Underdevelopment feeds terrorism

Published 21.01.2016 00:00
Updated 21.01.2016 21:32

In democracies it is the state's responsibility to minimize disparities between various provinces and regions in terms of public service, level of development and equal opportunity to education and jobs. As can be seen in the north-south income imbalance in Italy or the equality gaps in many regions of the developed world, this is a bleeding wound many governments find hard to treat. Turkey, as the largest country in Europe by landmass, also suffers from a wide discrepancy in the level of social and economic development between its western and eastern regions. There is a huge need for the implementation of structural social and economic measures to bridge this massive gap. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's announcement of a government initiative to relocate the centers of two provinces in the southeast is a belated but positive social measure that needs to be followed up on.

Relocation of Hakkari provincial center to Yüksekova, and Şırnak provincial center to Cizre to safer and more functional topographies will allow for improved dissemination of public services while commencing the rebuilding from the ruin left behind by the PKK terrorist organization. Such social and structural initiatives are as effective as military measures in the fight against terrorism.

Most of the cities in the west of the country have at least equal or a greater level of development than many of their European counterparts. However, the majority of eastern cities are closer to some in Afghanistan or Iraq when it comes to development, which naturally disappoints the youth for lack of creating opportunities for advancement. Western coastal regions see millions of tourists every year while the east is mostly isolated from the rest of the world. Of the more than 150 Starbucks coffee shops in Turkey, none are in the east, which neither has a single McDonald's restaurant. While this in and of itself may not bother the locals, it is a sign of the remoteness and estrangement the people feel toward the rest of the country, and the world.

The reason behind the existence of such a gap between the two parts of the country is grounded in history. Turkey is stuck in the middle of one of the most perilous regions in the world and it is hard to stay aloof to what is happening just across the border.

The most widely believed theory behind the underdevelopment of the east is that most of its population is Kurdish and the state has systematically ignored them. While this thesis is justified up to a certain point, the undeveloped state of many villages in the west and Turkish-majority cities in the east begs alternative answers. Moreover, there are the rare neighborhoods in Gaziantep and Diyarbakır where Kurds disprove all one-dimensional arguments.

Turkey since 1950, when its population was 21 million, has seen major population growth, migration and an inscribable rate of urbanization. Starting from 1980, PKK terrorism coupled with the state's flawed policies harmed the east's economy and social cohesion at a time when the rest of the country was experiencing major growth. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Turkish state could only look at the Kurdish question through a solely military-centered approach, ignoring structural reforms, which resulted in migration with hundreds of thousands of Kurds moving from the periphery to urban centers. Istanbul may be the largest Kurdish city today.

During its nearly 14-year governance of the country, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) undertook a revolutionary adjustment, introducing social and structural reforms as part of its concept of equal citizenship as an alternative to the military-first approach to the problem. During the two-and-a-half-year reconciliation process, many important initiatives were initiated under the government's supervision. The PKK's unilateral decision to take up arms and renounce the cease-fire should not cause the government any deviation from its reformist agenda. Ankara should continue to try to win over Kurds, who still feel socially alienated from the rest of the country, and rebuild their cities and towns. The cities and towns in the east should enjoy the same fruits of development as their western counterparts. Underdevelopment and lack of infrastructure create a perfect environment that feeds and fosters terrorism.

Daily Sabah sees the government's decision to relocate Hakkari provincial center to Yüksekova, and Şırnak provincial center to Cizre as a sign of administrative and social renewal and positive developments in terms of urban resurgence. The Sur neighborhood in Diyarbakır, which suffered significantly in the recent clashes with the PKK, should be rebuilt immediately. Such measures will make migration unnecessary and prevent the further victimization of Kurdish citizens. Safer and functional provincial centers will also provide a boost to regional development and create the necessary environment for Kurdish citizens who were forced out due to security or economic reasons to return to their homes.

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