The increasing terrorist activities and violent assaults in the southeast have paralyzed life in the region. The peace and trust introduced with the reconciliation process was torn apart with the ditches that were dug and explosions. People in the mainly Kurdish populated region demand the PKK disarm and return to the reconciliation process for a permanent solution
The rising terrorist activities and violent assaults in eastern and southeastern Turkey following the bombing in Diyarbakır before the June 7 elections and the suicide bombing in Suruç after the elections have paralyzed life in the southeast. The peace and trust introduced with the reconciliation process was torn down with the ditches that were dug and bombings. The latest deadly massacre, this time in Ankara, also increased the pressure on the people of the southeast They have shed tears for each individual killed in the twin suicide bombing and have become even more isolated. Shopkeepers have come to the verge of bankruptcy in various provinces, including Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Hakkari, since they are forced to close their shops almost every day for various reasons by the PKK.
Thousands of people have become unemployed since many workplaces and construction sites have been closed due to terror concerns. The people in the region, who currently have difficulty going out for bread, want a return to the times when peace was prevalent thanks to the reconciliation process between the state and the PKK. The people are demanding the terrorist organization to disarm and return to the reconciliation process for a permanent solution to the decades-long conflict.
In metropolises, where the influence of terror is felt less, such as Şanlıurfa, Mardin and Gaziantep, tourism, which constitutes the heart of the region's economy, has nearly come to a halt. After the suicide bombing in Suruç, GAP tours, which are organized in the cities of the region and normally cater to millions of tourists a year, have been canceled. While Gaziantep's Bakırcılar Çarşısı (Coppersmith Bazaar) is experiencing its most isolated days in recent years, it is not possible to see any domestic or foreign tourists at Balıklı Lake in Şanlıurfa, which normally attracts many visitors each tourist season. The situation is also the same for Mardin, a city that has been home to many different cultures over the centuries. The hotels are empty. The region's people emphasize that they want to return to the peaceful atmosphere they experienced before. They say that each bomb in any part of Turkey deeply affects them. War is not their fate and they want to return to the old days.
'Impoverishment turned into a political tool'
Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Mardin deputy candidate Orhan Miroğlu, who is also an influential figure in Kurdish politics, commented on the Ankara massacre and the incidents in the region following the Suruç massacre. Miroğlu said the people of the region do not support terrorist organizations and violent assaults. "The motivation for the Ankara massacre is same as the goals targeted in the bomb blast on June 5 in Diyarbakır, previous explosions in the Peoples' Democratic Party's [HDP] Mersin and Adana offices and the massacre in Suruç. It is wished for HDP proponents to pour to the streets, and for anger and grudges to engulf society. However, these people do not support the steps and initiatives whose legitimacy and rightfulness are currently dubious. The public has not by any means supported the PKK's so-called revolutionary people's war, autonomy declarations and the ditches dug in provinces," Miroğlu said.
Saying that the PKK wants to see an ignorant and impoverished public, Miroğlu said: "After July, a dramatic decrease began in the number of tourists visiting the region. Tourism agencies canceled tours in the region. Large-scale projects such as the ongoing construction of the Silvan Dam are being maintained by paying huge amounts of security costs. The construction site for the Şırnak highway was closed as a result of threats. Some 37 pieces of construction equipment were set on fire. Impoverishment has turned into a political tool here. A mindset prevalent here suggests that people become more governable as they get poorer. Therefore, they are laying bombs and digging ditches. The violent atmosphere must be overcome and economic moves should be maintained in the region."
'Both tourism and investments were undermined'
GAP Administration head Sadrettin Karahocagil said "The rising terror and security problems in the eastern and southeastern regions after the June 7 elections undermined both tourism and investments. During the reconciliation process, both investments and social life were flourishing. We had a few years during which our citizens were really happy. Some major investors also began heading to the region. Hotel chains and industrialists came. Now we have to determinedly maintain our work without being demoralized. We know that this is the best response that can be given to terror." Karahocagil also added that there has been a great decrease in the number of tourists visiting the region. "April and May passed without any problem. [Tourists] were pouring into the region. Problems started in June. This is a perception problem that we cannot change. Although there is no problem in daily life, small conflicts are reflected in the West and by international public in a different way," he said, adding that the region is seen as a ring of fire. "There is terror on one side, and the Syrian problem and troubles in Iraq on the other. But daily life is ongoing without any problem here," Karahocagil said.
Gaziantep's shopkeepers still hopeful about the future
Sacit Öcal Gaziantep, which is renowned for its traditional cuisine, Bakırcılar Çarşısı and Zeugma Museum, is one of the leading cities most affected by terror. Although no terrorist activity has been conducted in the city center or its districts, people do not want to visit Gaziantep due to the developments in the region. Once called "the Paris of the East," the people of Gaziantep want a return to the time before the renewed spread of violence.
Pearl craftsman Sacit Öçal said: "The latest incidents distress us as they do everyone in the country. Along with the pains inflicted and tears shed, we also face economic hardships. There is no terrorist activity in Gaziantep, but the latest troubles, the incidents in other cities of the region and the news of killed soldiers has paralyzed our lives. Almost all the GAP tours, which form the heart of the region's economy, were canceled. Agencies say that all the daytrips and weekly tours to the region were canceled until March. Shopkeepers are in a miserable condition. It is represented in the West as if there is a war in Gaziantep. We, the locals of Gaziantep, would not allow terror to exist here."
