Businessmen from eastern and southeastern Anatolia complain about the lack of promotion of the benefits associated with trading and investing in the region.
Both the people and the businessmen hold that those who live in the Western cities have certain stereotypes about the region because of soldiers' being martyred there. For instance Şanlıurfa, which very rarely experiences violence, is frequently associated with terrorism. Mardin Businessmen's Association Chairman Faruk Yücesan says it is impossible for businessmen to invest in the region if they fear for their security. Despite its promising potential, the region's cultural and tourism assets are not adequately promoted and tour operators are hesitant to organize tours in the region.
Şanlıurfa Chamber of Industry and Commerce Chairman İsmail Demirkol draws attention to the lack of promotion in the region. Demirkol says: "People in the western cities treat Urfa and cities with problems of terrorism alike. There is a need for a comprehensive campaign on the cultural and historical assets of the city." According to Demirkol the current number of tourists falls way behind the actual potential. Urfa is home to invaluable historical sites, some of which remain from ancient times. Urfa is known as the "City of Prophets," as a number of prophets are believed to have lived there. A Harvard professor recently launched a the "Abraham Path" project, which will trace the spiritual legacy of the Abrahamic tradition, stretching from Harran to Hebron (Al-Halil) at the Tomb of Abraham. As a part of the project, clerics from the three major monotheistic religions and American professors convened to discuss the matter more thoroughly, and they will continue to meet each November. At this year's meeting, a 56-member committee will walk from Şanlıurfa to Harran. The city's leading figures desire the city's inclusion in Turkey's promotion program.
Meanwhile the city's infrastructural problems are being resolved. Several hotels have been built in recent years: the Dedeman Hotel was opened for service; city hall reserved construction land for a Hilton Hotel; and the French Accor group is currently seeking an appropriate construction site for a hotel.
Mardin, known for its stone houses, is expected to attract about 600,000 tourists annually in the coming years. However, the city still lacks a touristy atmosphere; the hotels do not have adequate commercial connections with tour networks; the tourism agents are not unified. Mardin is currently benefiting from only 20 percent of its tourism potential and the threat of terror is the biggest obstacle to a boost in tourism.
Diyarbakır, which has historically hosted over 30 different civilizations, has an impressive potential for tourism. However the number of beds should be increased and further incentives should be introduced, and moreover the historical artifacts of the city should be revealed and included in Turkey's promotion program. According to Southeastern Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (GÜNSİAD) Chairman Şah İsmail Bedirhanoğlu, more work should be done to improve the image of Diyarbakır. NGOs and the media have a lot to do in this respect. Media reporters usually write stories on the bad aspects of the city. Based on these reports, viewers develop negative opinions on Diyarbakır. The Diyarbakır Entrepreneur Businessmen Association (DİGİAD) undertakes works for the betterment of the city along with other civil society organizations affiliated with the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) of which DİGİAD is also a member. They invite businessmen from different regions to promote the city and provide information about the city's potential. Diyarbakır is considered an important sacred place for Muslims, with 540 of Prophet Mohammed's companions having lived in the city.
The region's fate will be greatly improved by effective measures to be taken by the state to maintain safety and security. A businessman from Siirt summarizes the approach toward businessmen from the southeast: "Nobody believes we are from Siirt when we travel to western cities; they normally expect some guys wearing traditional and regional clothing. For this reason the press should do a lot more to promote the region."
Abdullah Gül increased hopes in the region
President Abdullah Gül's visit to the region attracted extensive attention from locals. Van, Siirt, Hakkari and Diyarbakır, which were hosting a president for the first time in years, welcomed Gül.
Southeastern Industrialists and Businessmen's Federation (GÜNSİAF) Chairman Cahit Erbalcı says, "It is a huge step for the president to pay his first visit to the region." Renowned businessman Abdulkadir Konukoğlu of Gaziantep says: "Abdullah Gül is an intelligent man; the visit is very important. He has extensive experience. The meaning of the visit is 'I hold and embrace you'. The people welcomed the visit. We used to travel to the region with the president, during the reigns of Özal and Demirel -- we want the same now."
Mardin Businessmen Association Chairman Faruk Yücesoy says: "The visit by Abdullah Gül was very important. He conquered the hearts of people. The next steps are now important now. Ministers should come to the region more frequently, but not with a crowd of guards. They should mingle with the people… In this respect, Gül's visit was very important."
