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Cablegate: Van: A Glimpse Into Turkey's Remote East

DE RUEHAK #1837/01 2951337
R 211337Z OCT 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for internet

2. (SBU) SUMMARY. Two Embassy Econoffs recently
visited the city of Van, a regional center in
Turkey's remote east along the border with Iran.
They found a pleasant lakeside city struggling to
deal with a huge influx of internal migrants.
Villagers abandoning the fields for the city have
caused the population to swell to twice its official
size of 325,000 and have strained public services to
the breaking point. With unofficial unemployment
figures well over 50 percent, its economic potential
hampered by an unstable security situation and lack
of infrastructure, and its future uncertain after a
string of broken GOT development promises, Van is in
many ways a microcosm of the larger eastern region.
Local officials and businessmen noted that they
regularly receive GOT and EU delegations looking to
develop the area, but that while progress had been
made on a small scale, when push came to shove they
were frequently left standing alone. END SUMMARY.

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3. (U) Two Embassy Econoffs traveled to the city of
Van to assess conditions on the ground and to meet
with local officials and businessmen regarding
development needs in the region. They met with:
Omer Ozcan, Deputy Governor for International
Affairs; Zahir Kandasoglu, President of the Van
Chamber of Commerce; Burhan Yenigun, Mayor of Van;
and Kadri Salaz, President of the Van Young
Businessman's Association. They also traveled to
the Customs border posts in Gurbulak and Kapikoy on
the Iranian border (report to follow septel).

The City by the Lake

4. (U) Van is a pleasant city located on the shores
of Lake Van, Turkey's largest lake, roughly fifty
kilometers west of the Iranian border. It has been
continuously occupied for over 3000 years and was
once the capital of the Urartu civilization. It
currently has an official population of around
350,000, but all local contacts agreed that the true
figure is somewhere between 650,000 and 750,000 due
to a large influx of migrants from the surrounding
villages and provinces, tens of thousands of whom
were forcibly evacuated from their villages in the
1990s as part of the GOT's counter-insurgency
campaign against the PKK. Van is the capital of Van
province and also provides some regional
governmental services to the nearby provinces of
Agri, Bitlis, Hakkari, Mus, and Siirt.

5. (SBU) According to the Chamber of Commerce, the
province of Van is roughly 90 percent Kurdish in
ethnicity and 10 percent Turkish, with nearly all of
the Turks living in the city of Van proper (Comment:
Official statistics do not provide any ethnic
breakdown. End comment.) Van is among Turkey's
poorest and least developed provinces. Kadri Salaz
stated that per capita income is only 840 dollars a

Where Did All These People Come From? What Can We Do
With Them?
--------------------------------------------- -------

6. (SBU) All sources agreed that the biggest
challenge Van faces is the influx of migrants from
surrounding villages and the economic and social
impact of their arrival. Mayor Yenigun noted that a
city designed for 350,000 people is being asked to
support more than twice that number, and admitted
frankly that the necessary resources are not
available. He observed that 60 percent of the
city's residents do not have access to running water
and that 65 percent lacked access to other basic
infrastructure such as electricity or clean drinking
water. Without assistance either from Ankara or
foreign sources, he claimed, the city would simply
not be able to meet the basic needs of its
residents. He acknowledged that the EU, GOT, and
German Development Bank (GDB) had started several
development initiatives, but described them as being

ANKARA 00001837 002 OF 004

"too small" and "underfunded." At one point he
stated that "If an assistance program isn't going to
be in the millions of dollars, then it's not worth
bringing it here. Our problems are so large in
scope that a few hundred thousand dollars here and
there solve nothing."

7. (SBU) Deputy Governor Ozcan stated that the
challenges presented by internal migration can only
be overcome with a multi-pronged approach.
Potential migrants need to be given a reason to stay
in their villages, he claimed, and therefore rural
training programs focusing on more effective farming
and husbandry techniques need to be developed and
implemented. With these new skills, rural residents
can earn enough to sustain a more comfortable
lifestyle and will have less incentive to leave for
the city.

8. (SBU) For the migrants that have already arrived,
Ozcan suggested that a new social infrastructure
needs to be built to integrate them into the city,
noting that "they have come to the city, but they
are still not a part of it." He said that as part
of its integration efforts the government had
established several "social centers" in Van in
cooperation with NGOs and civil society. The goal
of these centers is to provide courses for poor
women to finish (or start) their education and also
to provide basic social services such as childcare
so that the women will actually have the time to
attend classes. The centers also serve as a
mechanism to encourage the participation of newly-
arrived migrants into the social fabric of the city.
He noted that the centers that have already been
built have been very effective, but that four to
eight additional centers are needed.

9. (U) The Chamber of Commerce noted that the waves
of immigrants contribute to an unemployment problem
that is already grim. Officially, unemployment is
around 16 percent - the Chamber stated that the true
figure is probably closer to 50-55 percent. They
also pointed out that Van's unemployment swells even
further during the harsh winters, when whole sectors
such as animal husbandry and transportation
essentially shut down.