İbrahim Başoğlu, a pistachio vendor, said: "Gaziantep's shopkeepers are in a difficult situation. There are neither domestic nor foreign tourists anymore. My brother lives in Mersin, and even he is afraid to come to Gaziantep. The city, the 'Paris of the East,' has turned into one of the most miserable places in the country. While trying to recover from the effects of the incidents in Syria, the incidents triggered by the PKK started."
Burhan Çağdaş from İmam Çağdaş Restraurant said: "The eastern provinces have become desolate due to fear of terror. There has been a great decrease in the number of tourists visiting the region. Embassies of some countries are warning their citizens not to visit the region. There is a 20 percent loss in the economy. Hopefully, everything will be fine again after the Nov. 1 elections. A stable government can end the terror problem again."
Mardin's streets are empty
Mardin, which has been home to many different civilizations for over millennia, has also had its share of the latest developments. Even in autumn, when the region enjoys the highest number of tourists normally, hotels in the city are vacant. Shopkeepers, who now pull down the shutters at the end of the day without making a single sale, are cursing terrorism while they dream about the future in anticipation of everything to get back on track.
Midyat Guest House employee Zeki Güneş said: "I have been working at Midyat Guest House for about 15 years. Some eight television series have been shot in this house. People from all across the world were visiting here. This house is the most popular tourist destination in Midyat. About 1,500 to 2,000 people used to visit the house per day. After the Suruç incident, everything came to an end. There is no war or conflict around here, but the streets are empty, people are afraid to come to Mardin. This is the place where many different cultures and civilizations have coexisted for thousands of years. Unfortunately, each incident affects us negatively."
Hotel keeper İrfan Yavuz said: "The region experienced the best times of recent years and we invested in a five-star hotel in Midyat by trusting this peaceful atmosphere. Everything was going really well. There was no vacancy in our hotel until the Suruç blast. The blast and following incidents loomed over the region like a nightmare. Even during the eid holiday, during which the highest number of visitors is normally expected, only one person checked into the hotel. I had 75 employees before the incidents. As the business went south, we had to discharge most of them. Words fail me. All our efforts were wasted."
Şanlıurfa misses peace
Halil Özyavuz talks about the dramatic decrease in visits to Harran.
Şanlıurfa has received the greatest harm from the suicide bombing in Suruç on July 20. Şanlıurfa locals mourn the young people killed in the massacre and also still suffer the pain of being the site of a massacre that will not be forgotten for years to come. The process started after the Suruç bombing when dozens of soldiers were killed, cities have been ravaged and ditches have been dug, all of which have devastated Şanlıurfa's economy. The streets remain empty in the city where tourism has been one of the leading sources of income.
Şanlıurfa Regional Tourist Guides Chamber Chairman Kamil Türkmen said: "We are in deep sorrow. We are deeply grieved by the incidents in Diyarbakır, Suruç and Ankara. We want the fatalities to stop. Each blast and each pain isolates us even more.
Tourist guides in 14 provinces of eastern and southeastern Turkey are in our association. Tourism constitutes the most important means of living in the region. But tourism likes safe places. Peace and safety is required for tourist activities. People do not want to jeopardize themselves or their money. Thousands of people have become unemployed. After the Kobani incident, 2,000 tours were canceled, and now tourism is about to end. The loss is estimated to be about 100,000 people given that each tour bus has approximately 50 people."
Türkmen said there was a target to attract 1 million tourists in 2015 in Şanlıurfa, but so far 520,000 people have come and it seems it will be difficult to reach even the previous year's numbers under the circumstances. "The situation is also the same in Gaziantep, Mardin, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, Van and Batman. We have lost this season, but we are also facing the threat of losing our entire future. We have been coexisting here for thousands of years without marginalizing any group. We can coexist."
Halfeti: Öcalan's birthplace
Furkan Kaynak, a boat operator, said: "Last year, I was performing 15 or 16 boat tours per day. Now we are only able to perform two tours per day at most. Thousands of people were coming to Halfeti each day on GAP tours. The terrorist attacks following the Suruç blast have paralyzed the region. And recently, we have been confronted with the incidents in Ankara. We are in deep sorrow. Each bomb in any corner of Turkey affects us. We want this place to be reintroduced to the public. Sometimes media outlets cover some false stories that represent the region as an extremely dangerous place. This is the place where Abdullah Öcalan [the imprisoned leader of the PKK] was born. So people feel afraid to come here."
The West presents the region as a dangerous place
A traditional Harran House keeper, Halil Özyavuz, said: "Harran is one of the must-see places for local national and foreign tourists visiting Şanlıurfa on GAP tours. Formerly, 15 to 20 tour buses would arrive per day. Nowadays nobody shows up. We have no work to do; we are sitting around all day. People are scared due to the recent terrorist attacks and do not want to come to the region. When looked at from the West, the region looks dangerous. Businesses here are closing down one by one. So we have tended toward agriculture since we would not make a living otherwise."
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