Bedirhanoğlu, who attended the meeting held by President Abdullah Gül in Diyarbakır, says: "The president is a pretty warm and sincere person. He impresses people…Inviting all associations to the meeting is an important step." Stressing that everybody should note that a huge transformation is under way in Turkey, Bedirhanoğlu finds the appointment of the city's former Governor Efkan Ala as the undersecretary of prime minister very important. Bedirhanoğlu further says: "Democratization is vital for the region. To this end remarks by Gül, who noted that everything can be discussed in a democratic environment, are promising.”
Literacy centers educate thousands, reduce crime
Diyarbakir Young Businessmen's Association (DİGİAD) Chairman Aziz Nart holds that the inequities between cities in terms of economic development should be removed. He states as an example that Urfa and Siirt do not have similar economic opportunities. Nart asserts that a preliminary study should be performed to determine the strengths of the cities and then investment should be made accordingly. He notes that the demographic features of the cities should also be taken into consideration.
DİGİAD opened 17 literacy centers in Diyarbakır for children -- the labor force of the future. Considering one-third of people in Diyarbakır are under the age of 18, this appears to have been a wise step. At the centers participants are provided with educational support. Currently close to 400 students attend the 17 literacy centers. To date 4,500 students have benefited from the centers. Members of DİGİAD hope to increase the number of centers to 100. Other projects are also being implemented to improve vocational and professional training. The literacy centers have changed their surrounding environment in key ways. Since they have opened, there has been a reduction in the city's crime rate. As Nart says, "Training the young people of the region is vital; most of them are unemployed, therefore they are vulnerable and easily attracted by mafia, gangs and terrorist organizations." Federation of Eastern and Southeastern Industrialists and Businessmen's Associations (DOGÜNSİFED) President Şeyhmus Akbaş stresses that the local people voted in favor of stability in the July 22 elections. Noting that commitment to the EU bid is very important for the region, Akbaş also says: "There are 2.5 million primary school students in Diyarbakır. In seven years they will be teenagers. But if they do not find jobs, they will most likely be recruited by violent and illegal enterprises."
Making a living out of collecting and selling kilims
Kilims are one of the most important local handicrafts of Van. Urartu Halı, headed by Tahir Abi, is an enterprise which sells both antique and newly woven carpets. Abi has turned his workplace into a kilim museum. The company is more like a cooperative, it collects thousands of kilims from local households and sells them; in this way the weavers earn money. Abi also imports rugs from Iran and sells them here, but he has found that tourists prefer local carpets. The company, which employs 60 people, also produces woven silk rugs which have 100 knots per square centimeter and take 14 months to complete. Because they are so labor intensive, their prices range between $400 and $4,000. The kilim prices vary from YTL 50 to YTL 400,000, depending on the design, thread type, labor and age of the item. Carpet expert Selman Abi says: "The kilims were woven by the nomads for use in their daily lives and to express their love. For the girls, it was a tool to express their emotions. If the colors were vibrant, the weaver was happy and hopeful; if they were dark, she was unhappy."
Project to produce and export animal vaccines
The Şanlıurfa-based Elmaksan, which formerly produced water pumps, is preparing an important new project. Chairman Eyüp Sabri Ertekin states that they will establish one of the most important projects in the city -- producing animal vaccinations. The plan is to export the vaccinations to neighboring countries. Construction of the vaccine factory has been under way for two years. The facility is scheduled for completion by October. The Ministry of Agriculture requires assessments only on imported vaccines, however the local vaccines are subject to more expensive and difficult immunity tests. The facility will be the first of its type in Turkey. Some $8 million has already been invested in the project and $10 million more will be spent in the future. The annual capacity of the facility is 50 million doses.
Area: 4,659 square kilometers Population: 476,000 Industry: petroleum refineries, flour mills, plaster production Agriculture: wheat, cotton Mineral resources: oil
Batman will develop if gold invested
Batman is relatively developed because of the oil refineries based in the city. The city residents save large sums of gold in their homes. Batman Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman Mehmet Teymür draws attention to two problems of the city's economy -- unemployment and the inability to transform savings into investments.Teymür notes that Batman has been an attractive destination for immigrants since 1988. Some 4,000 people work for the Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation (TÜPRAŞ). A large area has been appropriated for the prospective organized industrial zone which will be built in two phases. Currently 11 active factories employ 400 workers each. Most produce flour, wheat and dried mashed potatoes and export their products to Iraq, Iran and Syria. Three-hundred seventy stock corporations and 800 limited companies are registered at the chamber of commerce. The local chamber of small businessmen and craftsmen has 5,000 members. Migration has worsened the unemployment problem. Currently, 6,000 persons are seeking employment. Only one company has invested under the Incentive Law No. 5084.