10. (SBU) Kadri Salaz at the Young Businessmen's
Association observed that the lack of employment
opportunities is especially devastating for the
young, whether they are migrants or native residents
of Van. The paucity of available jobs discourages
the young from bothering to study, he claimed,
making them even less qualified for jobs that do
appear. He also stressed that the region's security
problems were directly tied to its unemployment
problem, stating that a young man with a job of any
sort - even a waiter making minimum wage - would not
"go to the mountains" (a reference to joining the

Many Development Delegations, Little Development
--------------------------------------------- ---

11. (SBU) Both the Deputy Governor and the President
of the Chamber noted that they regularly receive
delegations from Ankara and from foreign aid
programs, all of whom are interested in developing
the region. These visits are so frequent that the
Governor's Office has drawn up an Action Plan
outlining the needs and opportunities of the region
so that development donors can simply pick a program
and fund it (this program is directed toward meeting
the needs of internally displaced persons). The
Chamber has similarly developed dozens of project
plans in response to the requests of visiting

12. (SBU) Both expressed disappointment, however, at
the level of funding that has actually arrived,
stating that it was not proportionate to the level
of need. Ozcan said that he had hosted a very
positive delegation from the UK Embassy several
months earlier, but that none of the promised aid
ever materialized, nor had he even been contacted

ANKARA 00001837 003 OF 004


13. (SBU) While Ozcan restricted his criticism to
foreign donors, Kandasoglu also questioned the GOT's
actual commitment to developing the region. He
noted that the Chamber had designed a project to
create a "technology city" intended to take children
off the street and provide them with a variety of
services, including Internet access and vocational
courses that would provide a small wage in order to
encourage the children to attend. The center would
also have had adult education courses focused on
developing job skills, as well as seminars on
importing and exporting. Kandasoglu claimed that
the project had identified an ideal piece of land
near the university and had obtained pledges for
approximately 90 percent of the required ten million
dollars in funding when the central government
unexpectedly allocated the land for a different
purpose. The pledged funding evaporated and the
project collapsed. Although he was still hopeful
that they would eventually be able to build the
center, he described the government's actions as

Small Success Stories

14. (SBU) Despite the overall negative picture, both
Ozcan and Kandasoglu said that good progress had
been made on a small scale and that funding had been
secured for a number of promising initiatives. In
addition to the successful social centers described
in para 7, Ozcan noted that a microfinance NGO was
started to provide small loans to housewives. Over
700 people have participated to date, and the
repayment rate has been 100 percent. He predicted
that microfinance should grow rapidly (both in terms
of need and availability) as more people became
aware of the opportunity and more NGOs entered into
the space.

15. (SBU) Although the mayor dismissed development
assistance to date as inadequate, he did mention
that the German Development Bank has funded three
projects to the tune of 11 million euro, and the EU
has allocated 45 million euro for projects in Van
and three nearby provinces, 30 million of which has
been spent. Recent news reports indicate that the EU
will be spending hundreds of millions more in the
region as part of the accession process, but it is
not yet clear how much of this will be spent in Van.

16. (U) Kandasoglu provided a list of EU-financed
projects that the Chamber had either begun or
planned for the near future. These included: an
Animal Husbandry Improvement Project (2.9 million
euro); a Human Resources Center (1 million euro); a
Honey Production and Packaging Integrated Facility
(2.9 million euro); an Export Development Project
(3.5 million euro); a training hotel for hospitality
services (3.1 million euro); a Small and Medium
Enterprise Development Center (2 million euro); the
New Hopes Project for Street Children to Achieve a
New Life (58,000 euro); and a project to inform
public institutions and local administrations about
human rights and democracy (41,000 euro). As noted,
the German Development Bank has also been active in

17. (SBU) Comment: It is a bit disingenuous to
complain about how funds are never forthcoming and
then to list out projects worth millions of euro.
When taken in the context of the vast sums promised
for development of the east and southeast, however,
the development assistance delivered to date appears
small. The problem of "broken promises" may
therefore be more about exaggerated expectations -
the promises have been so extravagant that even
substantial sums can seem insignificant. End

The View from the Outside: Maybe Life Isn't So Bad
--------------------------------------------- -----

18. (SBU) Van is certainly a poor city, but the

ANKARA 00001837 004 OF 004

general impression from driving around is not one of
a seething hotbed of unemployed migrants suffering
from absolute impoverishment. The roads are
generally in good repair and construction sites dot
the city, filled with apartment blocks that look
reasonably comfortable. The main streets are lined
with stores of all varieties that were doing brisk
business (except for the restaurants, which were all
closed during the day because of Ramadan - a
reflection of the general religious conservative
bent of the region). Even in the poorer suburbs of
the city where open sewers provided a less-than-
charming fragrance, the houses looked to be solidly
constructed and the children appeared reasonably
well-fed and well-clothed (although they should
probably have been in school).

19. (SBU) The countryside outside of Van is also
less grim than the migration statistics would lead
one to believe. The roads north and east of town
are in good shape - many of them better than some
roads in Ankara - and the countryside alternates
between plowed fields and grazing livestock. The
villages are clearly not wealthy, but neither are
they filled with mud hovels. The houses, while
small, are well-constructed and are generally
connected to electrical lines. The road leading
south and west from Van (ironically, toward many of
the more famous tourist attractions) is in much
worse shape, but is currently being repaved. There
is a permanent jandarma checkpoint on the road east
of town and one on the road north to Gurbulak, but
traffic was flowing smoothly through both. The
preceding should not be understood to mean that Van
is in any way a wealthy or developed region. It is
undeniably an impoverished part of the country,
especially when compared to the prosperous west. If
its people live merely in low-level misery as
opposed to abject poverty, then that is still a
cause for concern. But the evidence of economic
activity and new construction provides some hope
that the truly grim economic and social situation of
the city and region may eventually improve.

20. (SBU) Comment: Van is a city with substantial
challenges and pressing needs, and one that in many
ways reflects the problems of the larger eastern
region. To meet those needs, significant investment
in job creation and social integration projects is
needed - whether from the private sector, the
government, or foreign donors - and local officials
and businessmen have plans in hand just waiting for
the money to appear. The AKP government has done
more for rural development, particularly in the
east, than many of its predecessors, but the need
for sustained investment and political measures to
address the Kurdish issue remain acute. End


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