Turkey's Kurds Languish in Poverty ; the Kurdish Southeast Copes with Unemployment, Violence

By Yigal Schleifer Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 31, 2005 | Go to article overview

Turkey's Kurds Languish in Poverty ; the Kurdish Southeast Copes with Unemployment, Violence


Yigal Schleifer Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Outside a post office in this southeastern Turkish town ringed by cotton and wheat fields, men and women jostle for position, eager to read a list of names posted near the window. The names are of poor families with school-age children eligible for financial support from a World Bank program, giving each $7-14 per child every month.

Sakir Yasarer, a father of three, says he couldn't find his family's name on the list. "I'm very poor. I'm in a very tough position," says Mr. Yasarer. His children, he says, sometimes go to the dump to find scrap metal or plastic to earn extra cash for the family. "I need a factory job, something steady, something I can go to everyday."

Yasarer's story is not unusual in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast, a region that lags behind the rest of Turkey in virtually every economic indicator.

Turkey's unemployment rate is about 10 percent, but in the southeast the figure is closer to 60. And while some cities in western Turkey, where much of the country's industry is located, have per capita incomes that rival parts of Europe, many cities in the southeast have per capita incomes more in line with parts of India.

Some economists attribute this gap to decades of official neglect and the effects of the 15-year war fought between the Turkish military and the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the 1980s and 1990s. A recent increase in PKK activity after a lull of six years - some 120 Turkish security personnel have been killed in the past year - is causing concern that the southeast will again be torn by violence, further damaging its fragile economy.

"We worked very hard to put into people's minds the idea of investing here," says Kurtbettin Arzu, president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Diyarbakir, the political and cultural capital of Turkey's Kurdish region. "If you had asked me six months ago, I would have said things have improved, but now we have started to go back."

In an apparent response to the growing PKK activity, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Diyarbakir earlier this month. He declared that the Kurdish problem would be solved through greater democratization. But business leaders and officials here insist that any effort aimed at settling the Kurdish issue must go beyond political and cultural rights to include economic development. …

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