about shopping malls than issues critical to
business' ability to grow and compete, such as lower taxes or
access to credit.

5. (SBU) A university professor told us that Black Sea
people are famously self-reliant, and take care of family
members in need, but that individualism hinders Trabzonites
from developing networks to grow the economy. Locals also
exhibit a degree of fatalism about their economic future.
According to the Governor, when he asked in a poll what the
people wanted from their government, a plurality said dealing
with unemployment -- four times the number who said they
wanted security. But when he asked what the people expected
from their government, the majority responded security. Most
residents, he said, do not expect their government to be able
to address the region's economic challenges, but do expect
the government to keep them safe.

PKK/IRAQ NOT A PARAMOUNT ISSUE IN TRABZON
-----------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Locals did not address the PKK issue in a
confrontational manner. Trabzon has no significant Kurdish
minority, and residents feel secure from PKK violence. Even
the leftist-nationalist Republican People's Party (CHP) mayor
Volkan Canalioglu stressed the importance of dialogue to
resolve problems. Governor Okutan told the DCM, "The PKK is

ANKARA 00001860 002 OF 003


not that important; views can change overnight." Okutan said
anti-Americanism was multi-dimensional. In his view, the
United States needs to stop developing Turkish relations
outside of traditional channels, referring to our supposed
ties with "community leaders," such as quasi-religious figure
(and current U.S. resident Fethullah Gulen). In a separate
meeting with poloff, a leading Trabzon human rights attorney
and leftist-secularist Democratic Left Party (DSP) provincial
chairwoman, Sibel Suicmez (PROTECT), argued that
anti-Americanism stems not only from Iraq and the PKK issue,
but from our supposed ties to the governing Justice and
Development Party (AKP). She expressed her concern that the
United States has left the traditional, secular left-wing
alone, and appears to support an Islamic state.

BENEFITS OF TRADE LIMITED, BUT WIDENING PERSPECTIVES
--------------------------------------------- -------

7. (SBU) City leaders are proud that Trabzon is a center for
regional trade -- the city has a distinctly international
feel, and numerous restaurants and shops advertise in
Russian. A rail line is being constructed to connect Trabzon
to Tbilisi and Baku, and visa requirements for Georgians have
been eliminated. Governor Okutan informed the DCM that,
while strong trade and tourism relations exist with Russia,
Trabzonites remain cautious of their giant Black Sea
neighbor, which has sought to dominate the region in the
past. Okutan also pointed out that the majority of products
exported from Trabzon -- with the exception of hazelnuts --
are not locally produced. Indeed, the governor noted that,
with the exception of a nascent ship-building sector, there
is little industry in the region.

8. (SBU) The full potential of trade with the region is not
exploited due to frozen conflicts in Georgia and Azerbaijan,
and the border closure with Armenia. The Governor said
Trabzon has the infrastructure to go ahead with full trade
relations with Armenia when the political situation allows
it. Indeed, Trabzonites approached the Armenia problem with
a great deal of pragmatism. Trabzon should become Armenia's
maritime outlet after relations are normalized with Turkey,
but one Chamber of Commerce representative told us that he
worries that Turkey will miss the boat. Supported by Turkish
investment, Batumi -- just over the border in Georgia --
recently opened a new international airport, and plans are
underway to develop a modern new port facility there. In
addition to Black Sea trade, trade relations with Iran have
also been historically important to Trabzon, even if most
residents view Iran even more warily than they do Russia.
Trade ties with Iran have diminished in recent years, but
Iran continues to maintain a Consulate General in the city,
as do Russia and Georgia.

NATIONALIST VIOLENCE IS A LOCAL PROBLEM, BUT NOT UNIQUE TO
THIS CITY
--------------------------------------------- -------------

9. (SBU) On the subject of the Hrant Dink murders, local
leaders were regretful, but said that nationalist violence is
not particular to Trabzon -- pointing to the recent murders
of Christians in Malatya. Governor Okutan said the youth who
committed the Dink murder "should have been supervised," and
emphasized the importance of vocational training (the DCM
visited one such government-sponsored vocational program for
disadvantaged young women), while eagerly describing the
youth center that the government is building. According to
Suicmez, many Trabzon NGOs banded together and went to the
Dink funeral to pay condolences to the family, but when the
city came under attack in the media, residents' gut reaction
was to defend themselves. Suicmez told us that she does not
see a criminal, ultra-nationalist establishment in Trabzon.
Maybe, she said, there are a few small gangs, but nothing
organized, and nothing Trabzon itself is creating. Also
contributing to risk of nationalist violence in the city, we
learned, is that residents love their guns.

10. (SBU) The Romanian-born caretaker of the St. Maria
Catholic Church (PROTECT) -- the only Christian church in
Trabzon, where the Italian priest Santoro was murdered in
2006 -- expressed disillusionment with the local police, and
extended his concerns to Turkey at large. The church, he

ANKARA 00001860 003 OF 003


said, is continually harassed by the authorities, while at
the same time, church employees receive both anonymous and
direct threats on their lives. Unlike Catholic churches the
world over, this church and its gardens remain gated and
locked throughout the day, opened only by appointment or for
scheduled mass. Foreign-born employees of the church
struggle for visa renewals, which the government never issues
for the maximum validity permissible. The re-painting of the
exterior of the church took nearly one year to approve.
Despite this difficult situation, the church still tries to
promote tolerance within the community, and continues the
weekly inter-faith dialogue that Father Santoro started.

TRABZON VOTES UP FOR GRABS
--------------------------

11. (SBU) Black Sea people have traditionally demonstrated a
penchant for politics. Former PM Yilmaz is from near-by
Rize, as is the family of current PM Erdogan. Residents,
however, have a reputation for voting contrary to prevailing
trends. Despite a hard fought election, Trabzonites, we
learned, are not polarized politically. Members of the
Chamber of Commerce each professed affiliations to different
political parties. Likewise, despite its reputation for
conservatism, social issues do not divide the city. Alcohol
is widely available in the numerous bars and restaurants and
religious headscarves on women (turban) are no more common
than in Ankara. Local university officials told the DCM that
students are interested in politics, but, compared to 1970s,
do not choose to become activists, focusing instead on their
education and career opportunities. Even a secular/religious
flashpoint such as the ban on headscarves for university
students generated little excitement. University officials
asserted that the university follows the rules and students
don't complain.

Visit Ankara's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/ankara/

WILSON

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